Top 8 Programmer Hobbies

Felipe Laso Marsetti

hobbies-feature

If you read raywenderlich.com, it’s quite likely that you enjoy programming. You probably have a job as a developer, or enjoy coding in your spare time in the evenings or weekends.

Although programming is a noble calling, having some hobbies outside programming can bring significant benefits to your personal and professional life.

I recently surveyed fellow raywenderlich.com readers and asked them what their favorite hobbies were other than programming. In this article, I’ll share the results with you!

For each of the top 8 programming hobbies, I’ll explain why you should do it and share some handy resources and tips to get started.

Who knows – maybe I’ll tempt you to start a new hobby by the end of this article! :]

8) Writing

17.5% of survey respondents had this as a hobby. Writing can be a great hobby for programmers, as often you can combine your passion with programming with your passion for writing. For example, every article on this site was written by a developer!

Why Do it?

“Writing, because the nature of writing has helped me document better code and understand the creative process in writing code.” – Joseph Mennemeier

Have you thought about the fact that you write every day? Emails, messages, source code and Facebook posts fly from your fingers on to the screen every single day. Whether you’re composing 140 characters or 140 pages, you’re writing all the time!

So why not do it for fun too? For example, keeping a journal or writing a novel can be a cathartic experience. It’s also a great way to preserve extended memories in ways that photos or video can’t. You can’t capture what you were thinking or feeling at a specific moment in a photo.

Chris Wagner doing some good ol' writing

Chris Wagner doing some good ol’ writing

Another idea is to start blogging on something that interest you, such as programming or technology. You can use sites like Medium if you don’t want to go through the hassle of starting your own blog.

Last but not least, you could write short stories or novels, perhaps even take part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where you attempt to compose a 50,000-word novel in thirty days!

Writing is not for everyone, but it’s a rewarding pursuit and another great tool to have in your arsenal.

How to Get Started

Here are some resources that might give you a bit of writing motivation:

  • Day One App: A simple, elegant journaling app
  • Medium: A site you can blog on without starting your own blog
  • Nanowrimo: Join a commmunity of people around the world and write your first novel — or your tenth
  • Scrivener: A great writing tool to keep you organized and producting
  • 15 Apps for Writers: Every writer can use a little writing help

Practical First Steps

Start by keeping a personal journal. This isn’t a huge commitment like a book or a blog, but it helps you stay on track with your writing and takes only a few minutes a day.

7) Board Games

24.6% of survey respondents enjoy playing board games. And I’m not talking about Candyland – I’m talking about “serious board games” like Settlers of Catan, Bohnanza, Small World, and more.

Why Do it?

Board games are one of the best ways to connect with other people. While it’s easy to curl up with a controller for your video game console at the end of the day and play with friends or strangers across the globe, it doesn’t have that personal feeling of being near others, joking or grabbing a meal afterwards.

Board games at RWDevCon.

Board games at RWDevCon.

This isn’t to say you can’t play board games online. There are fantastic alternatives on consoles, PC, and mobile devices, such as this excellent port of Small World to the iPad:

SmallWorld

When I lived in Miami as a teen, I loved going to my local Wizards of the Coast store and painting Warhammer 40K figurines while watching, in amusement, as others played and showed off their collection. I would also take my Game Boy Advance and Pokémon cards to take part in local Pokémon leagues or just enjoy some multiplayer gaming.

Asking for help, making friends in your town and getting out of the house are all things that board games can provide while having a blast playing games about characters you love.

How to Get Started

Want to start your very own board game night? Here’s a few resources to get started:

Practical First Steps

Go down to your local hobby store and see if they offer any board game groups you can join. If not, get a group of friends together and play something as simple as chess, or as robust as Dungeons & Dragons.

The Ray Wenderlich board game collection

The Ray Wenderlich board game collection

6) Art and Illustration

24.6% of survey respondents had this as a hobby. Get your charcoal and sketch pad ready!

Why Do It?

Tammy Coron put it best:

“As a developer, I often find myself buried under hundreds, sometimes thousands of lines of code. Solving problems and working out design patterns can take a lot out of you. At some point, you need to unwind.

For me, it’s through my art — whether it’s illustration or storytelling, the result is always the same: I’m creating something, from nothing. Having the ability to create is such a rewarding experience.

