How to Get Hands-On IT Experience from Hobbies
Hobbies can be a fun way to augment your IT or programming skill set. Whether you're starting out, continuing your education, or seeking a change in profession, hobbies can benefit your career in several ways. While certain hobbies can serve as personal technology skill builders, we shouldn't forget that every hobby has a community behind it that we can tap into.
By contributing IT skills to a hobbyist community, you can multiply the benefits, allowing you to think bigger and tackle larger-scale technology challenges. This also makes it possible to build a personal network from hobbies, which increases the visibility of accomplishments and may open doors to new opportunities.
Some amazing real-life stories have developed out of this scenario. While Steve Wozniak was trying to impress members of his local electronics hobbyist group, he managed to create the Apple computer. Or consider Mark Zuckerberg, who teamed up with his roommates in college in an effort to improve student communication, inadvertently creating a social media phenomenon you may have heard of, Facebook.
Not everyone is interested in a technology-related hobby, however. Some of us are prone to burnout from over-immersion. If you find yourself in this category, all is not lost, because there are plenty of ways that a non-technical hobby can help your career. If you can devote a little time to infuse some modern tech into any hobby, club, or interest group, you can build valuable hands-on industry experience through the process.
Your First Steps: Get Involved
It's usually not difficult to get involved in the technology side of a hobby or group, because most groups suffer from a tech vacuum. The first step is to find a need and fill it without being too pushy. There may be an established organizational structure, and you don't want to ruffle feathers. Remember that the goal is to open doors, not close them.
Once your foot is in the door, you'll likely have some freedom to implement technology as you see fit. You may get to experience what it's like to be your own boss, making most of the technology decisions yourself. You'll also want to use this opportunity to perfect your soft skills, coordinating with others in a live environment.
Don't be afraid to seek training for unfamiliar areas. You may find that, with a willingness to take on challenges that are new to you, you can become instrumental in keeping your hobbyist community modern and relevant.
How to Develop Hands-On Programming Experience Through Your Hobby
Developing and maintaining programming skills is a lifelong process. If you don't use it, you lose it! Hobbies can help you develop and hone your programming toolkit by stepping out of the confines of your career.
Another area where programming expertise can help your hobby is in aggregating data and producing reports. This is particularly useful for prospective database admins, as a little SQL programming can provide valuable information to guide even small interest groups. Data analysis can start with log files from the group's web site, Facebook page, or app. Identifying potential data sources, building queries and datasets, and producing reports can yield valuable insights into almost any hobby.
Video game communities in particular are always looking for SQL programmers that can produce detailed web-based player statistic reports.
Free Hands-on IT Training, All Hobbies Welcome
If your goals are more focused on InfoTech than programming, there are some common areas where your services are likely needed. It's usually a safe bet to start by modernizing equipment, software, the web site, or social media pages. These areas are frequently neglected as their upkeep may lie outside the skill set of most group members.
Try to think of ways you can expand your IT knowledge as you improve their systems. If you are new to Linux, for instance, jump in headfirst and build a new utility or device using Arduino or a Raspberry Pi. Or, possibly better still, transition their systems from the premise to the cloud.
You may be able to drastically reduce a group's monthly expenses by taking over services that were once outsourced. Expensive hosting packages can often be replaced by a low-cost AWS EC2 instance, allowing you to build server administration expertise while cutting costs.
Communication problems plague many hobby groups, both externally and within the group's leadership. These problems can be easy to fix with a little IT, though. Implementing a community-building tool like SharePoint can get things back on track by creating both a front-end web site and Intranet to store and organize records without being dependent on a single member's hard drive.
When considering your small hobby group, you may think that some of these ideas are too far out there, but that's kind of the point. When you implement technology within a small group, you don't want to get caught in a small mindset. Instead, try to develop solutions from an enterprise DevOps perspective.
This means you don't want to end up with a jumble of unrelated utilities such as a simple blog site, separate cloud storage for internal documents, and generic group scheduling page. Instead, try to come up with a long-term plan that addresses a group's technology needs incrementally in a unified and comprehensive way, keeping them organized and functioning for many years. Your hobby group will appreciate the capabilities you are implementing, while you benefit from building a highly employable skill set.
Once you have a few IT projects under your belt, don't forget to support your cause with data and reports that show results. You may wish to run web activity reports, for instance, that show potential new member engagement or demographics. Through this process, the goal is not only to develop your skill set, but to expand your personal network. Be sure to engage with others who are involved in your hobby to let them know that you are the face behind the group's tech successes.
Lastly, with tact, it's usually both possible and beneficial to add your hobby to a resume. Consider adding a volunteer or extracurricular section, driving home the technology expertise you've gained through your outside interests. Hobbies can be a great conversation starter when trying to break the ice at an interview. However, if your hobby is in video games, or might be construed as controversial in some way, it may be best to omit the details and simply list the areas of experience you've gained.
Any hobby, whether technical or not, can springboard us into an IT or programming career if we apply our unique talents to solving problems within a community. You may already belong to a charitable organization, gym, acting troupe, dance studio, or other hobbyist group that really needs your help with their technology needs.
The hands-on effect of implementing technology for your hobby can build knowledge and experience at a rapid pace. There is no person better than you to bring your passion for pottery or weaving into the 21st century.