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Here’s a dilemma I’ve struggle with for years: I love programming but I never want to make a career out of it. Where does that leave me? How can I take joy in this activity without making it the center of my life? Maybe you’ve had thoughts like this, too.

The answer is to approach it as a hobby 17 Geeky DIY Hobbies You Can Learn in a Small Space 17 Geeky DIY Hobbies You Can Learn in a Small Space Hobbies are important for a well-rounded life, but many DIY hobbies require a lot of room for machines or materials. Here are some great options if you don't have much space to spare. Read More . Doing this is great because it can help you sharpen your skills in a practical way 5 Project Ideas To Help You Learn Programming Faster 5 Project Ideas To Help You Learn Programming Faster There are a few ways to ease the learning curve for programming. Get your hands dirty and learn faster with side projects you can start anytime. Play around with these five. Read More . It can also be a fantastic way to master a new programming language 7 Useful Tricks for Mastering a New Programming Language 7 Useful Tricks for Mastering a New Programming Language It's okay to be overwhelmed when you are learning to code. You'll probably forget things as quickly as you learn them. These tips can help you to better retain all that new information. Read More . And if you’re an ex-career coder, the hobby approach can help reverse the effects of programming burnout Programming Burnout: How to Regain Your Lost Motivation Programming Burnout: How to Regain Your Lost Motivation Writing all those lines of code can be draining physically and emotionally. All you need to get back up is the awareness that motivation can be regained. Read More and make it enjoyable once again.

So what are your options? What kind of programming and/or scripting can you do that don’t involve big corporations or contracted clients? Here are several ideas that you can start exploring right now.

1. Arduino

Arduino is the perfect blend of electronics, programming, and casual. It’s an open source microcontroller (i.e. a tiny, single-circuit computer) with various component pieces and programmable logic. Think of it as LEGO for adults using actual wiring, circuitry, and coding.

And it’s not as difficult as it sounds. All you need is an Arduino starter kit and a few introductory Arduino guides to point you in the right direction. Note that while Arduino does support multiple programming languages, you’ll probably find it easiest to stick with the official C-like language.

Ready to dive in? Check out these beginner projects for Arduino newbies 10 Great Arduino Projects for Beginners 10 Great Arduino Projects for Beginners Completing an Arduino project gives you a sense of satisfaction like no other. Most beginners aren't sure where to start though, and even beginner's projects can seem rather daunting. Read More .

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2. Raspberry Pi

If you like Arduino’s idea of coding a small gadget that does what you want but you hate the electronics/circuitry aspects, then you’ll be happier with Raspberry Pi 9 Things You Wanted to Know About Raspberry Pi 9 Things You Wanted to Know About Raspberry Pi What is a "Raspberry Pi"? Who made it? What's the point? What can you do with it? Let's find answers for all the frequently asked questions about the Raspberry Pi. Read More . It’s a single-board mini-computer complete with CPU, GPU, RAM, and I/O including USB ports, video and audio ports, and Ethernet port.

The two official programming languages are Python and Scratch, but others are supported as well. We recommend starting with a Raspberry Pi Zero Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Zero Getting Started with Raspberry Pi Zero Whether you bought a magazine with one glued to the front, or found a kit online, the chances are you're now the proud owner of a $5 computer: the Raspberry Pi Zero. Read More because it’s the simplest and cheapest at only $5, yet powerful enough to create some amazing projects 10 of the Best Raspberry Pi Zero Projects So Far 10 of the Best Raspberry Pi Zero Projects So Far With a lack of full-size USB or Ethernet ports, Pi Zero projects are both attractive and challenging in equal measure. Here are ten great Raspberry Pi Zero projects to get you started. Read More . Also check out these Raspberry Pi newbie projects Raspberry Pi Projects for Beginners Raspberry Pi Projects for Beginners These 10 Raspberry Pi projects for beginners are great for getting an introduction to the hardware and software capabilities of the Pi, and will help you get up and running in no time! Read More . Once you’ve mastered or grown tired of the Raspberry Pi, you might even consider these Raspberry Pi alternatives Pi Overdose? Here's 5 Raspberry Pi Alternatives Pi Overdose? Here's 5 Raspberry Pi Alternatives You've mastered the Raspberry Pi - now what? Here's 5 of the best Pi alternatives to have a go with next. Read More .

