Being a Dad and a Developer

April 05, 2022

This is something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. Let me say this right away - I love being a Dad. As of this writing I am the father of two amazing, beautify, and crazy little girls. I wouldn’t have things any other way. That being said, being a parent in this profession presents a lot of challenge. I’ve always operated with the mindset that if you aren’t learning and moving forward then you are actively moving in reverse. There doesn’t seem to be a skill stasis in the software industry - it evolves quickly and if you aren’t playing along your skills can go stale very quickly. Being a parent is giant responsibility and being present for my family is my first priority always. So, how do you keep up while your disposable free time continues to shrink?

Prioritize, Prioritize, Prioritize

In a prior life where I didn’t have kids and I had a bunch of disposable time I did a lot of playing around with a variety of different technologies, frameworks, languages, etc. Now, with a very limited time budget, I still have that desire (and sometimes a healthy does of anxiety/FOMO to go with it) but the time committment is too much and unrealistic. Instead of trying to cover a broad width of topics I’ve recently forced myself to sit down and really think about what topics excite me and make me curious about development. Once I had a list of things I was truly excited and curious about it helped me narrow the scope of courses, articles, and documentation I was willing to look at.

That is not to say you should ignore everything else entirely. It’s important to generally keep in touch with what is going on around the industry. Even if you’re not going to drill down on a subject just having some knowledge of what’s out there and what’s new is very important.

Get Creative with Your Time

That’s a lot easier said than done. But, what I mean when I say that is - find creative ways to utilize your existing time to learn. For me that means listening to podcasts or books while I am doing other activities - walking, driving, cutting grass, showering etc. I’m sure lots of people do this already but it becomes essential when your free time is limited. Also, to go along with being creative with your time, be realistic about what you want to achieve in the time you have. I really struggle with this at times because I’m human and I’m impatient. For me I’ve figured out that the momentum of picking things up here and there - even in small bursts - is more important than fully grasping something right away in one extended sitting. The smaller iterative approach can actually be a silver lining if you are the type of person (like myself) that tends to ramp up quickly and burn out just as fast. Slow, stead, and sure wins this race.

Try Setting a Schedule

That seems like obvious advice but with two kids things come up and it can be really hard to stay on schedule. Also kids require that you expend a lot of energy - it’s tempting to say “I’m too tired tonight…“. Try to set a time, preferably before your kids get up or after they go to bed, to dedicate to your learning. And, having said all that, be kind to yourself if you can’t always keep it. Raising kids is important and difficult work in-and-of itself - it’s ok to know your limits. The most important thing is about continuing to show up when you can keep your schedule.

Make Use of Any Company ‘Post-it’ Time

The Post-it thing is a reference to 3M - the guy who invented them did so using 3M’s sanctioned ‘bootlegging’ time that was like informal R&D and explorative time. Today lots of software companies offer some sort of 20% time or similar where they allow you to work on internal projects of your choosing or even your own side projects. If you are a parent this can be a god-send. This has the added benefit of raising your profile if you are working on internal projects and, you never know, you may come up with something extremely useful your company would want. It is a win-win.

These are just a few of the ways I am trying to approach being a Dad dev. The order of that statement is intentional - I always want for my kids and family to be my first priority. But, the reality is I need to keep up with technologies that are hell bent on leaving me in the dust. If you are a parent struggling to find ways to advance yourself I hope this helped (even if it’s just knowing you aren’t alone in your struggles).

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Written by Justin Voelkel Dad, developer, tinkerer.