For the record, you don’t have to be a professional artist or writer to create. Just sit back and enjoy the process — you might even surprise yourself. =]”Tammy Coron

Tammy illustrating on her Cintiq

Tammy illustrating on her Cintiq

Tammy touches on a fantastic point which is creating! You don’t have to get fancy or know how to draw realistic human figures or portraits. A simple coloring book you do on your spare time, simple smiley faces, drawing cartoons, they are all art.

Deep down we are all artistic and creative somehow. Find what you like drawing and creating, and enjoy!

How to Get Started

Can’t even draw a stick figure? Don’t worry, there are some great ways to get started even if you’re a complete beginner:

  • Drawspace: Learn to draw online
  • Proko: Video tutorials to help you sketch life studies
  • Draw a Box: Regularly updated drawing tutorials

Practical First Steps

If you want to pursue art, don’t try to start off by drawing a character from The Avengers. Start with something simple, like an apple or a little cartoon. Carry a drawing pad, your iPad and Apple Pencil, or a little notepad so you can doodle during those precious spare minutes of your day.

5) Cooking

28.1% of survey respondents had this as a hobby. Wait, does making Top Ramen count as cooking?

Why Do it?

Here is a story from Janie Clayton on how and why cooking is such an important part of her life:

“I went through a divorce a year and a half ago. I live in the middle of nowhere and I work from home, so I decided to learn how to cook almost as self defense against starvation. I got a subscription food service called Plated that sends me recipes and ingredients, which is really convenient because I have had so many recipes I want to do but find out I am missing one vital, important ingredient and I would need to drive half an hour to pick it up.

It also made it easier to try new recipes that I found intimidating, like thai curry and homemade pizza. It’s also really nice to get away from the computer sometimes. I feel like what I am doing is existential. I type words into the computer and stuff happens, but none of it is real.

Getting to touch carrots and onions while I chop them up and smell them cooking and plating them and tasting something I made is rewarding and fulfilling. It helps me get through sometimes feeling like what I do isn’t important.”Janie Clayton

Janie with her home-cooked meal and precious pug.

Janie with her home-cooked meal and precious pug.

Cooking awakens many sense and can be a great release of endorphins. You are feeling things with your hands, touching different textures. You smell delicious spices and food as you prepare it, and finally you taste all of these flavors and combinations.

Like art or many other hobbies on this list, you are creating something from a separate group of items or ingredients. You are putting together something that pleases you (or others if you cook for friends and relatives) while getting to keep a nutritious, healthy diet.

How to Get Started

Here are some cooking resources survey respondents found helpful:

Practical First Steps

Find something you’d like to eat that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare, buy ingredients for it and get cooking! Start simple and use ingredients you’re already familiar with.

4) Reading

47.4% of survey respondents had this as a hobby. Curl up in your favorite chair and read on to find out whodunit.

Why Do it?

“Reading. UX is about empathy. Reading shows you the world through another’s eyes.” – Anonymous survey responder

I’m sure several of you have read a book series which was then turned into a movie and thought: “The books were SO much better. The movie left out a lot of details and changed too many things.”

Yup, I’m with you on that one. This happened to me with the Harry Potter series. While the movies are fantastic, they do the books no justice. There’s also something indescribable about how your brain imagines things while you read a book.

1-reading-vs-movie

Reading a book is an intensely personal experience; you can imagine a character and world in any way, giving things as little or as much detail as you wish. They are also easy to carry around (even more so if you have an e-reader or a mobile device) relatively inexpensive, and fantastic to fill those spaces in time when you’re waiting for your doctor or riding the bus to work.

If you’re like me and not terribly interested in fantasy or fiction, there are biographies you can read to learn more about historical characters, books about computer history or cryptography, or even books about programming itself! :] While I would recommend you also have non-programming books in your list, reading is also a GREAT way to learn about your career and profession.

Trust me, even if you don’t like reading, it’s the best way to learn pretty much anything.

How to Get Started

Check out the following reading list that is probably as far away from programming as you’re likely to get:

Practical First Steps

Find a book you like, whether it’s science fiction, a biography or a novel, and and start by reading a chapter a day.

3) Video Games

52.6% of survey respondents had this as a favorite activity. Experience relaxation through fragging your friends. :]

Why Do it?

