Closest thing to coding that isn't
November 7, 2008 11:45 AM   Subscribe

What uses similar skills to computer programming, and is enjoyable in the same way, but does not involve excessive computer use?

I feel that in many ways computer programming would be the ideal serious pastime for me, and could lead to me selling my own products. However, training from a young age to be a guitarist, then falling into computer admin work and internet addiction led to RSI. I'm totally 'cured' from it - My body is much better than ever and I know how to work relatively safely.

However, I just can't deal with the idea of being on a computer so much of the time. I've gone too far down the path of posture and physical health not to feel an instinctive recoiling from the machine when I've been on it too long. It's a compromise I just can't make, however interested I am in programming. And I just know that whatever good intentions I set out with, I would end up pulling an all nighter once I became obsessed with a project. Some computer use, say 2 hours at most a day would be fine.

What else would use similar skills and push similar buttons?

I feel that I have the right combination of creativity and problem solving and like the fact that you can bring in many types of skills, I like being able to have complete control of a project and realise my vision, I like the fact that I can make things that matter in the real world. I like that if you put in the hours you will get results, even if it's just improving your knowledge and skills.

I thought of product design/invention, as I have good ideas for products. However, this is a bit hit and miss as products might not get realised. Also, you may have to rely on other people and manage relationships a lot in order to get stuff done, which is a minus.

I don't feel the creative arts would work, as I want something a bit more practical, that could maybe be a real product or service.

Something like designing retro machines that run on steam would not really as it is not 'cutting edge'. It doesn't matter in the same way.

These ideas make it sound like it’s all about design, but I would consider any type of field really.

Hope that explains it! Thanks in advance.
posted by Not Supplied to Work & Money (29 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
learn to repair appliances. Washer, dryer, diswasher, etc.
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:50 AM on November 7, 2008

Unfortunately I think the computer is such a dominantly good tool for this kind of work that you will not find anything. (For example, computer programming was not always done on -- in front of -- computers. It is now done almost exclusively on computers largely because they are extremely well-suited to the kind of systematic-obsessive work that is required.)
posted by grobstein at 12:00 PM on November 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the answer. It helped to clarify something further: I suppose I am interested in being 'creative' (in the loosest sense) rather just interested in logic and systems. I'm looking for something that's about developing my ideas.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:03 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: I wish I had some suggestions for you - I really do! But I did want to mention that designing these days ALSO usually happens on a computer - particularly product design, design of machines, etc.

However, if you like the idea of working WITH someone who would do the actual product design on computer and you could be the "idea/business guy" that might work. Partnering up with someone, perhaps? But if you're going to be the idea/business guy, I will suggest this: business courses. Management and marketing. You won't believe the difference they'll make.
posted by twiki at 12:05 PM on November 7, 2008

Response by poster: To clarify, I would have seen myself at home writing an indie program, rather than working in business developing their systems, or whatever the cool geeks call it.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:05 PM on November 7, 2008

Perhaps something security related? And I'm not talking about becoming a mall cop. Lots of businesses need physical security; they need a plan with layers of security, they need to know what can fail/get breached, how it can fail/get breached, and what can pick up the slack. I guess the whole lock design industry would be intersting (but probably tough to get into).
posted by bjrn at 12:06 PM on November 7, 2008

In my opinion programming, even at low levels, is all about design, so any job that involves designing something would probably be similar. I actually can't think of any kind of design that doesn't heavily use computers these days, so I can't get any more specific than that unfortunately. And as far as being an inventor goes, you'll probably need to get a lot education in a specific field to be able to create things that are practical, useful, and original enough to be able to make a living at it.

I like being able to have complete control of a project and realise my vision

This might be kind of a tangent, but in my experience this is what hobby programming is like but not what professional programming is like. Programming as a profession has a lot to do with working with customers (even if indirectly through requirements) and working with other programmers. In nearly any field, including more artistic fields like graphic design, you're going to end up needing to work with other people who have some control over the project.

