February 6, 2017 ~ 3 min read

Coding is The Ultimate Creative Tool

creative coding banner

Almost everyone I know would love to spend time coding if they could quickly get good at it.

Think about it.

The power to make your own app idea come to life, or even something as simple creating your own beautiful personal website is enormously satisfying.

The problem is, the only way to reach this baseline ability involves many hours of practice. The trick is, unless you are able to enjoy this process of slowly progressing over time, you will almost certainly never reach the level of skill that allows you to start being creative.

In many traditional CS programs, we have almost completely forgotten about this creative piece. Early on we have data structures and algorithms drilled into us, and practice with problems that have one clear answer.

These things are important, but I wish the teaching of these concepts could focus on open-ended projects, rather than grinding through problem sets. We tell ourselves that we learn faster if we remove creativity from the equation, but is it really true?

Many of the people in these classes are interested in computer science because they want to create. After a few of these classes, most of these same people have given up, or given up trying to use coding as their creative outlet.

When I look at the times when I was most burned out, it’s almost always because I forgot about the creative aspects of my projects.

Making another Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, [insert social network here] clone isn’t fun. Even taking something that already exists and improving it a little bit isn’t that fun.

As Peter Thiel talks about in Zero to One, it’s the act of creation that is special.

zero to one

The Essentials. Photo by Oscar Nilsson

Once again, building one of these clones as a project can be educational, but I caution you to make it the backbone of your learning.

If you can’t enjoy the process of learning to code along the way, you’ll probably get burned out. Even if you stick with it, by the time you reach where you want to go, you might not enjoy coding anymore.

For many of us, creativity (specifically through coding) has been slowly hammered out of us over time. It could be through our learning process, or what we do at work, but over time it becomes easy to forget about the joy that comes with creation.

The good news is, we can take back this creative spark at any time. It’s in our nature to be creative.

Anytime I’m feeling burnt out, I find that the answer is almost always to code more, but differently. If you’re feeling exhausted from your daily work doing a lot of debugging and maintenance work, start a side project.

Make something.

Make something stupid. Make something fun. Make something that makes you laugh. Make something you’ve always dreamed about.

It doesn’t matter, the point is to rediscover that feeling you had when you first made text appear on a website. Your creativity is important, and it’s important to take the time to foster it.

If you’re feeling stuck, check out these research backed tips to help you rediscover your creativity.

What can you start doing in your daily life to get more creative? What crazy idea have you always wanted to try? Go out there and do it.

Maxi Ferreira

Hi, I'm Taylor . I'm a software engineer/maker/amateur chef currently living in San Francisco. You can follow me on Twitter , see some of my work on GitHub , or read about my life on Substack .