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Hobbies Make Me a Better Engineer

dcwither profile image Devin Witherspoon ・2 min read

Recently there's been a lot of discussion on Twitter about whether "frontend engineer" is its own specialization. I'm not up for arguing this - my opinion is yes, it absolutely is, and in fact I've worked with people with several specializations within frontend development (accessibility, architecture, performance, infrastructure, etc.).

One of the arguments for expanding into backend/other technologies is that they reinforce and benefit your abilities as a developer. I think this is a good point, but it applies more broadly to any skill or hobby. A frontend engineer can broaden their experience through other means besides backend engineering, like activities, hobbies, or creative outlets. I'll highlight some of the ways my hobbies have made me a better engineer.

Writing

I'm working on my writing for a lot of reasons, but one reason is so I can better communicate with my teammates. As I've gotten further in my career, the marginal benefit of improving my individual coding ability has diminished, and my ability to communicate, negotiate, and prioritize within my team has become more important.

Writing blog posts makes it easier to communicate my ideas and provides me with a resource to reference when people ask for my thoughts on something I'm familiar with. It has also driven several of my new projects as I have to brainstorm new article ideas each week.

Photography

I picked up photography to feel closer to my grandparents who were avid amateur photographers. While I'm not a great photographer, it helps develop my understanding of visual composition and color, making me better at building user interfaces. It also improves my attention to detail and ability to communicate with designers. Editing photos forces me to identify high value work and prioritize my best photos for processing in Lightroom.

Running

Running and other forms of exercise keep me healthy and balance out sitting and standing at a desk all day. They also require growing past my limits through goal tracking and consistent habits. Running reduces my back pain and improves my mood, making me a more pleasant person to work with.

Conclusion

Being a better engineer isn't only about learning the next design pattern, technique, or technology. For me, investing too much into that in the past has led to boredom and burnout, with no escape. Balancing my time with other hobbies helps me keep the creative spark going, as well as build my growth mindset. I'm not great at any of these hobbies compared to my coding ability, but building these skills has been an exercise in humility and recognition of my ability to grow.

What hobbies have made you a better engineer? The connection doesn't have to be direct:

  • Has it improved your health?
  • Made you a more helpful teammate?
  • Allowed you to focus more deeply?

Those all make you a better engineer! Hopefully if you're lucky enough to have a holiday break right now, you're taking time to recharge through other hobbies or interests. Happy Holidays!

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