I just dug up a tweet I made about 4 years ago. I did this because I remembered saying it, and because it perfectly illustrates a distinction I’m going to make today. Specifically, I’ll talk about the distinction between technical hobbies and side hustle. And, I’ll then advocate for side hustle. But first, the tweet.
And now, I think I’ll start learning F#
— Erik Dietrich (@daedtech) February 12, 2013
Quick and to the point. The year was 2013, and, during the course of yet another oppressive Chicago winter, I wanted to learn F#. At the time, I ran an IT department as the CIO for a company, and I had come to miss writing code. So, I took to Twitter and threatened to teach myself yet another programming language.
I’m embarrassed about this tweet, in a sense. You might think the fact that I never wound up learning F# embarrasses me. But no, I’ll get over that. Rather, the undirected, goalless nature of the sentiment embarrasses me. It does in the context of career, anyway.
Before I go any further, I want to talk about the idea of hobbies and career. At times, I’ve enjoyed hobbies, such as guitar playing, cooking, and home improvement, among others. Given that I’ve historically earned my living in software development, nobody would confuse these hobbies with career plays.
The line blurs a bit with certain other considerations, however. For instance, I could have regarded writing as a hobby for a good bit of my career. These days, however, people explicitly pay me to write in various capacities. This kind of knocks writing out of the realm of pure hobby for me. And then there’s time you spend outside of work doing what you do for a living. Let’s say, going home to learn F#. It doesn’t pay your bills, but you can file it under the heading of “sharpening the saw.” Sure, my job may not call for F#, but it makes me a better programmer (and, a better CIO, I guess). So it counts as career-something. Right?
Actually, I would now argue that no, it does not. Had I gone home to learn F#, for the sake of learning F#, I would have engaged in a hobby rather than a career play. You can’t just blindly count something tangentially related to stuff you do for a wage as career improvement. And yet, we do that. A lot.