For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a jack-of-all-trades sort of person.
Whenever I see someone create something that I enjoy or respect, my immediate response is “I wonder if I could make something like that too”. It’s led to me acquiring all sorts of weird skills and hobbies. Here are some somewhat self-indulgent auto-biographical examples to get things rolling.
Since this is a programming blog, I’ll start with an example about my first experiences with writing code. I’ve been playing around with computers for as long as my family had one (Dell, Intel Pentium, Windows 3.1). But it was freshmen year of high school that the graphing calculator fad took off and I really fell for programming.
One of the best ways to waste time in math class was playing calculator games. I’m still surprised how quickly these games spread from TI-83 to TI-83 (I wonder if kids do it the same way today?). There were the classic snake-type games, and then there were the formula pack apps where you could plug in variables and get your answer without having to punch out the whole equation.
Getting my first taste of these, I immediately thought “I wonder if I could make something like this too?”. I was in my first real programming class that year (Visual Basic 6), so I was getting a taste of common programming syntax and elements, but learning the specific TI-83 APIs was trial and error. Over the next year or two, I made my fair share of little apps and games. Even to the point where I made an entire playable board game app for my Homer’s Odyssey English class project.
This behavior had already started for me back in middle school, where I started getting into popular rock music. Before long, I had started/joined my first band and started writing songs as soon I learned my first two guitar chords.
Then we needed recordings, so I listened to my favorite records and said “how can I make recordings that sound like this?”. I started buying gear and cobbling together our first records. I’ve recorded in the order of 30 to 40 records for my bands and others’ bands since then.
By college, my musical tastes had expanded. I started a second band with one of my friends who sided more towards classic punk/acoustic music. I listed to the records he and I shared a taste for and thought “I bet I could make music like this.” And so we did. Five records with that band in eight years. Everyone has to have a solo project, and so I started one of those too. At one point I was writing and recording one record for each of my three bands per year.
I learned VB6 and C++ in high school mostly by curriculum. In college I learned C and a couple different flavors of assembly, mostly by curriculum too. It wasn’t until the summer after my graduation that I looked at smartphone apps and said “I wonder if I could write something like that?”. I dove in and learned Objective-C and Cocoa Touch from scratch. That was the only thing I did for an entire two months until I got my first job. Once I got my job, however, it was back to the part-time shelf with all the music stuff.
Photos & Video
During college, A friend of mine was delving into photography and always posting his DSLR photos of our group of friends to Facebook and blowing all of us away. I asked myself “could I learn how to take photos like that?”. I borrowed his old camera when I went to Japan for two months, and returned with a new back-burner hobby.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I got my own camera and started shooting regularly again. My camera has video, so it wasn’t long before I had focused most of my energies to shooting video at gatherings and editing together clips with my own music arrangements to show everyone a few days later, an idea I appropriated from the same friend that loaned me his camera.
Master of None
At a certain point, I realized that having this many semi-active interests means that I will never be at the top 1% of any of them. I’m still of the persuasion that no one can escape the 10,000 hours rule.
This wouldn’t be a problem if I was still a high school or college kid, but as an adult I realize that some pursuits have more of a payback than others. In the past, the only priorities I assigned to all these activities was based on my own random day-to-day decisions and the promises I’d made to those I worked on these projects with.
And because most of these pursuits require multi-month projects, I am constantly backlogged with a dozen simultaneous commitments. Every time I finish one, two are already there to replace it.
With my realization that programming is going to be my breadwinning function for the indefinite future, should my programming pursuits be my default number one priority? Should music and photography and the others be placed further back in the list than they already are if I am to keep up with the programming industry and stay employable?
Or is this a trait that a lot of successful people have? I know that my various pursuits always end up giving me some lightbulb-over-head insight into other seemingly unrelated pursuits.
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely during off my wandering ambition towards acquiring new skills. I know it’s part of who I am. The question that’s on the table is if I should artificially adjust my priorities. I’m sure if I were 40 instead of 25, I’d be able to answer these questions succinctly and insightfully, and it would help a lot of young people like myself.
From here, I’m guessing I’ll just have to keep a better handle on my current projects and commitments. Opportunities for new projects should be evaluated more carefully for time and enjoyment, because at the end of the day, a lot of these pursuits are things I should be doing because I really really want to do them.
That’s how I’ll have to reason things next time the thought pops into my head: “I wonder if I could make something like that?”.