Techies often make information technology their career, because they love working with computers, whether cobbling together networks or building Web sites. But if your work is also your hobby, when do you have time for anything else? Is this situation simply a win-win for techies and their employers? Or does focusing too much attention on one part of your life pose risks?
"The job is just a way for me to continue my hobby and earn a living at the same time," says Adnan Wasim, who writes a blog about system administration and software development. For Wasim, computers started out as a hobby and then morphed into a full-fledged career as he earned a bachelor's degree in computer science and then started working full-time in the field. "Turning a hobby into a career is a perfect way to spend eight hours a day earning a living," he says.
Career coach Lynn Berger concurs. "I believe it is wonderful to love what you do, and it should be somewhat fun," she says.
On the surface, the convergence of a job and a hobby would appear to serve everyone well. Techies get to focus on what they love to do, while their employers enjoy the fruits of their enthusiasm. Yet techies should still watch out for these danger spots to make sure their hobby doesn't drive their careers in the wrong direction.
Danger Spot 1: Not Focusing on the Job
Berger, for instance, warns techies about focusing on areas that interest them as a hobby when their jobs may require them to focus on something else entirely. "The only downside is if an individual spends a disproportionate amount of time on what they believe to be most interesting while ignoring the more significant and important parts of their job," she says.
No doubt the transition from a hobby to a job requires a change in perspective. Self-styled computer geeks will typically reach a plateau with their hobby, often because they're not required to delve deeper or tackle the sort of problems large organizations face.
"Given any task, there are enjoyable aspects of a task, and some not so enjoyable," Wasim says. "When pursuing a hobby, an individual will probably work on the enjoyable aspects, ignoring the not-so-enjoyable aspects. However, to learn something fully, the not-so-enjoyable aspects are also important. A job can help you force yourself to learn the not-so-enjoyable aspects. This can only be beneficial in the long run.
Danger Spot 2: Not Diversifying Beyond Pure Technology
What's more, even though techies may enter IT because they consider computers a hobby, that dynamic may change as they mature and their careers progress.
"Folks who enter IT because it is their passion are to be commended," says John Baldoni, author of How Great Leaders Get Great Results. "The challenge is to enkindle a passion for management. Sadly, this is often not the case with tech folks, because moving into management requires that they give up what they enjoy doing most."
In other words, a techie may be reluctant to give up the day-to-day work involving coding applications, tuning networks and the like, even if doing so could lead to additional responsibility, a better salary and perhaps a more rewarding career in the long run.
Management, in particular, requires a shift in outlook, along with a dedicated interest in areas like communication, writing and presentation skills.
"Management is not a hobby," Baldoni says. "It is a full-time commitment. It requires a discipline for administration, akin to IT, yes, but focused now on people, not technology.
Danger Spot 3: Burnout
Computer-crazed techies also run the risk of burning out. Wasim cautions techies about spending all their time in front of a screen. "I think burnout is a very serious problem," he says, noting the importance of mixing things up with family, friends, sports or whatever else interests you. "Too much of anything is bad.