Hacking for fun: a maker’s superpower

What is your split between building things for work, and for fun?

50/50? 😃

80/20? 😕

100/0? 😧

Opinion: Hacking, just for fun, is the #1 healthiest thing a maker can do.

By hacking, I mean designing, building, or creating anything.

What was the last thing you built, just for fun? How did it make you feel? Maybe you felt like it wasn’t your best work. Or, maybe it’s the coolest thing you’ve gotten into this year. Regardless, how did you feel on the other side?

We’ve been building a lot this year. Fun things. Things that grow our curiosities in tech and design. Things that charge us up instead of grind us down. This concept is fairly obvious, but time slips away from even the most careful self-activated life-hackers.

Reasons hacking for fun is so important

  1. Delivery cadence affects happiness — Research shows that frequency 👍 typically matters more than the quality 👎 of a reward. Most jobs tend to be organized around long term objectives, delivered monthly, quarterly, or even yearly. This is necessary for business growth and planning, but needs to be accompanied by smaller project wins for your own happiness.
  2. Practicing outperforms reading — Humans learn more efficiently from practicing than reading. This is why kids do homework after school. When I learn a new programming language or tool, it takes several months of reading to wrap my head around the concept 📚🤷‍♂️. Alternatively, I can dig into a project with new tech, hands-on, and ramp up in just a couple weeks 🔨🏃‍♂️. This effect is amplified if it’s something you’re truly curious about. Practice, like this, results in increased motivation and confidence in your career work.
  3. Curiosity drives productivity — Working on something interesting tends to be much more productive. Multiple studies show that nurturing curiosity results in improved brain function 🧠⚡️. This explains why it’s easier to remember a fact after your curiosity prompts a question, versus something told to you in passing. Hacking, just for fun, allows you to exclusively focus on things that nurture your curiosity.


Open your calendar! Take a minute to block off a weekend, and label it “Hack, just for fun”.

Here are a few projects to get you inspired:

Node Pong

Nintendo wiimote/nunchucks wired up to Arduinos, messaging over ZMQ

A while back, we were preparing for an upcoming project with Allstate to build a mobile-web football game for the Sugar Bowl. I was curious how Facebook developers were building mobile-web games, and fell into a fit of experimentation with Three.js, OpenGL/WebGL, and 3D video game rendering.

Custom themes for skybox, board, and player options (using WebGL)

The experimentation resulted in a JavaScript 3D pong game, wired up to Nintendo wiimotes via Arduino interfaces & ZMQ messaging. I felt much more productive going into our client project, having strengthened relevant skills and exploring curiosities beforehand.

We make this a habit when starting new projects: take some personal time before each project to explore alternative technologies and curiosities in the related problem space.

IPFS Stash

Last month, Katy Jeremko and I participated in ETH Denver (as hackers instead of organizers this time)! We are avid supporters of decentralized ecosystems like Ethereum and IPFS, and wanted to explore improved user experiences for non-technical web users.

We created a Chrome browser extension that allows users to add and organize files in IPFS by simply clicking on them. It was fun making something complicated so easy for a consumer — especially in areas of high censorship or poor internet connections. Check out the code on Github.

CSS Pixel Grid

A few weeks ago, Katy Jeremko and I were discussing whether it would be possible to represent an image file as a programmatically generated CSS grid. Once we got data rendering as colorful art-like pixel grids, our curiosity started to beg answers to how tools in Photoshop work.

At the end of the night, we had recreated our version of common photo editing tools like brighten, darken, blur, etc. I woke up the next morning excited to jump into code again, rather than feeling fatigue from my current project.

Other Projects & Ideas

Katy Jeremko and I are always coming up with fun ideas. Here are some other projects we have going:

  • 3D printed LED Deadmau5 helmet
  • Cooking / Recipe mobile application
  • Daily goal tracking app
  • Habit forming / money saving games
  • RPG games (>9000 of them)

tl;dr — make time to hack on a project for fun. You’ll be glad you did.

Are you hacking for fun? We’d love to hear more, or work on something neat together. Share your projects and ideas with us on Twitter!

About the Author

Nico Valencia is a Partner at Two’s Complement, a design and technology studio. Connect with him at @nico_valencia.



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Nico Valencia

Nico Valencia

Partner & Developer @twoscomplement