Krishna Kumar is a software development manager from New Hampshire. He writes on topics related to software development, programming, project management, and business management. Krishna is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 41 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Making Time for Hobby Programming

09.23.2011
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I noticed a couple of comments on DZone about programmers with family not having the time to do hobby projects. As I wrote about my own experiences having a child, I really empathize with such concerns. It is not easy. It is really hard to do a fair job with your parenting and family responsibilities and also devote time to programming while keeping your health and sanity.

One question I would ask people is did you do any hobby programming when you did not have a spouse and children? If you didn’t, then the arguments make no sense. You weren’t able to make any time when you had more time. How would you expect to do so now? It is unlikely and possibly impossible that you could do it.

But if you were doing programming outside of work before and are not doing it now, then we are getting into a more fruitful discussion. How many hours were you able to devote to such programming before? Let us say it was 10 hours per week, which I think is a very liberal estimate. How many hours can you allocate now? Can you do 1–2 hours a week? Maybe cut out movie watching for one night and do some programming? Stay up late on a Friday or Saturday when you don’t have to get up early the next day.

But even that is going the wrong way about hobby programming. The idea behind it is not programming for its own sake. You are creating something. It may be a website or a phone application or a script. But ultimately it has a purpose, something useful. So what are you interested in building? And when you know that, everything to accomplish that can be broken down into a series of steps.

For example, you might be interested in building an application that can keep track of all your friends and view their Facebook, Twitter and G+ feeds in one location instead of having that person’s profile in those sites separately. If you want to do this, you need to do different steps — set up your database, talk to different APIs, build a nice screen that integrates all the status updates, etc.

So there are discrete tasks and you need to do them one by one. When you know your next step, you just need to spend any free time attacking and finishing it. That is how you find time. By treating every programming task as a chore that must be done.

To summarize, if you are interested in programming at home, think about what you want to build, break it down into steps that can be easily tackled and then use any free time going after them.

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Published at DZone with permission of Krishna Kumar, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)

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Keith Minter replied on Fri, 2011/09/23 - 8:02am

I'm really getting fed up with all of these posts about developing in your own personal time. It's extremely arrogant for you to try to claim that other people can find time in this way. Perhaps they have a family, hobbies, interestes outside of programming. There's something mildly disfunctional about all of this.

Nico Mommaerts replied on Fri, 2011/09/23 - 8:19am

@Keith Totally agree. There was this post the other day about only hiring people who program also in their own time. Imagine a hospital only hiring surgeons who cut open people in their spare time just to practice. I find the notion that people who don't like spending every waking hour programming are inferior (in their programming skills) to those who do really disgusting.

David M. replied on Fri, 2011/09/23 - 9:29am

I normally just move on, but this post disturbs me as well.  I'll try to put a nice mentoring spin on my criticism.  For anyone out there that finds this post educational, revealing, or even well thought out, please leave the programming profession.  Most of this is just basic life skills, if you don't have those yet, you won't get far in this arena.

Sura Sos replied on Fri, 2011/09/23 - 9:07am

Agreed, total junk.

Bo Harris replied on Fri, 2011/09/23 - 10:32am

Agree with all of the previous commenters.  There are no absolutes in life and I wish programmers in particular would learn that.  As Obi-Wan said, "only a Sith deals an absolute". LOL Sorry I couldn't resist.

Seriously though guys wake and up realize that everyone is different and you can't set your own personal practices and opinions as the standard to define what makes a good programmer. 

Doug Ly replied on Sun, 2011/09/25 - 11:51am

I normally dont comment on dzone posts even though i read dzone routinely daily. But this post really contains misleading information. saying you need to be progrmamming day in day out to be a good programer is total bullshit. Software developemnt doesnt work like that. You may be able to code faster, learn to memorize some tricks with your favourite languages but it is it. I remember watching Bill Gates interview when he was CEO and he basically said the first 3 years of your dev career shows either you are a good or mediocre programmers. Any programming practice after that wont add much to make you a great programmer. Please bing/gogle the interview. I work for one of the top consumer technology companies GAAF. I dont write code at home everyday. When i do i want to try out an idea i just think of. I dont just sit down and write mindless code or project. But thinking about how to improve your productivity and effeciency is something i constantly think aout, whether it is new algorithm or using new framework to make my job easier. And i think when novice programmers say we need to write code day and night to become a great programmer they really mean we need to constantly seek to improve our effeciency. As Dijkstra once said saying a computer programmer only deals with comouter is akin to saying a astronomer only deals with telescope.

Declan Tarrant replied on Mon, 2011/09/26 - 5:16am in response to: Doug Ly

The author of this article is not stating anywhere that he believes you must do programming in your spare time to become a great programmer. He is merely trying to give advice on how to make time if you are interested in programming as a hobby... which a lot of people, including myself, are.

Don't get me wrong though, I am not complementing this article, I am merely pointing out that you have misinterpreted it. In my opinion this article serves no purpose. It has little or no value.

Tim Blackler replied on Mon, 2011/09/26 - 6:25am

I think this guy is getting the fallout of following on from the line of thought started by some other complete twat who seems to think that unless you regularly submit to OSS projects, then he shouldn't hire you.

