Should devs code in their free time?

Carlos Roso on May 05, 2020

Contribute to open-source, work on side projects, give tech talks, write blog posts, you name it.

Some software companies value your off-work activity more than your experience. What do you think about this? Is it fair?

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My 2cs.

Other professions don't have to show side-projects or give tech talks to stay relevant. Devs are normally asked to keep doing all this kind of stuff to be competitive in job applications. Those are objective facts. Now, whether you see it as an advantage or disadvantage, it's all a matter of perspective.

I see this as a great advantage. The fact that a pilot needs to fly 20k hours to get a raise or grow seniority is something I find very limiting. The fact that a dev has the power to grow professionally and economically just wisely using their free time is a superpower. You can get a huge boost by putting some hours after work into learning something new or contributing to open source. You can compete with seniors by showing you have the drive and passion but lack the years under your belt.

If coding isn't your passion, that's fine too. But, if this is the case, don't quickly judge those who love coding, even when not being paid. They will normally have a lead on you, whether you think it's fair or not.

Edit: typos


Coding is really one of those hobbies that if you turn it into a career, it doesn't necessarily lose its charm.

Coding at work is like the chores of code. It isn't always fun, but it (at least for me) makes me keep good habits that keep my code clean and forces me to learn some deeper level concepts that I might not stumble across on my own.

Coding as a hobby is the fun that comes after the chores. That's when the weird libraries and languages, useless but fun buttons, and loud color schemes can come out.

I think coding for work and coding as a hobby definitely lean on each other. There are concepts and skills that may be important to know for one, and end up being useful later on for the other.


Coding and fun are synonyms! :D


I would totally agree here!


I think if it's something you enjoy, you should absolutely code in your free time and write blog posts, etc. But if coding isn't your hobby, that's ok too. For some people, it's just their job. I enjoy it as both a job and a hobby, but I appreciate companies that allocate some time for learning and career growth time during work hours.

If a company expects side project work, they should provide some of those learning hours on the clock. The learning may not always directly benefit the company but it will often come back and indirectly benefit them.


If a company expects side project work, they should provide some of those learning hours on the clock.

Yes. And related to this, if your company requires you to learn something new for your job (for example, attend training on a new system) that needs to be on the paid, clock time. If it's not, time to leave.


Definitely. They should also give economical support to attend conferences or other useful meetings.

Oh geez, yes. I've seen a lot of unbalance with this across departments.


I like the idea of a company helping you grow and learn. That would definitely be the right balance.


Totally agree. It shouldn't be mandatory to stay up to date to do some coding in your free time and it would be the best to support and motivate your employees to work on some projects besides their daily work.

Getting to know new Devs, new technologies or other approaches is crucial in a way, but hard to do by simply reading stuff without getting your hands on. But with private life, family and job it might be hard to accomplish if you are not 120% into the hobby of coding.

At one company we had the discussion to contribute to some database orchestration framework because we heavily used it. These discussions, in my opinion, should be the discussions to have. Do we as a company have people that contribute to the library / framework we are using? Not only do we improve the lib of our product, but also get insight in it and its technologies and as a consequence also give something back to the community we are relying on.

It's something between idealistic and what some companies want. Some people might get scared by reading job offers with requirements in the web-/cloud-section when they did desktop application the past 10 years and haven't had the time to get their hands and feet into web-applications.

Right. Good point, companies will also benefit from employees documenting (aka blogging) and building tools (aka open source). It's a win-win.


People should spend their free time however they please as long as they’re not hurting anyone. It’s no one else’s business. No company should require side projects, public speaking, or blog writing explicitly or implicitly.


TLDR; no its not fair
I would say like any other profession no... you're no less of a developer if you don't code in your free time.

So far, I've always been technically curious so I'd be coding on my own even if I wasn't a dev. Could that change in the future? Absolutely.

Some junior devs (and some more senior) can feel pressured to do so to keep on top of their game. For the next job or performance reviews. I'd say we have to advocate for this to be apart of our work, allocated in our sprint.