3. Drones and Robotics

Not all drones can be programmed 8 Questions to Ask When Buying Your First Drone 8 Questions to Ask When Buying Your First Drone Buying a drone is equal parts exciting and confusing. Here are some common questions most beginners have when purchasing their first drone. Read More , but a lot of them can, and doing so can be an awesome way to have some fun in your backyard or at the local park. It’s still unclear whether drone racing will become a “thing,” Drone Racing Is Here! 5 Things to Know Before Getting Started Drone Racing Is Here! 5 Things to Know Before Getting Started Drones are taking over every industry and sports are no exception. Here's everything you need to know about this up-and-coming activity and how you can get involved. Read More but that’s another way you can have fun with drone programming.

Or you can take it a step further and dive into full-blown robotics. It’s a more involved process, of course, but is perfect if you have equal love between coding and circuits. Many robot kits are based on Arduino, but you can also look into LEGO MINDSTORMS, Tinkerbots (read our review), and others.

4. Game Modding

Years ago, I used to pour hours into making custom maps for Starcraft and Warcraft 3 as well as mods for AMX in Counter-Strike. These days, you can do so much more with custom maps for Starcraft 2 and Dota 2 plus modding for games like Skyrim, Kerbal Space Program, and ARMA.

But perhaps the most well-known and flexible example of game modding is Minecraft. You can pretty much tweak any aspect of the game, resulting in completely new gameplay experiences. It’s a great way to practice Java while having tons of fun. See our introduction to modding Minecraft for more details.

5. Game Development

Just because you like playing games doesn’t mean you should start making them. It’s quite a double-edged sword — think carefully before picking this up as a hobby. On the one hand, you’ll better appreciate the work that goes into your favorite games, but on the other, games will lose much of their magic because you’ll start “seeing behind the curtain.”

If you want to give it a go, check out these free game development tools 5 Free Game Development Software Tools to Make Your Own Games 5 Free Game Development Software Tools to Make Your Own Games Thanks to these awesome free game development software tools, a game that might've required one year can now be made in six months or faster, sometimes without any code! Read More . Unreal Engine, Unity, and GameMaker are the big names with Godot Engine quickly catching up. For coding-only frameworks, look into LibGDX (Java), Monogame (C#), LOVE (Lua), and HaxeFlixel (Haxe). There’s never been a better time to dive into game development.

6. Web Development

Web development Programming vs. Web Development: What's the Difference? Programming vs. Web Development: What's the Difference? You might think application programmers and web developers do the same job, but that's far from the truth. Here are the key differences between programmers and web developers. Read More is very much a “professional” kind of programming. Not only is it one of the easier ways to be a freelance coder, it doesn’t really lend itself to hobby work. If you want to run a website, you’d probably use a framework like WordPress. Not as many people enjoy making websites just for fun.

But if your future plans involve turning your hobbies into profitable side projects, then web development is an excellent option. Popular professional frameworks include Django (Python), React (JavaScript), Ruby on Rails (Ruby), and Laravel (PHP).

7. Mobile Development

Maybe it’s just me, but mobile development has a certain allure that other kinds of development don’t have. Seeing a self-made app run on your smartphone (and especially your friend’s smartphone) can be exhilarating, and if you can make people’s lives better with your app, all the better.

Like web development, mobile development has a lot of potential as a “hobby now, career later” option 10 Computer Programming Jobs That Are In Demand Right Now 10 Computer Programming Jobs That Are In Demand Right Now Since landing a programming job can be tough in the current landscape, consider focusing on one of the following concentrations to improve your chances of success. Read More . Unlike web development, where your focus is to build skills to eventually work as a freelancer, the usual plan in mobile development is to create a viral app. A hobby app that strikes gold is pretty much the dream.