“Heroes of the Storm, surprisingly, has helped me with teamwork. Having butterfingers, I never did sports in school to practice teamwork. But HotS, or any other team-based online video game, can help fill this gap.” – Robert Chen
Heroes of the Storm, a popular game by Blizzard.

Heroes of the Storm, a popular game by Blizzard.

Ah, video games. My undisputed favorite hobby and activity apart from programming. Video games are such a fantastic way to relax and immerse yourself in virtual worlds that let you make your dreams come true. Regardless of the day’s weather or how close your friends live, you can enjoy video games whenever, often wherever, you want!

Video games can also be a great learning tool. I count some puzzle games including TIS100 or Human Resource Machine among my favorite on iOS at the moment, as they help exercise the mind of a programmer.

Human Resource Machine video game.

Human Resource Machine video game.

Video games are such an important aspect of my life that I even had a Zelda-themed wedding, with a painted cake, souvenirs, cookies, and in-game music as my wife walked down the aisle.

Zelda-themed wedding cake for our Zelda-themed wedding.

Zelda-themed wedding cake for our Zelda-themed wedding.

People often think you need to be super-skilled to play video games, and truthfully, you need a bit of dexterity to play Counter Strike or Overwatch. But what about Sudoku 3D, a retro Mario game, online chess, or Angry Birds?

There is a video game out there to suit almost everyone on the planet. If you like cars in real life, chances are you will enjoy racing games. Into football? Yup, there’s a few games about that. Many video games have fantastic storylines and character arcs that span multiple releases, and even have spin-off books and comics. It’s like opening Pandora’s box!

What are you waiting for? If you’re a developer, it’s almost guaranteed you have a mobile device or computer you can play video games on. All that’s left to do is figure out what games you like and find what platforms they’re available on.

How to Get Started

Here are some great ways to get started with video games:

  • Steam: Games galore — check out their sales
  • League of Legends: Join the fray and slay dragons — or whatever is in your path
  • Hearthstone: Fast-paced card strategy game

Practical First Steps

There are great free games like Team Fortress, League of Legends or Hearthstone that you can get started with. If these are too daunting, you can always start simpler with some fantastic iOS games on this list here.

2) Sports and Exercise

57.9% of survey respondents listed sports and exercise as a hobby. Are you all warmed up and ready to hit the field? Great! :]

Why Do It?

“Just realize that your health is your prime asset (your brain lives inside your body, remember)” – Anonymous survey responder

We often associate sports and exercise with looking good or losing weight, but there are tons of benefits beyond these two. Let me share my own story.

Ever since I can remember, I have dealt with anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Trust me, it’s not something I wish upon anyone! I was always told by my my psychologist, doctors, and peers that I should try exercising as it would help me relax, reduce my anxiety when it triggers and make future episodes less intense.

I tried going to a gym; I tried walking, yoga, and swimming but none of those were a good fit for me. I felt quite isolated going to a gym, putting on a pair of headphones and getting on a treadmill. It was also SUPER boring.

Last year, I found a dojo near my house and started doing martial arts. My goal wasn’t to become Mr. Miyagi and judo chop everything in sight! I just wanted to remain fit, meet new people, get out of the house a few days a week and get some exercise to help with my anxiety.

2-chopchop

The difference between then and now is like night and day! Not only would I go to a class with extreme anxiety and return much more relaxed (or even completely forgetting about the initial issue), but I would sleep better, feel better and come away with a sense of reward about learning something new or pulling off something I was struggling with in previous classes.

Martial arts worked for me, as had dance lessons before that, but you should definitely try something that interests you. What about rock climbing, running, archery, golf, basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, swimming, yoga, pilates, and SO much more that I’m probably forgetting about right now?

Ballroom dancing on our wedding day.

Ballroom dancing on our wedding day.

Remember you don’t need to have anxiety or depression to try exercise. You will realize lots of other benefits; from the endorphins your body produces, improved sleep, being fitter, and having a sense of well being and accomplishment. You may even shed that extra weight you have been wanting to get rid of for many years. ;]

How to Get Started

There are some great online resources to get you started in fitness:

  • Runkeeper: Track your runs on your phone!
  • Best iOS Exercise apps from PC Mag: A great list of more apps to get you to stop crushing candy and get moving
  • CrossFit: Group-based workouts if you want some external motivation
  • Just Dance: An interactive dance app
  • Wii Fit: The classic Wii game that makes exercise fun
  • Zumba: The shimmying, shaking Latin exercise phemonenon

Practical First Steps

Set an exercise goal that you can achieve three times a week, doing whatever exercise or activity you like. The important thing is to be active, not to do a specific exercise or burn “X” calories.

