Geek Job Guru: Skill Spread

What lets you do your job and carry out your career? Well you could say your position, connections, etc. But I’m talking actual productivity, and what lets you actually do things is skills.

When it comes to skills, that’s a huge part of our career. We measure them with tests. We get certifications to show we have them. We get rated on the job or by clients. We seek them out or develop them. In short, a big part of your career is the ability to do something.

So more skills is good for you because it’s good for your career. Ehancing skills is good for you because skills are good.  And so on.

Now we geeks in many ways are people with multiple careers. Sure we have what pays the bills, we also have our hobbies, and many of us have something in between. Your average highly active geek-type is probably doing two or three jobs at any time, and in many cases only one of them actually pays the bills.  Sadly for some that’s “barely” pays the bills, so enhancing what we can do is even more important.

Now this is not my usual call to use hobby skills in your career – I’ve done that many times and will continue to do it. Insead I want to discuss how we can improve our careers and our lives not just by using hobbyist skills in our careers, but by using career skills in our hobbies. I call this “skill spreading” – actively working to use a skill from one area in another, be it professional or hobbyist.

If you’re a professional accountant, do the accounting for a local convention.

if you like to write fanfic, your honed communication skills may pay off in your job writing grants.

if you’re a professional artist, do the covers for ebooks of fanfic authors you know.

If your hobby is setting up events for your club, do that in your day job as a manager.

Using skills “both ways,” I’ve found over the years has quite a few benefits to you personally and of course professionally (which is what I focus on here).  Though the focus here is on career, the benefits of a good “skill spread” touch wider aspects of your life.  So, let’s look at both sides . . .

Spreading a skill from hobby to career

The benefits of using a hobby skill in your career are:

Bringing In A New Skill: Taking a hobby skill into a job often means you’re using a skill set you’ve never used professionally before. This often opens up a series of whole new solutions to the usual sets of problems and challenges you face daily. Suddenly you’re thinking quite differently when you say “I shall use this ability on my job” – and you may wonder what took you so long to try it.

Example: Another boring set of graphs that isn’t working gets replaced with your hand-drawn art, and everyone sitting in a four hour lecture is much happier.

Shake It Up: Deciding to use a hobbyist skill in your job (by choice or desperation) can also be disruptive in a good way. Now that you’re doing things differently – or doing something new – it changes how you and others work. You don’t just have new options, you’re changing how things run when you leverage a hobby skillset.

Example: A dull company event is far more interesting when you use your experience running convention gameshows to make it interactive and fun.

Experiment: If you’re in a situation where people are trying new things, designing new products, or just desperate for change, bringing in a hobbyist skill set can help. This isn’t just something new or changing the old, this is deliberately saying “I know how to do something different, let’s try this.” You may be the only one with the skill – but since you know enough from your hobbies, you can try it out.

It may also work when you’re just kind of desperate.  You might have a few abilities, bits of knowledge, and so forth to get you out of some blockages on the job.

Example: A marketing photoshoot isn’t working out, but your cosplay experience lets you take it in a pop-culture direction.

Spackle: You may find your hobbyist skills make up for gaps in your own skillets. You may not be able to do one certain task or do it well, but you may have some other abilities that make up for it.  Using those abilities on the job not only enhances your job – it lets you learn things that you can use in your hobbies as well.

Example: You’re not exactly good at product design, but your work doing websites for your club gives you at least some sense of proper layout, and those ideas make you a better web designer.

New Careers: Using a hobbyist skill on the job can reveal new career options for you. Once you use a skill in your profession, it opens up new doors, and may be what you need if you’re in a rut. Also because you have experience and used the skills on the job, you bring a lot to the table and have proven yourself.

Example: Your work on your own blog lets you take over the company blog, and enter marketing as a career.

Now how can you work the skill into your job? Try these ways:

  • Integrate the skill right into your job. Not all of us can do it (your cosplay skills might not help out with your work in drug research), but if you can, go for it. It’ll enhance what you do right away.
  • Do a “side job” as part of your career but not as the “core” part of what you do. Maybe you run the company charity to leverage your club-running skills, or you use those art skills to do help get out a textbook. This may help open up other options.
  • As noted above, you can see what skills will “Spackle in” skill gaps. A quick inventory of your hobbies can show you a lot of options.
  • Use your hobbyist skills in the “non professional” parts of your job – help people with a theme halloween costume, re-decorate your office, make a hilarious presentation with your video skills, etc. This is also an excellent way to ‘be more than your title” and get people interested in your hobbies.

Spreading a skill from career to hobby

Spreading our skills from career to hobby may sound a bit odd. Sometimes our hobbies let us forget our jobs, and are a far better way to do so than many other options. But over the years I’ve found quite a few benefits.

You Bring A Lot To Your Hobby: Your professional skills are doubtlessly considerable and only growing more so as you develop. Just imagine what you can do, out of the box as it were, as a hobbyist. You may literally have years of experience that others don’t.  You can help a lot, right a way.

Example: You’ve spent years in management consulting; your total life experience running an organization would make you an amazing convention planner.

You Bring In Skills Others Don’t Have: This is rather personal to me as I’m a Project Manager, and not many people actually are inclined to be that organized for fun (I am). You may have skills that are in desperate need in your hobbies that others simply don’t have.

Example: Your work in material science is going to make you one hell of a cosplayer.

You Bring In Authority: Be it a certification, or years of practice, that authority you have in your chosen profession is earned. It commands respect. This can allow you to resolve conflicts, be a voice of authority, and be turned to for argument-settling advice. It might not be fun, but it’s important.

Example: You have ten years experience as a teacher, so who’s going to argue with you on how to set up panels on graphic software at your next event?

You Get To Stretch Yourself: This is really where it all comes together career and hobby-wise – using professional skills in your recreations lets you use them in new ways. Not only do you get all those advantages, you go back to work with new ideas.

Example: A rather personal one, is my experience with fan organizations has taught me many lessons applicable to my work in Project Management – I’ve seen people get organized under very unusual conditions and learned a lot from it.

How can you take your job skills into your hobby? Try these methods:

  • Translate positions. Your club, con, group, whatever probably has positions akin to what you do on the job. Find one and fill it.
  • Make the offer. If you’re really good at something, volunteer to do it for a blog, group, or what have you. Most people won’t turn down an offer of help.
  • Set out the shingle. As you network with fans and friends, just note that you’re “available” and see who bites.
  • Find the gap. Notice something wrong you can fix because you do it at work? Make the offer, save the day, and help out.


Spreading your skills from hobby to career and career to hobby has enormous benefits, both for you as a professional and for your usual hobby geekery.  By going both directions you maximize your experiences in both, close the gap in your life, and get a lot of new opportunities.  The options you have are broad.

I also find that this approach has a psychological benefit; a fuller, more integrated life.  Fuzzing those boundaries keeps your mind open, keeps you innovative, and keeps you active.  Living a life broken into boxes isn’t always that great.  But when you spread your skills out . . . you also expand what your life is.

And that’s worth it, professionally and personally

– Steven Savage