So having said that, it can make the world of difference to confidence, morale, initiatives, and investment back into the project (directly or indirectly) - if we do this at work.


Good take on this one. I like your proposal to advocate for this to be part of our work, that would be the win-win for everyone.


A lot of folks that I look at as successful people in tech invest a lot in this area.

Some tweet like 5 to 10 times a day, lunch a few blog posts every week, work on their OSS projects every day - AND have a full time job.

Those people are very productive but perhaps they also have job-time allocated to their personal growth & branding - and I think companies that offer that are great. I also think a lot of them work remote - so they have the time to pursue this kind of lifestyle.

But those are the 5% - I don't think most companies in general look for this, because if they would, they would limit their candidates by a lot. There are a lot of great software engineers that rarely contribute to OSS and have side projects.


You're touching on a lot of great points here. Love it.

  • People we normally look up to are doing all these sort of things
  • Most of them are perhaps remote which gives them room to pursue it
  • A lot of great engineers barely have a presence online

I'll stick with the last one. Having an online presence will make you stand out. Not having an online presence won't necessarily undermine your seniority.


It wasn't until I started using Twitter and DEV that I realised how productive some of these people are! It's very easy not to see it when you're not in this online tech bubble.


Right! I noticed the same, it's insane.


I think it is fair to do something in their free time that improves their crafts, build up their skills, network with developers or enrich their own mind. Which you, it doesn't exactly require you to be coding specifically.


Interesting opinion. I'm also into improving my craft, and that normally takes a lot of hours off work. Some people argue that their craft should be improved in their 9-5, though. I guess it all comes down to how driven you are to master your craft.


I think to quote Jordan Harbinger "Digging you well before you are thirsty" applies to this to act as a safe harbour. Which you can rely on for a career transition or land into work that you might be interested in is a good investment of your time for yourself.

I'm taking that quote with me, love it.

Haha, you should listen to his podcast called The Jordan Harbinger Show which is pretty cool.

Thanks guys. Was cool to see a Google Alert for my name here.
FYI, this quote is an old book title from some sales guy (I think).

Would love to hear what you think if you end up checking out The Jordan Harbinger Show (Podcast)

Hey Jordan. You're an example, how have you managed to do +340 episodes so far! that's real consistency right there.

Keep it up!

Oh man, that's just my new show. My old one had about 700 when I left!

LMK what you think of The Jordan Harbinger Show and thanks for sharing


For me personally my job is my hobby as well so I don't mind 'working' for 12-16 hours per day 7 days per week.

Also being able to help others brings me a lot of joy so I find my work really fulfilling, for example, I recently reached a total of 2000 contributions on the DigitalOcean community forum: digitalocean.com/community/questions

Another project that I've been working on during my free time is the quizapi.io which is totally free for developers where you could test your knowledge with some cool quizzes. It also has a nice bash script addition which you could use to test your knowledge directly in your terminal which I wrote a blog post for on dev.to:



Phew man! that's some high-quality stuff right there. I just checked out all those resources and you're killing it. Keep on helping and contributing!


To answer the question directly: "hell yeah!". If that's what you enjoy and you have balance in your life, why not?

To answer a secondary implied question: should companies (a) expect this of their employees and/or (b) make any direct conclusions of people who do/don't code in their free time? (a) Probably not and (b) definitely not.


I dig that. If you can't think of anything else than just code, hell do it. If you just happen to enjoy other things in life, you shouldn't be seen as irrelevant to hiring managers.


If they want to, have the resources to do so, sure. But as a requirement, nope.

I'm torn. On one side, a developer who is involved in extracurriculars may look more appealing. But, another developer, who may not have the time or resources to do so, isn't necessarily the "worst" choice. Looking at their 9-5 technical skills, they may be equal. Heck, the person who doesn't code in their spare time might even be the "better" candidate overall.