1) Music

66.7% of survey respondents had this as a hobby. No wonder it looks like so many developers have their iPod earbuds permanently installed! :]

Why Do it?

Unlike other hobbies that need some affinity or skill, everyone likes music even if it’s just listening to music. There are probably special songs that trigger fond memories within you, and all of us have played an air guitar solo or sung in the shower when no one was listening.

Music is one of the most rewarding hobbies you can have, whether it’s playing an instrument or simply listening to music. It’s also a hobby that you can mix with pretty much any other on this list. You can be programming, cooking a nice new meal, or exercising while listening to your favorite tunes.

Playing instruments or creating music has also become much easier with technology. Did you know that you can connect your guitar or a MIDI keyboard to your computer and learn how to play either using Garageband? There’s also a game called Rocksmith in which you can plug in an electric guitar or bass and learn to play either from scratch.

If playing an instrument is what you yearn to do, there has never been a better time — and it’s never too late to learn, thanks to technology. If it’s listening to music, then experiment with new artists or genres, or try something different and discover new aspects of world music that you may be missing out on.

How to Get Started

You can either take music lessons from someone local, or use some of these great resources:

  • Garageband lessons: Learn to make music on your Mac, iPad, or iPhone
  • Rocksmith: Build your guitar chops on your computer or game console
  • Sing Star: Take karaoke to the next level, complete with music videos

Practical First Steps

If you’ve ever wanted to play an instrument, try it out with the plethora of tools available. There are guitar tab apps and websites, YouTube tutorials, apps like Garageband or Yousician, or games like Sing Star and Rocksmith. The investment is small, but the reward is huge.

Where to Go From Here?

Finding a new hobby beyond the realm of programming doesn’t have to be difficult or intimidating. All you need to do it find what makes you happy, take small steps toward that, and share your new knowledge with the world.

Find What Makes You Happy and Have Fun Doing It

“If you don’t love what you’re doing stop. If you do, make sure you balance your life so you don’t start hating what you do.” – Anonymous survey responder

We are all different, and each one of us is unique. There is no single recipe or blueprint on how to be happy, or what to do outside of your job or programming.

For instance, I like video games, watching sports, cooking, music and reading. You might like photography, art and music. Do what makes you feel happy and fulfilled. There is no right or wrong way to approach it, and there’s really no way to fail can’t fail. The worst that can happen as you learn something new is that it will take time to get good at it, but I’m sure it took you a while to get good at programming as well!

Start With Small Steps

“Find your passion and make it a reality. If you truly love what you do, it makes the hard days easier and the good days great.” – Ric Perrott

Start small. Check out the sections in this article for individual topics that interest you, and look at some of the quotes or stories of what respondents had to say. Look at the resources for that section, and take the practical first step.

Set short-range goals that you can reach fairly easily. Add bigger, more difficult goals as you learn more and get comfortable with it.

Give Back to the World

“Share your curiosity along with you knowledge” – Catie

I have sometimes come across people who haven’t wanted to share their knowledge about programming because they feel it will make them less valuable and can create competition. However this is silly and not true at all. Information wants to be free, and in the age of the Internet it can be acquired almost immediately by going to a website or purchasing a book.

Share your gifts with others; it’s no coincidence you are good at what you do. Remember that you too were once a “newbie” like those who may now seek your help, and in many aspects all programmers are amateurs in some language, framework or tool.

Giving your gift of knowledge to the world is rewarding, a great way to learn more about yourself and others, and will make you happy in a way you haven’t felt before.

One last quote to leave you with before you forge on with pursuing your new passion:

“One should love, respect, and hold high standards for BOTH oneself, AND others. Without this, continual self-betterment is thwarted.” – Jessy

Team

Each tutorial at www.raywenderlich.com is created by a team of dedicated developers so that it meets our high quality standards. The team members who worked on this tutorial are:

Felipe Laso-Marsetti

Felipe Laso is a Senior Systems Engineer working at Lextech Global Services. He’s also an aspiring game designer/programmer. You can follow him on Twitter as @iFeliLM or on his blog.

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