To clarify, I would have seen myself at home writing an indie program, rather than working in business developing their systems

I don't think that this kind of job exists. You can write your own programs and try to sell them yourself to make a living, but then you need to spend most of your time being a marketer, an accountant, business deal negotiator, a sales rep, etc. because you don't have coworkers who will do all of that for you.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:11 PM on November 7, 2008

Response by poster: Hi. I should clarify that I'm not necessarily looking for a job as such, so hobby programming equivalent things are fine. I'm a person who would be happy to spend most of their free time on a magnificent obsession. However, to work for me it would have to have the potential to add value in the real world, which is why some more obscure things don't do it for me. And I suppose I would hope that I could develop it as at least a part time career in future.
posted by Not Supplied at 12:23 PM on November 7, 2008

Freelance contracting, get the spec, design code and test, get paid.

Physically, while coding I've found RSI-type issues to be more related to the mouse than the keyboard, which is why I started using a Wacom tablet instead, but there's lots of other options out there for people with RSI.

Besides coding apps, the closest thing in this generation is probably web development. There's different aspects involved these days, site design, front-end UI, back-end DB, etc.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 12:23 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: It's an interesting question, and surprisingly hard to answer as computers have worked their way into so many areas.

My father used to be a carpenter and, thinking about it, a lot of the 'practically-minded creativity' I'm drawn to and express via computers also applied to his work. He had to solve problems, apply spatial skills, learn to use the right tools & materials, take pride in his work, etc.. If I had to completely give up using computers I think I'd end up doing a similar craft to fulfill my need to create things.
posted by malevolent at 12:25 PM on November 7, 2008

This is going to sound boring, but mathematics. It's the only thing that gives me the same sense of accomplishment from solving a difficult logic puzzle which doesn't necessarily involve use of a computer.
posted by MaxK at 12:33 PM on November 7, 2008

Get into set design. You'll have to be creative in the ways you turn the director's "vision" of the play into something that you can build on stage. You'll also have to deal with a lot of practical details about how to make fake things look real and how to make stable structures with a minimum amount of materials and effort. You will have to work with people and on a specific schedule.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 12:38 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: Learn to make furniture. There are analogies to object-oriented programming: you must make a number of small parts which all have to come together in a particular way to fit a cohesive overall vision. You get to figure out the best way to break up a piece into parts, see how those parts will best fit together to cope with whatever forces they're likely to undergo, figure out how to safely and accurately make each of these parts, and decide how to assemble them.

There are lots of 'Wait, that doesn't work' moments that (sometimes) inspire you to graceful solutions. Sometimes you just have to use a hack and call it good enough for now. Lots of creativity, lots of problem solving, and lots of math. The math is very simple, though.

Machining of metal parts might also be good, for a lot of the same reasons. I know you're not looking for job suggestions per se, but lots of university science departments have machine shops that make cool little one-off things for labs and experiments.
posted by echo target at 12:45 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

What about electronics? For example, build a tube amp in your spare time. And the already suggested carpentry also seems like a good option.
posted by Emanuel at 12:49 PM on November 7, 2008

Things that I have done that work well for me:
  • Woodworking
  • Model Rocketry
  • Music (playing as well as arranging)
  • Sewing (prefer machine work)

posted by plinth at 12:57 PM on November 7, 2008

Best answer: Seconding set design. Also, lighting design.

And throwing out there: landscape architecture.
posted by dontoine at 1:07 PM on November 7, 2008

posted by troy at 1:07 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Design board / card games. It's a quite similar skillset to programming (choose a problem to model, think it through, test it, reiterate) and it's very creative. AND you can do it without ever touching a computer if you want.
posted by Hildago at 1:11 PM on November 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. I just marked best answers, to show which ones I thought fitted best. I would still be very interested in more suggestions though. I'm sure it will take some time for the ideas to sit with me, rather than saying aha that's it!
posted by Not Supplied at 1:25 PM on November 7, 2008

Guitar experience from a young age, attention to logic, desire to be creative, with some (but not too much) work on a computer? How about something like music production or sound engineering?
posted by Benjy at 2:29 PM on November 7, 2008

