I recently came off of four months of parental leave where I had a fantastic time bonding with my new daughter. Although four months doesn't seem like much of a hiatus, I learned very quickly that being a full time parent doesn't leave much time to keeping my professional edge.
They might seem obvious, but it took me a while to find a balance to make sure spending time with my daughter didn't play second fiddle to my profession passion and/or obsession. I also didn't want to give up the little bit of sleep I've managed to get, which bring me to the three things that really helped keep up up-to-date.
Late Night Podcasts
There were plenty of nights where I was awake trying to calm down an unhappy baby, or just sitting there awake unable to sleep for whatever reason. Instead of just sitting there being alone with my frustration, I would pop in on earbud and listing to one of the many development podcasts (like the WesternDevs podcast hint hint) or the Bithell Games podcast where they talk the business of video game development.
Given the latter podcast isn't my specialty, it is defintely something I am very interested and am able to draw parallels between regular software development and video game software development.
...which leads me to my next point.
Revisiting Hobby Projects
We all have a million ideas, some of which have become abandoned repository in the bowels of GitHub or somewhere on our hard drives. Now that time is even more scarce, it makes sense to revisit some of these and see if there are any that can be broken down into very small parts that you can tinker with once and a while.
For me, I redid my website, started another new video game project, and upgraded the theme on my blog. It wasn't just coding though, it involved some actual planning on my part where I looked at all the projects and found ones that could be broken up into small, bite-sized tasks which lead to a feeling of accomplishment when I acutally found time to work on something.
It helped keep my coding, but more importantly, it let me practice my software planning skills. Breaking projects down into small and consumable tasks, and deciding what is "good enough" for any project to be released is an important skill to have in the software development world. It's especially difficult when you are your own client.
User Groups and Online Meetups
If you're lucky enough to have a support system in place and have a babysitter willing to come by to give you a break for a few hours, you might want to check out whatever local user groups are in your area. If not, there are always events happening online that you can attend virtually complete with a chat window.
This was something I didn't get to do a lot of, but when I did it was really nice. Meeting up with a community of like minded professionals and take a break from diapers and the like was really enjoyable and really helped keep me in the loop.
I managed to get to my local .NET user group a few times, but I made a point to attend online conferences like \build andMicrosoft Edge Web Summit to keep myself in the loop and up-to-date. Plus, being an online streamed conference, the content ends up available on demand very shortly after it's broadcasted just in case you have to stop watching early because of a grumpy baby.
This post might be filled with obvious tips and tricks, but I wanted to take a moment to share. Balancing "real life" with your professional life can be challenging regardless of what is happening, and sometimes we need to take a break from our professional passions. Hopefully this post shows you that taking an extended break doesn't mean you have to give up your professional edge.