Bring Back the Engineering Magic

Many of us became software engineers because we love to write code. We love the challenge and the puzzle of it. We love that feeling of bending 1s and 0s to our will. And then we get a job. It’s fun at first, but the problems become less interesting as they become more familiar. We learn the tricks and tools and it starts to get less interesting. We’ve entered a bit of a rut.

So how do we get back that magic? That excitement? How do we break out of a rut? Seek out new problems to solve!

Startup Weekend is a good venue to make coding fun again. It’s a weekend-long event hosted in cities around the world, and it’s very simple. On Friday night, anyone with an idea can pitch it. By Saturday you’ve joined up with the most interesting idea. You code all weekend, and on Sunday you show off what you’ve done. Josh Bob, an organizer for Startup Weekend, sums it up:

Startup Weekend gives startup lovers the chance to sit down with people from varying backgrounds and with disparate skill sets and build something from scratch. For engineers, this presents a dual challenge—can they help their team take a concept from idea to execution in just 54 hours? And can they build something in that time that will impress the judges enough to win glory and prizes?

Startup Weekend for engineers is largely about discovering all the things that made coding fun in the first place. Where else do you:

  • Get to start a project from scratch. It’s a blank page, and it’s yours to fill with whatever code you want.
  • Hack on a project continuously, with no meetings, no reviews, no distractions. It’s just you and the code.
  • Solve a new problem. Until you start, you have no idea what you’ll be writing code for…and that’s a lot of fun.
  • Play across the entire spectrum. Startup Weekend teams are small, so you’ll get to do database design, MongoDB integration, hack around with CSS, and compile it with PhoneGap to make a mobile app—all in a weekend.
  • Meet experts in the field. Always wanted to learn Twilio? There’s a Twilio engineer right there who wants to help you learn it.
  • Show off your skills. Maybe you’re looking for a new job right now, maybe not. But now several hundred people have seen the work you can do, and that can only help next time you need work. That’s networking, engineer-style!

Some people leave Startup Weekend inspired and ready to keep going on their product. That’s great; multiple startups have gotten funding after leaving Startup Weekend. Other people go right back to their day jobs, and that’s okay, too. If nothing else, you’ll go back energized, and with a great story.

Oh, and there are a whole lot of free cupcakes. That ain’t half bad, either.

Tell us your story: how do you keep engineering fun?