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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Pratt is brushing up his mainframe programming skills, specifically taking courses in assembler language -- a skill that may be out of date for many markets but is still valued in state government.

Pratt sees a future where he has a leg up -- not by learning new Internet programming technologies, but rather by staying faithful to the mainframe skills that he knows best.

"They still need my skills -- it gives me job stability," he says. "There are plenty of job opportunities if I want to work full time. I just didn't want to work full time anymore, but that [part-time] opportunity has dried up on me."

67 and still working 40 hours

Richard Langford, 67, also feels the pressure to ride out another couple of years in state government so he can take advantage of his state's full retirement benefits.

Langford, a project manager in Utah's Department of Technology Services, jumped around a lot during the course of his career, which shut him out from any company-sponsored pension. By his own account, he was lax in proactively planning for retirement with an individual retirement savings plan or 401(k).

In fact, he didn't think much about retirement until it sneaked up on him. "I moved around so many times, I didn't worry about it," Langford admits. "Suddenly, at age 60, it became my real focus."

Now, while most of his peers are pursuing interests like fishing and hunting, Langford is still putting in a full state-mandated workweek -- four 10-hour days. The load can be stressful and tiring for someone his age, he concedes. "My plan now is to retire at 69," Langford says. "My Social Security benefits will almost be at their max, but my health will probably be shot."

Langford is realistic about what it will take to remain an asset in IT for another couple of years. He is planning to get his Project Management Professional certification, which is rare among IT employees in the state of Utah and, he hopes, will put him ahead of the pack.

59 and happily going strong

Some career veterans, of course, are never ready to throw in the towel, regardless of age and financial position. Doug Sharp, an information systems specialist with the Michigan Department of Information Technology, says he's eligible for retirement now, at age 59, but has no interest.

It's not about the money -- he's already eligible for the state's defined benefit program, so the recession hasn't impacted him. Rather, he still enjoys the challenge of the job. "I had thoughts about retiring a year ago, but after considering it, I couldn't figure out what I would do," says Sharp, who has since boned up on technologies such as .Net and SQL Server, which are still critical for his industry and his organization in particular.

Sharp also feels a responsibility to keep up maintenance on the 75 production applications he supports. "If I left, they'd be hurting a little bit," he says. "It's their problem, but it's also my opportunity."

At 59, George Hanrahan, director of information systems for Spokane Transit, is also in no hurry to leave his post. The recession has had no significant impact on his retirement plans, and as long as his health holds up, he sees himself spending perhaps another decade at this job, guiding the transit company through its transition to newer technologies like IP security cameras, IP phones, ERP systems, even social media.

"I enjoy the job enough to stay," he explains. "If I could craft what I want, I'd work this into a part-time position and stay until 68 or 69, assuming my health is good," Hanrahan says.

Recession or no, Hanrahan aims to accomplish what most IT professionals ultimately hope for at the end of their careers -- success, and then closure. "I [hope to] see my vision put in place, hire my replacement, and then ride off into the sunset."

Stackpole, a frequent Computerworld contributor, has reported on business and technology for more than 20 years.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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