IT careers: Retire? How about never?

Bye-bye, time share. Late-career IT pros retool for an extended stay in the workforce.

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Richardson's new plan is to retire in the next 18 months to two years, and he still sees a future ripe with plenty of new opportunities, possibly IT contract work as a SAS 70 or HIPAA auditor. "Just because I have my job doesn't mean I'm not able to accomplish my other goals," he says. "I'm keeping all irons in the fire and keeping all avenues open."

62 and worried about health care costs

Glenn Kuhn, a technical consultant at Allstate Insurance Co., is doing whatever he can to keep his job safe.

While Kuhn, 62, had hoped to retire somewhere between 55 and 60, he is still plugging away programming mainframe systems, mostly because he's not in any financial position to move on. Like many others, his retirement savings in 401(k) plans and IRAs have lost a significant chunk of their value.

Yet the real barrier between Kuhn and a retirement full of fishing trips and visits with the grandkids is the rising cost of health insurance -- an annual fee, he estimates, that would run around $10,000 to cover him and his wife until they are eligible for Medicare. "I'm 62 and have worked in this business pushing 40 years, but unless you you've got some kind of health program, you're out of luck," he says.

While he has always enjoyed his work, the long, tedious hours at a keyboard and the stress of 2 a.m. emergency calls for system support have taken a toll on his body and his mind.

"I've got arthritis in my hands, have had carpal tunnel surgery and get up every morning and soak my hands in hot water so I can work on a keyboard," Kuhn says. "It's not like I'm a construction worker out there in the cold with frostbitten fingers, but in some ways, it's just as hard on your body and your mentality."

With his retirement delayed, Kuhn doesn't anticipate any radical late-career changes. Instead, he's keeping his nose to the grindstone and carrying on with the work at hand. Since he's chosen to stay in a more technical role, bypassing management, Kuhn knows he has to keep his skills fresh. In that vein, he's taking classes in Unix and doing informal research to keep up with emerging technologies.

Kuhn's biggest hope right now is to be able to preserve the flexibility of his job, which currently allows him to work from home. "There aren't a lot of mainframe programmer jobs in northern Wisconsin," he says. "If my boss calls and says, 'We want you back in the office,' I'm going to get the hint real quick and say OK."

53 and hoping for contract work

Steven Pratt, an eDBA for the Illinois State Police, has long had a Phase 2 career plan to leverage his specific set of mainframe and DB2 programming skills. Pratt, age 53, had intended to take advantage of the state's early retirement option, which he became eligible for last year, and dive into contract work to make up the difference in pay.

"Up until three years ago, there was a little niche of short-term contract opportunities," says Pratt, who envisioned traveling to Iowa or Boston or anywhere else in the U.S. to work on projects for several weeks while having plenty of downtime in between assignments.

"I saw it as an opportunity to have a second phase of my career, slow it down a bit and travel," he says. "But the opportunities all dried up with the change in the economy and put a monkey wrench into my plans." Now, his plan is to continue working full time for another two to three years and then reassess the market for contract work.

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