The Importance of Fun for Programmers

2014-12-10 03:45:00 UTC

I read a great interview with Jack Ma today. He is China’s richest man, and he had a thing or two to say about why China has failed to create many innovators.

...if I’d gone to Tsinghua or Peking University I might be a researcher
today. Because I went to Hangzhou Normal University, I got my cultural
education ... by having fun. Kids who know how to have fun, are able to
have fun, and want to have fun generally have bright futures...

– Jack Ma

As a programmer, I think there is a lot to learn from that.

We spend a lot of our time learning the next big framework or trying to figure out where the industry is headed. Sometimes, we contribute to Opensource to the point of burnout. Sometimes we learn terrible frameworks because it pays well. We talk ourselves out of having fun because we need to pursue “real” development opportunities.

Many of the best names in the tech industry originally started as hobbyists at a young age. Steve Jobs and Wozniak are great examples. Perhaps you fall in to that group, too and are now working in the industry after a childhood of tinkering and hacking. Perhaps you also find yourself stressing out over the problems I’ve already discussed.

Children never seem to concern themselves with the professional worries of their adult counterparts. Many of the kids that grow up to be great innovators in tech don’t push themselves into things that can’t catch their interest and may even “waste time” learning things that intrinsically bring them satisfaction but don’t appear to have much outward value.

I once heard Linux Torvalds say the same thing in an interview as well, when speaking of his countries education system that allowed so many to “waste time” in school. Many of those students (such as Linus himself) were able to create great innovation by simply nurturing a curious mind.

As you progress in technology, take time to have fun and love it for what it is. Go learn Lisp even though you know you won’t use it at work. Write a game that will get buried at the bottom of your Github account. Build that useless Arduino project you keep thinking of.

Remember what brought you to tech in the first place and realize that fun can be useful, too.