Coding outside work

If you follow a few people on Tech Twitter, you'll no doubt have noticed that a certain topic keeps popping up: whether professional developers should be coding outside work.

Scroll through the replies and the answer, overwhelmingly, is no. This makes me feel attacked, I guess; am I a loser because I code outside of work? Worse still, am I even sabotaging myself by doing so?

First of all, let me stress that the context of these discussions is usually those job ads searching for a unicorn dev who would "love what they do even if they weren't getting paid". Sure, ideally you can demonstrate a certain level of enthusiasm for your profession, but ~doing what you love so you never work a day in your life~ has been proven a honking great lie time and time again.

Resting in your free time is essential,, and of course I agree that no candidate should ever be at a disadvantage because they have no time or energy to code outside work. What I think people tend to forget, however, is that getting to that place where you don't have to code outside work is very tough. In fact, it's unlikely to happen in the first three years, I would say.

I'm wholly certain that this advice — that you shouldn't feel bad for not coding outside work — is not targeted towards early-career devs. For people in that position, coding outside of work is unavoidable, simply because of the need to learn and practise. What kind of expectations does that set up for people starting out?

Can we please acknowledge that the majority of what it takes to achieve your professional goals must be done outside working hours?

I once asked a fellow career-changing friend in Berlin, who graduated from a bootcamp and is a couple of years ahead of me, if she did any coding projects outside work. She answered that she didn't need to do anymore, because, well, she got the job, she'd been working there happily for over a year, and had had opportunities to work with the backend as well as the frontend, i.e. beyond the role she was originally offered.

To be honest, I long for the day when I no longer feel the need to do any more extra projects. Will it ever come? To me, the nature of the job means that my hopes are not high. I have to find some peace in the fact that this will always be about striving for the next level and therefore feeling like I need to make myself stand out.

I also often find myself yearning for that watershed moment when I can keep my "work life" and "personal life" completely separate. As somebody whose previous career could have been classed as "creative", this has always been a point of contention. Where do you draw the line between fulfilling your creative ambitions and flat-out exploiting yourself?

Now that I no longer write for a living, writing as an activity has now been relegated to "personal life". However, this doesn't alter the fact that writing is still work; it still requires concentration and it takes something out of me. While writing can be cathartic and provide clarity, on the whole, I find it to be anything but relaxing.

Let's not forget that while creating software is, for some, merely a way to make a good living (which is totally legitimate), it can also be really fun.

For example, even though I don't use frontend frameworks in my day job, having learnt how to use them from my side projects definitely works out to my advantage.

When I feel really down about it all, I ask myself whether I ever let other people's expectations stop me from writing a whole book. Other people's expectations of what a social life should look like (lol), for example. I mean, yeah, of course I had moments where I severely doubted myself in just about every way, but overall, it didn't stop me.

So if I have an idea, and there's an opportunity to learn something by building it — and there always is, I think — I'm going to do it, instead of wasting energy on going back and forth on whether I should be doing it.