8. Open Source Contributions

The world would be a terrible place without open source software What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] "Open source" is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days. You may know that certain things are open source, like Linux and Android, but do you know what it entails? What is open... Read More . Can you imagine where we’d be without Apache, MySQL, VLC, Firefox, LibreOffice, GIMP, Blender, Android, Linux, or WordPress? (Fun fact: More than 1-in-4 websites run on WordPress 3 Killer Facts You Didn't Expect About WordPress 3 Killer Facts You Didn't Expect About WordPress Little did you know that WordPress is one of the most influential platforms on the web. Here are a few things you probably didn't know about it. Read More !)

And none of these projects would be what they are today without open source contributors. If you have time and know-how, then lending your energy to some of your favorite open source projects could be a great way to sharpen your skills, expand your network, and give back to the community.

Not sure where to start? Here are a handful of open source projects The 10 Best Open Source Projects You Should Be Volunteering To Help With The 10 Best Open Source Projects You Should Be Volunteering To Help With You don't have to be a programmer. You could be a writer, a designer, a translator, just a Facebook or Twitter junkie, or someone who wants to just donate money for the cause. There are... Read More that could really use your help and expertise.

9. Puzzles and Challenges

Some people love jigsaw puzzles. Others love logic games like Sudoku, crosswords, and even browser-based puzzles 15 Cool Puzzle Games You Can Play Free in Your Browser 15 Cool Puzzle Games You Can Play Free in Your Browser Browser-based games are perfect for a quick casual game. You can play without worrying about payments, downloads, or hardware requirements. Read More . But as a coder, you have something more challenging and more rewarding at your fingertips: programming kata and challenges.

We’ve covered programming contests and competitions Test Your Programming Skills With These Online Competitions Test Your Programming Skills With These Online Competitions Are you in a programming rut? Worried that your coding skills have hit a plateau? Sometimes the answer is a heavy dose of challenges that stretch your abilities to their limits. Read More , but those are against other programmers. Kata and challenges are done solo, so there’s less pressure and more opportunities for growth. Notable examples include CodeWars, Project Euler, Daily Programmer, CodinGame, and HackerRank.

10. Application-Specific Scripting

You may not realize it but many of the apps you use day-to-day can probably be extended or customized with scripting.

Rainmeter, Geany, TeamSpeak, VLC, and Vim can all be extended with Lua. Winamp plugins are made with C++. Sublime Text plugins use Python while Visual Studio Code extensions use JavaScript. Automation bots for services like Twitch and Discord can be written in all kinds of languages.

AutoHotkey is nifty scripting environment, with its own language, that lets you create keystroke-based hotkeys and macros on Windows 10+ Cool AutoHotkey Scripts & How to Make Your Own 10+ Cool AutoHotkey Scripts & How to Make Your Own AutoHotkey is an easy way to add shortcuts to your computer. You can download ready-to-use scripts or write your own. We show you to become more productive with automated hotkey tasks. Read More . And don’t forget about the operating system level: batch scripting Dip Your Toes in Batch File Programming for Windows Dip Your Toes in Batch File Programming for Windows Why do you let simple, repetitive tasks bore you? If you can't delegate, innovate! With Windows you can create simple little programs, called batch files, that will take care of these tiresome tasks. Read More , PowerShell scripting Boost Your Productivity With Windows PowerShell Scripts Boost Your Productivity With Windows PowerShell Scripts What if you could bring the productivity of Linux over to Windows? Most Linux distros come packaged with the powerful Bash shell. PowerShell is an equally powerful terminal for Windows. Read More , and bash scripting A Quick Guide to Linux Bash Shell in Windows 10 A Quick Guide to Linux Bash Shell in Windows 10 You can now run Linux on Windows. Learn more about Bash on Windows, from how and why you should install it, to hidden features you probably didn't know about. Read More .

What Are Your Programming Hobbies?

There are so many ways to make use of programming today, and we haven’t even begun to peak yet. Now is as good a time as any to start learning how to code, even if you think you’re too old 3 Myth-Busting Reasons to Start Coding Even at an Older Age 3 Myth-Busting Reasons to Start Coding Even at an Older Age Have ever wondered if you're "too old" to start learning how to program, the simple answer is that anyone can pick it up. The real question is, should you give it a shot? Read More . The future will be full of opportunities for anyone who knows programming.

What do you do with your programming skills? Is it all for work or do you have side projects going on? Share with us in a comment down below!

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