Does a programmer stop getting better once he or she gets a full time job and a family? by Anja Austermann
Answer by Anja Austermann:
In my personal experience, programming at work can be much more effective for improving one's skills than working on side projects, especially if "programming for fun" means the type of one-person, non-reviewed, untested, hacky toy projects that I used to spend a lot of my free time on before starting my current job. Writing a lot of code like that without any feedback from peers has certainly helped me learn and experiment with technologies and memorize frequently used APIs, etc. but hasn't really made me a better programmer in terms of software design, architecture, style or other fundamental skills. (If you are working with a larger open source team that really cares about code quality and gives you the opportunity to design significant parts of the system it is likely a very different story but I never tried that.)
I have rediscovered other hobbies since I started working full time and so I definitely don't spend as much of my free time coding as I did during grad school but I still feel that I am improving much faster through code reviews, discussing with colleagues and generally much larger scale and more challenging projects than before I started working full time as a SWE.
What I still like to do at home is learning new tools, frameworks and theory, e.g. playing around with TensorFlow or attending MOOCs but it has been a while since I started the last real side-project that would take longer than a weekend and I don't think that has negatively affected my learning.