I'm sure posts such as this he is incredibly sincere in his advice, but unfortunately doesn't critique the utter twatishness of the original blog post.

As a hiring manager I'd much rather hire a rounded individual, that a tired out programming wonk.

As a side issue, I'm always amused by blog posts by new dads pointing out that having kids is hard, as if that is some kind of new discovery.......

Alex Calim replied on Mon, 2011/09/26 - 11:10am

Whoa, what is going on here? This is weird bashing, I am really astonished by the aggressivity which is expressed by those comments which is in no way related to the post itself.
This is my first comment here, but I am really interested in the real reason for this massive and senseless bashing.
First, it cannot be caused by the post itself, although not being the most brilliant post ever, I have read much worse posts. Even though most of it is commonplace, it might even be inspirational to younger developers, just because they get feel assured by hearing this from an experienced developer.
Second, the post has no extreme opinions in itself, ie. it is not mentioned that you have to do 8 OSS projects to be a cool developer nor that you should forget about your kids and stay at your computer the whole night eating pizza and hacking assembler. There are examples of what kind of projects are meant and the idea of seperating in discrete tasks is not new but makes sense, if you want to have another life as well.
So, what's the reason for the bashing? Is it some kind of "displacement"? Myself being a semi-professional developer can definitely assure you (you young/new developers!) that it makes sense to do hobby programming. I know it by myself, I know it from colleagues (both, those who do and those who don't) and I know it from other people I know from technical user groups, etc.
My best advice is just what the author says: do a hobby programming project - I am not sure if it must have a purpose - to me it can be just playing around with the other framework, but just do it! If you think you do not have the time, then rethink your carrer choice. You should have fun coding, if you don't have, think of taking the project lead step or become a business analyst or whatever, but do develop if you like developing. And if you like developing, you will want to develop if you free time as well.
I can assure you that your programming skills will get better if you develop in your spare time, especially if you use different technologies and techniques. And to all those nay-sayers: don't you agree that eg. a developer should learn a new language every year? ...that it makes sense to know different frameworks for your own language? ...that there is no silver bullet? If you do, how do you train yourself in different languages/frameworks/techniques? Do you change job every year? Do you work and have you worked all time in consulting companies? Then just bear in mind that there are several people (including me) who are working at one employee for a longer time and are using the same language/frameworks in the same environment for several months.

Ok, whatever, I can just confirm the advice of the author: do spare time programming! It will surely pay off.

David M. replied on Mon, 2011/09/26 - 12:55pm in response to: Alex Calim

Sorry, but if this post passes the bar of acceptable, Javalobby is dead to me, just like some AOL chatroom.  I just don't have the time.  That was 5 minutes I could have been "hobby" programming.  The author felt the need to warn me about watching movies but not fluffy dzone articles?!

Jose Fernandez replied on Tue, 2011/09/27 - 11:29am

What the heck is wrong with you people? He doesn't say a single thing about whether or not you SHOULD be programming at home, just suggests that if you WANT to, you may be able to find a way. Maybe you people should read posts before commenting on how the title makes you feel? Just a thought.

Phil H. replied on Thu, 2011/09/29 - 3:04pm

I do think most people here are mistakenly bashing this guy due to the same disturbing trend of articles I have read. I almost made the same mistake. I do think the articles claiming that you MUST develop at home to be good are bullshit. It should be looked at from the other direction. Some (not all) good developers also develop as a hobby. Its not necessarily what makes them good but a side effect of them loving what they do and being good at it. This guy is simply trying to give some tips on how to find time for your hobby. And I don't see where this is any less informative than some articles I see stating the obvious about how to do something in a framework or whatnot. I think he made an important point for anyone wanting to get in more practice at home that they should focus on something useful so that they see it through. Some of this may sound like common sense but I'm in that situation with a wife and two kids and know how easy it is to sometimes become unorganized and make poor use of your time. Its easy to loose focus and jump all over the place when you have small increments of time if you do a little planning and pace yourself. And like anything else practice doesn't hurt folks. I just disagree with these "manager" posts trying to run your outside life.

Nirav Assar replied on Fri, 2011/09/30 - 9:30am

Thanks for the post. What you suggested is good advice.

Nirav Assar replied on Fri, 2011/09/30 - 9:31am in response to: David M.

If it is dead to you, why do you spend time commenting.

Milos Silhanek replied on Sat, 2011/10/01 - 8:57am

Keith and co.: If you do not have any hobby you are sad poor little boy. There are many reasons to do any hobby - pleasant happy hours, amusing and enjoyable work. Somebody climbs mountains, somebody makes models (train, planes...), others dance..... Everybody is original and does what is enjoyable for him, e.g. wallow around like a pig on the sofa at TV by stupid program. I like programming per se. It is amusing, I enjoy it. Most of the time at my work I do programs that are not interesting problem to solve by very old technology. SQL is not my favorable language. The time is problem. And procrastination kills all plans. Bye I must do something useful!

Carla Brian replied on Mon, 2012/07/30 - 6:34pm

When you have a programming to do, i believe it depends on your mood. If your brain is fucntioning , that's the time you can program really well. - Mercy Ministries

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