Will Code For Fun

My work is fun.

It usually is challenging and non-trivial, but it is also fun.

My clients find the results valuable, but it is still fun.

I attended 360iDev this week which was great fun — but it is not why my work is fun.

Working with smart and creative people is fun — but they are not really why my work is fun either.

My work is:

  • Long hours of head down struggles with conflicting demands and confusing requirements;
  • Opportunities and possibilities rattling around my head for days;
  • Researching problems and fixing them cleanly;
  • Struggling with multiple design iterations to find what works best;
  • Discovering what will best meet people’s needs;

I’ll be honest, not every day is fun, nor is every task, but almost every one could be. I’d like to explore what it takes to turn the drudgery into fun, and move from just slogging through tasks to actual enjoyment.

What is “Fun”, Anyway

In A Theory of Fun, Ralph Koster says:

fun is the act of mastering a problem mentally.

My work certainly has problems that can only be solved with the mind, and successful work definitely includes mastery. So, by Koster’s definition, it is possible for my work to be fun.

Jesse Schell says in The Art of Game Design that:

fun is pleasure with surprises.

Well, my work often has surprises, but they do not all bring pleasure. But, his definition seems to have enough room in it to say that my work can be fun.

I Recognize “Not Fun” When I See It

But what about work that seems *not fun* by any reasonable definition. What is it that takes those problems, mental challenges, and surprises and transforms them into fun? The process that Schell uses to define game has helped me understand what that transformation of work from “not fun” to “fun” might require.

He builds a definition for “game” by investigating what others say about fun, play, and other terms which made me think about what makes my work fun. Key among those terms is play, which he defines as “manipulation that satisfies curiosity”. The bulk of my work is manipulating things like ideas and algorithms, so this seemed like an interesting place to start.

Is It “Work vs. Play” or “Work and Play”

I manipulate things in my work, but what about satisfying curiosity? And what about fun?

Notice that Schell’s definition of play does not require it to be fun — you can play with something that turns out not to be fun. That seems to be close to work — you can work with something that turns out not to be fun. Since my desire is to make my work fun where I can, I think looking at play a little more might be helpful.

He quotes George Santayana on play:

Play is whatever is done spontaneously and for its own sake.

When I think of work, spontaneity does not leap to mind. But when I am free to choose projects and clients, there can be a spontaneous feel to it, and it definitely includes a “for its own sake” component. When I have control over what I work on, I will choose the more interesting work — work where I can learn, grow, and satisfy my curiosity about something. So the more freedom I have in choosing projects and clients, the more fun my work will be.

This leads to my first tip about making my work fun.

Tip #1 — Do not let current constraints on your work immobilize you, they should motivate you to find ways to have more control over your work.

Attitude Is King

But, there are always some tasks we must do that do not really appeal to us. Schell expands on “for its own sake” with examples and observes “an activity itself cannot be classified as a ‘work activity’ or ‘play activity’. Instead, what matters is one’s attitude about the activity”. This leads to another tip:

Tip #2 — While you cannot always choose work activities, you can always choose your attitude.

Schell combines several concepts and concisely defines a game as “a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude”. I believe this applies directly to my work. Even unpleasant tasks can be made more palatable, and perhaps even fun, with the right attitude.

Adjusting My Attitude — The Key To Making Work Fun

Fresh Eyes

Two young developers I met this week at 360iDev illustrate how work can be fun. Santiago and Charlie, somewhere around 13 years old, are friends who share a love for making their iPhones do cool things. I won’t pretend to know them well enough to understand all their motives, but they were most definitely having great fun. They were right there in the front in most sessions, even participating in the 360iDev Game Jam until about 2am. It was a joy to watch them.

Watching them during the Game Jam leads to another tip:

Tip #3 –Look with wonder at the cool things that are possible.

(They both have several apps in the store. If you are interested check out Santiago’s Apps and Charlie’s Apps.)


I am very blessed to be able play around with such cool and powerful stuff, which leads to the last tip:

Tip #4 — Remember to be thankful for the opportunity to attempt great things, whether or not you end up making a living from it.

My Work Is Fun, Yours Can Be Too

How fun is your work? If the answer is “not very”, remember these things:

  1. Find ways to have more control over your work,
  2. Choose your attitude towards your work,
  3. Look at your work with wonder at the possibilities,
  4. Remind yourself to be thankful that you can play with such cool stuff.

As an indie developer, one of the best things you can do is to find like-minded developers that will provide encouragement and motivation. A great collection of indie iOS developers have helped me stay on track, developers from local user groups, those associated with iDevBlogADay, or those I have met through 360iDev. I encourage you to find local NSCoder nights, developer meetup groups, or other user groups to keep your motivation on track. If there aren’t any meeting locally, try to find just one other local developer and start one.

Also, here is a little more information about me, Doug Sjoquist, and how I came to my current place in life. You should follow me on twitter and subscribe to my blog. Have a great day!