Does anything at Hacks or Make magazine float your boat? There's tons of hobby-style, interesting problem solving going on there, and at related sites. I found building/prototyping electronic devices fits will with the coder part of my brain.
posted by Ookseer at 4:02 PM on November 7, 2008

Darkroom photography. I find that the combination of technical knowledge/skill and, for the sake of a better word, artistic instinct pushes a lot of the same buttons for me. Plus you get some geek cred for being into a so-called "obsolete" technology and you can do cool things like make a TTV rig or a pinhole camera, so you're working with your hands instead of a computer. Plus you get some cool stuff to hang on your wall.
posted by matildaben at 4:31 PM on November 7, 2008

Seconding Make and Hackaday.

I also dont feel that just because youre logical and creative that programming is for you. That's a pretty big assumption. The only way to know is to stop obsessing about it, pick a language, and start small and work your way up. Take a lot of breaks, use a laptop in the park, etc to break up the monotomy.

I like building and creating things but I find a lot of my hobbyist coding and the scripts I write for work are pretty tedious. I think that the ideal of programming has some kind of romantic appeal (hey i can make things, show them off, and sell them too!) but it can be a PITA and it takes a certain personality to really stick with it when there's no money or other reward (community kudos, friendly competition) involved.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:54 PM on November 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If you're still reading:

How about something like music production or sound engineering?

Love it to bits, but it has the same or more RSI potential. Or at least it did for me. There's also no real potential to get your product out there unless you're really good, modish and lucky.

The hobbyist projects are interesting. A lot of them are a bit whimsical, but I guess that's up to the maker. I could look into producing my own 'artisan' products (with big quotes) and selling them.

I found building/prototyping electronic devices fits will with the coder part of my brain.

Would this not involve a lot of work on Matlab or programming chips to do something cutting edge?

Plus you get some geek cred for being into a so-called "obsolete" technology

Has to be relevant :)

I also dont feel that just because youre logical and creative that programming is for you

That's a good point, although I loved javascript and messing about with basic C++, I can imagine making something proper would involve an order of magnitude more patience.

Thanks for the help. I will incubate cogitate and digest.
posted by Not Supplied at 1:17 AM on November 8, 2008

I found building/prototyping electronic devices fits will with the coder part of my brain.

Would this not involve a lot of work on Matlab or programming chips to do something cutting edge?

To do something "cutting edge?" Maybe. But 99.9% of all the products out there are not cutting edge. No where near. If they were cutting edge they wouldn't be affordable.

You've said your strength is solving problems, that has nothing to do with cutting edge. Rather the opposite.

Take the TV-B-Gone. It's off-the-shelf parts. You can even build your own pretty easily.

There are a number of micro controllers that use very straight forward scripting languages. Or you can skip languages at all and do very cool stuff with preprogrammed chips and basic circuits. (Read up on modern analog synth for one popular application.)
posted by Ookseer at 3:01 AM on November 8, 2008

For a job rather than a hobby: project management. There are a lot of folks with decent programming skills who spend nearly all their time coordinating the various aspects of a coding project and rarely write a single line of code in any given week. There's a fair amount of email typing, but that'd be between hour-long meetings when you're not typing at all.

For a hobby, pick an open source project and jump in - just choose things you can work on in small chunks, and take breaks from your coding ... while feeling free to continue to cogitate on the problem at hand while you're, say, out walking around the neighborhood.

Congratulations on recovering from RSI - and good for you for looking for ways to stay healthy.
posted by kristi at 11:39 AM on November 8, 2008

This is more of a job thing than a hobby, but program/product management. This involves designing but you don't necessarily have to be the designer, just tell your team your vision. Make sure everyone's on the same line as you and the company. And best of all, little or no coding. (My friend and I applied for PM jobs at Microsoft just to avoid coding as much as possible :P, and we're both computer programmers.)
posted by curagea at 11:09 PM on November 8, 2008

Didn't notice kristi got it before me. Anyways, seconding project/program/product management.
posted by curagea at 11:10 PM on November 8, 2008

Design really good boardgames.
posted by mecran01 at 9:18 AM on January 1, 2009

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