This is going to involve a lot of reading on your part...
>I'm approaching my mid 30s.
Many of us here are in our 40s and 50s. I'm 51 and while I still love development, there are other things I'd rather be doing (like biking and hiking). If I were in my mid 30s, I'd probably look into joining the Reserves. With the wargasms winding down, that makes it very unlikely to get sent overseas involuntarily, there is the physical fitness part, the income on the side, and if you can swing something that gets you a clearance, then you can make a ton more $ with a top secret clearance as a developer.
This forum has a rather low number of users, so you might also like to ask over at:
and look at the "career" tag, which has the most relevant area:
It is possible you are feeling like you are in a rut, or it is possible that there are office politics going on that you don't like (perhaps you don't recognize it, just realizing what you don't like about it). The sort of people who tend to do well in software (and engineering) tend to be poor at office politics and negotiating. The people who go into management tend to treat negotiating as a sport, so they're probably going to be far more skilled at it than you are.
Some books that can help with being a bit more pro-active and professional in your development career are:
The Nomadic Developer:
This describes how recruiters and consulting companies work, and why they behave the way they do.
You are probably doing "career limiting" things right now. Find out what they are and stop it.
Making it Big in Software
This has a bunch of interviews, but also a lot of tips on corporate life. You might already know them by now, or not.
The Passionate Programmer
The first edition of this book was called "My Job Went To India". One of the main points of this book is to keep your mind and skills up to date. Never get fat dumb and happy.
From Serf to Surfer
So, you want to become a consultant? This has a lot of tips as well as what pitfalls to look out for.
>I work in an area with few tech jobs so I'd likely have to move anyway.
This is a prime reason to move. Staying where you are comfortable may be pleasing, but it will most likely cost you thousands of dollars per year. One of the guys posting here lives near Tampa, and they're paying him about 1/2-2/3 the salary of equivalent jobs here in Denver. Always be looking out for #1 - yourself. If you are single, you can pack up and leave. Things get more difficult and complicated if you have a house, wife or kids.
>With ageism approaching and approaching an age where it's no longer feasible to switch careers....what would you do?
Always have a "plan b".
The folks I know personally who are developers and who are older than myself told me that they hit a brick wall getting jobs around 54 to 55. Part of their problem was that they were too busy to keep current on technology. One of the guys burned out his reputation here in Denver, so he pretty much had to leave town if he wanted to stay in software development.
For some people that means "moving into management" or becoming a project manager. I dislike managing others, I don't like the sort of person I become. Some people like it, the ones I admire who got into PM and management did so because, in their words, the problems they wanted to solve were too big for one person to work on.
My current "plan b" involves moving sideways into a career with a high barrier to entry: licensing. At the moment, CPA looks to be one that is within reach. I seem to have forgotten too much stats and calculus to make passing the actuary exams a feasible alternative. In the time since this previous post, I've found some PEs willing to sign off on my experience, so I plan on applying to (take the test to) become a PE. I have no idea how, or even *if* this will help me with getting work in the future, but my goal is to stand out from other applicants, and I think this will help do so. The PE might be a total waste of money and time. I won't know for a while, but since I have some licensed PEs willing to write recs, I'm going to try.
Licensing and certification is controversial in IT. You'll meet folks passionately for/against it. I'm looking at it as an inevitability and that I want to get in before the barriers get even higher (starting in 2015, folks looking to sit for a PE or CPA exam will be needing a masters degree, currently one only needs a bachelors).
>"30 something" is not too late to be starting a new career. Unless you've been maxing out your 401k all these years, you're going to be working until you're 70. It is better for you to change careers under your own terms before you reach the ageism barrier than it would be when it becomes a "surprise."
>Stick with the current gig where you have the free time to study something else?
Always stay employed until you find another job. There are far too many recruiters who are refusing to touch resumes of people out of work, and it has gotten so bad that the administration is trying to pass something making it illegal to discriminate against unemployed people when hiring.
>Or jump ship and try to make as much money as possible so you have a cushion when ageism becomes an issue?
Always be saving money. You need to be putting at least 10% (of what you make) into your retirement savings. Many folks in the US are forced into involuntary retirement in their late 50s and early 60s, so you might not have as long to be stuffing money into IRA, 401k, 403b etc. Very few jobs left in the private sector have pensions any more, and almost all of those are because unions have been holding onto them tooth and nail while salaried and non-union workers get foisted into defined contribution plans (your 401k and 403b type plans). Public pensions are becoming another financial disaster (partly due to the 2008 meltdown and partly due to political shenanigans, but the lack of disclosure of public plans is hiding how bad the problem is).
One good book on saving for retirement is: Engineering Your Retirement.
IT workers will never be sticking together (into unions or guilds) because far too many have adopted a libertarian attitude of "everyone for themselves". One book that describes how guilds got started in the past, and how they've been attacked and destroyed over the past few decades is "Death of the Guilds":
It gives a good explanation of *why* engineering failed as a guild. And why doctors, professors and lawyers were the last guilds left in America, and how the doctor's guild was broken (short answer: managed care). And the hoohah about professors like Ward Churchill, and attempts to get affirmative action for conservative professors are attempts to destroy the professorial guild. Professors *used* to be partners in the colleges/universities that they taught at (which is what tenure used to be). Now they are employees and contractors (more commonly called "adjunct" where they teach semester to semester).
There is a purported Steinbeck quote going around:
"Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."
>Thought about getting an MBA and getting into management but there's no guarantee that the time or money would be well spent.
I think there are too many, and it is a bubble of its own. If you aren't getting into a top 10 MBA school, then I think you are wasting your time and money.
>What are you guys doing about these issues?
Some previous discussions on this subject:
Some discussion on licensure in software development:
The bottom line is that we really don't know you, nor what your strengths and weaknesses are, so any advice will need to be either very general, pointers back to previous discussions, or "this is what I am doing".