As a programmer you have quite a selection when it comes to hobby opportunities, and we’ve covered them in our roundup of hobbies that involve coding and scripting. If you love tapping away at the keyboard more than anything else, consider starting there.
But if you want to exercise your mind in a fun way without writing a single line of code, then keep reading. There are several no-code hobbies you can take up that’ll help you become a better programmer in unexpected ways.
Baking may seem like a hobby better suited for homemakers and retirees, but the truth is that baking requires that you be meticulous. Unlike in cooking, there’s very little room for error when following a recipe — that’s why people say cooking is art while baking is science.
In other words, you can’t freestyle cupcakes and soufflés. Ratios matter. Exact measurements are critical, steps must be taken in the right order, and small deviations can have disastrous effects. Sounds a bit like programming, doesn’t it? And by the way, Elon Musk loves to bake.
To get started with baking:
You can learn almost everything you need to know on YouTube through channels like Rosanna Pansino and My Cupcake Addiction. For something a bit more formal, consider taking an online baking course. And for practice, I highly recommend Reddit’s 52 Weeks of Baking challenge.
What I love about gardening is how it teaches you how to troubleshoot and adapt. One morning your herbs look fine, the next morning they look sick. Why? It could be deficient nutrients, poor lighting, invasive pests, etc. It’s up to you to figure it out, then solve it.
Also, your plants will die and you will learn much about failure.
Gardening also teaches you to be patient and persevere. What you plant today may take weeks, months, or even years to mature — and the same can be said of many programming projects. Through gardening, you’ll learn that daily tending is key to long-term success.
To get started with gardening:
You have many options: blogs (e.g. The Rusted Garden), YouTube channels (e.g. Voodoo Garden), and even podcasts (e.g. You Bet Your Garden). Want to inject a bit of tech? Try out some of these smart gardening devices and these gadgets for automating garden tasks.
3. Musical Instruments
Most people think of music as a hobby for right-brain folk. It’s true that composition and songwriting require creativity, but here’s something you may not realize: music theory is both logical and mathematical.
One could say that programming is a creative act within a logical framework — you combine syntax, data, and algorithms in interesting ways to create new and original software. One might argue that music is the same in that its creativity is rooted in logic.
To get started with musical instruments:
We’ve compiled lists of sites for learning the basics of music theory as well as learning music theory through online courses. You can even learn to play instruments online, but we recommend paying for a personal tutor if you can. You’ll progress much faster and be more consistent.
4. Logic Puzzles
Should be pretty obvious! What better way to exercise your logical reasoning than with logic puzzles? Sudoku and crosswords are two of the most popular options, but don’t be afraid to branch out. There are some really cool alternatives, especially in mobile gaming.
To get started with logic puzzles:
If you want to play right this minute, the easiest option would be to check out these free browser-based puzzle games. If you’re on mobile, try these free mobile puzzle games instead. Prefer written or printable puzzles? There are some great sites for that too.
5. Poker and Blackjack
Unlike most casino games, poker and blackjack are mainly about math. Every decision comes down to figuring out your odds of success based on your hand and other details you’ve picked up during the game. You’ll crunch more numbers than an accountant.
And the whole act of making decisions based on odds and imperfect information? That’ll teach you all about risk management. Risk/reward analysis is a core skill for programmers, especially if you’re working on solo projects.
To get started with poker and blackjack:
Poker and blackjack apps are a dime a dozen on mobile platforms. iOS users can get started with this app while Android users can start with this app. Don’t like them? Search your respective app stores and you can find an alternative in minutes.
Go is arguably the simplest game in existence if you look only at its ruleset: your only action is putting down stones on a board. Yet at the same time, Go is often cited as the deepest game in existence because the possibility space is practically infinite.
Every stone you place has consequences that can ripple to the end of the game. As such, Go’s ability to teach you to think ahead is invaluable for programming. Your code structure will improve and you’ll minimize the need to refactor code.
To get started with Go:
You can learn the rules of Go in just a few minutes — the real journey lies in learning the myriad strategies that you can employ. Beginners should start with an app like Go Free and play against AI while learning Go strategies from these resources.
Orienteering is nothing more than navigating terrain using a map and compass. The skills involved (e.g. reading a compass, interpreting a map, matching 3D environments to 2D, etc.) exercise many different areas of the brain, plus you get a healthy dose of physical activity.
If orienteering is too extreme, consider geocaching instead: using your phone, your goal is to navigate to hidden “caches” nearby. It’s a community-driven GPS game and you can play it anywhere, even in urban areas — an excellent way to detox from social media.
To get started with orienteering:
You’re best off visiting Orienteering USA and joining an orienteering club near you. Geocaching can be done on your own with only your phone, so that’s probably an easier start for most. Learn more in our first timer’s introduction to geocaching.
By woodworking, we literally mean building things out of wood. The whole process of measuring, cutting, joining, and finishing parallels the process of creating software, with just as much nuance, intricacies, and attention to detail needed.
Throughout each project, you’ll be practicing mental math, visual spatial reasoning, and following construction steps to a tee.
To get started with woodworking:
Start with our overview of beginner woodworking skills. After that, you can expand further with these helpful woodworking YouTube channels. And throughout your journey, you can put your skills to the test with these woodworking projects for home and office.
9. 3D Modeling
3D modeling lets you create beautiful figures and objects out of nothing. The whole “out of nothing” part is often the hardest for beginner and intermediate programmers, so being able to practice that in a non-coding way can be helpful.
And once you get good, you can start designing 3D models that you can subsequently print out using a 3D printer. Or you can combine 3D modeling with programming to create assets for games, environments, simulations, etc. It’s an awesome geeky DIY hobby to pick up.
To get started with 3D modeling:
3D modeling software can be expensive. Don’t want to pay a cent? Sculptris (our review) is good for a basic introduction while Blender (some excellent tutorials) is more powerful with a steeper learning curve. And don’t forget our ultimate guide to 3D printing!
Photography involves a lot more logical thought and creative problem solving than most people expect. You’re always mired in restrictions and the fun of it is in tweaking every factor (e.g. light, direction, ISO, aperture, shutter speed, lens, flash, bouncers, etc.) to get the shot you want.
When you’re programming on behalf of a client, their desires inform the final “shot” and their requirements are your “restrictions.” Learning how to get shots amidst restrictions is a valuable skill, and photography can teach you more about it than you’d think.
To get started with photography:
Start with these fundamental tips for beginners, then move on to these photography YouTube channels and skill-building photography exercises. If you’re willing to pay for higher-quality education, see how you can improve your photography with Lynda.com.
What Are Your Favorite Hobbies?
At the end of the day, a programmer can have whatever hobbies he wants — even ones that have no bearing on programming itself. That’s one of the main reasons to have hobbies in the first place, isn’t it? To relax, have fun, and sweep yourself away from work and projects.
So our advice to you: try some of these hobbies, but only the ones that truly interest you. Don’t worry about connecting them back to programming. Have fun and enjoy yourself. That in itself — the blowing off of steam — will pay off and make you a better coder.
What kinds of hobbies do you have? Which ones have you given up on? Do you think hobbies have improved your skills as a programmer? Share with us in the comments below!