Having "free time" outside of work is a privilege. It's unfair that it seems like having that privilege is what it takes to get in/ahead/seen in tech. Perhaps this is my bias coming from a working-class family. Or my experiences with being slighted in favor of the privileged, but it's happened enough times that I'm torn with what to do about it. Do I keep trying to be "extra"? Or do I just give up and be ok where I am?

A few years ago, I hit the CFP scene hard. I did it partially because I thought it would help me move within my career, but ultimately, I'm not sure if it did. Maybe there's an unknown X-factor that is still playing against me. Maybe it is how it is.



In principle it should just come down to personal choice. If that's what you want to do after spending the day coding in front of a screen then go for it.

But there's the risk that employers exploit your enthusiasm and expect you to spend your own time to keep up with the latest developments so you can apply this knowledge to work projects. That's not cool. Employers should give you time to develop your skills in work hours and you shouldn't be penalised if you spend your free time on other things.


Definitely. Your 9-5 should be enough for an employer to judge your performance. Anything beyond that should just be a nice-to-have.


I think software companies recognize that off-work activity also counts as experience. The work we do in our free time is meant to facilitate our learning, increase our exposure to different things, and to grow as professionals (at least, as it related to software). Having switched industries almost a decade ago I found this aspect of tech careers refreshing: you could showcase your side projects and continuing education as valuable experience.

I don't think it should outweigh other considerations in hiring decisions, however. There are plenty of people who don't have much time out of work to dedicate to these activities: parents with young children, people taking care of relatives, people with limited means, among others. And some folks don't like giving talks and writing blog posts—things that are perfectly OK.

To your point, I think if you really enjoy code-related activities and like to pursue it on your own time, that shouldn't be discouraged. I really enjoy a lot of tech-related activities outside of work and I don't expect anyone else to. Thanks for the post!


You're putting a great point on the table: accumulate valuable experience in your free time.

This is even more impactful for juniors. You can easily build an industry-standard "2 years of experience" within 6 months just by grinding several side projects by yourself.

Off topic: Your content on tech writing is amazing, btw. I'm on your newsletter already, getting a lot of value. Keep it up!


"Accumulate valuable experience in your free time"—yes, this!

Haha and thank you so much, that means a lot! Followed you on here. Thanks for sparking such a great discussion!


On the one hand, you should practice your skills and contribute to the community, just because those are unequivocally good things to do.

On the other hand, if the company expects me to write blog posts and libraries, they can damn well pay me to do it.


For now, I'm student in computer science in France, and we do a lot of project during our school time but my most ambicious and intresting project is during my free time.

When I had to postule in some company for my school work, I give this project, and I think it's for that they take me, because not so many student does some extra work project.

(Sorry for my not perfect english x))


Your English is perfect :D

If you're a privileged student with no family and no need to work, I'd totally advise to code every waking hour. Build a portfolio in Github pages and start shooting a lot of code in your free time. This is the time in life where you can afford to do nothing else than just work and fun.

You'll have a great advantage over your peers and you won't ever look back.

If you can't do it and need to maintain your family after work then you're fine, you're trying your best and that's what counts.


Yep I now I've lot of chance! I've my own appartment, not far of the school, and even I don't work a lot I can grab good mark. So I work on some code for fun! And I think it's a big chance!


although I think companies should not force in any way people to do out of work activities, I do think doing so gives devs a big advantage, "knowledge", learning new languages, doing side projects, reading articles, contributing to open source, is always something that will improve your coding skills, and at the end that will be reflected on your day to day work, the quality of your code, and ultimately making the company and other people to perceive you as a great dev.


I like that one. So you're saying the act of doing something off-work is not valuable per se; it only becomes valuable when you're able to materialize all that learning on your work performance. Good one!


In my opinion,your free time is your free time. You should calm down to prevent burnout. Do a hobby, go out do things that make you feel refreshed. But you could code but not intensive, just for fun simple stuff but remember to not overdo it, you need to prevent burnouts


Or put as: prevent burnout by playing the game long term. I can totally agree. It's a disservice to put a lot of time doing open source just to see yourself burned out at work.


Some companies value your off-work activity more than your experience. Is it fair?
No, it's just lazy.

Your off-work activity shows passion in the job, and passion is definitely a valuable characteristic for any hire, independently of the field. However, there are definitely more ways to evaluate it. Plus, there are characteristics that are more important than passion. So, as a company, if I rely heavily on this item to assess a candidate, I am probably not doing a good job.

In some companies, this can also give an edge compared to other applicants. A good Github profile, for example, can show your level of expertise in coding quite nicely. However, your knowledge and expertise will have to be assessed anyway in an interview. If a company heavily relies on such elements for a hire, they are probably looking for shortcuts.

Do I like to work on side projects, give tech talks, write blog posts?
Hell yeah! But this is orthogonal to my career :)


Right. You just landed on a very important topic here: hiring processes are flawed if they judge candidates for their "passion" only. Whether they value this in their screenings is irrelevant, what matters is how they see you as a whole.


Developing outside of work is cathartic for me personally. I LOVE being able to choose the exact tech stack, implementation, and technical requirements of my projects. That is not always the case in day-to-day work.

Also, venturing out and trying new tools on the side can help get experience under your belt and knowledge in tools that you can one day implement at work, something which might not be possible if your company doesn't provide enough R&D time 9-5.

EDIT: I will note that I think you should definitely have hobbies that don't involve sitting and starting at a screen all day as well.


I'm adding a new word to my vocab: cathartic :D

Definitely. Working on side projects is fantastic, it's the whole mixture of ugly, maintainable, but lovely code. Excellent for experimenting and growing.


To me it's neither fair or unfair; it's just one among many ways to assess developers' skills & abilities.

  • Some companies value educational background (formal and/or informal).
  • Some companies value previous work experience.
  • Some companies value portfolios/activities.
  • Some companies have rigurous recruitment process with complex algorithm challenges for positions that don't actually require that level of algorithm skills.

People have vastly different circumstances, which are rarely fair in the first place. Not everyone is able/willing to code in their free time just as not everyone is able to go to university or bootcamp, not everyone is able/willing to spend so much time practicing code challenges for complex algorithm whiteboarding tests, not everyone is able to undergo low/non-paid internships to get experience (which makes it harder to get their first job), etc.

I guess the bottomline is to align whichever advantages you have to companies that appreciate what you bring.


Ha! spot on. You're touching on a lot of valid points here.

  1. Privilege. Maybe you're passionate about coding but you're a young mom trying hard and can't really put after work hours for coding.
  2. Matter of taste. Align your values with the company you work for. If you think algorithms are critical, go for FANGs. If you think formal education is valuable, look for corporates. If you value portfolio, perhaps go for startups.

It depends on the person. If a persons finds coding to be their passion, then this activity isn't work anymore but a hobby. If a person feels like coding is a part of their system (life), then every free time would be a coding and a happy time.

As a programmer, the company where you are currently working might box you to the repetitive tools and programming languages that they are usually use. But, for a person who really starves for knowledge, free times would be a privilege for them to learn something new.


I love coding, and I love working on my own projects and experiments in my free time. That time is akin to creating art, relaxing and clearing my mind.

That being said, I believe it should not affect my relevance as a developer. I just need to make sure I have a decent portfolio and I keep it up to date. That doesn't mean to say it needs to be filled with off-work activity.


Right. Devs can be smart enough to build a strong portfolio which doesn't necessarily require off-work time.


I'm in need of something like this. I'm even considering buying an xbox or paying for an fl studio license just so that I have something else to do other than code.


Yeah, balance is king! It's good to have another kind of fun to stay creative, productive, and avoiding burn out.


Some software companies value your off-work activity more than your experience.
Can you expand on this? In my experience the opposite is true.


I like contributing to community when getting time.
I'll keep on doing it.

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