I have been a junior C++ developer for a year since graduating in engineering.

I am also pursuing my creative dreams on the side. However, I feel like my current lifestyle is not sustainable.

My job and commute take up 50 hours a week that I can't devote to creative work. I try to dedicate the rest of my time to my passion. However, whenever I have any other responsibilities(to family, friends, health, maintenance), my time gets immediately drained. I have no free time at all, which can feel demoralizing.

I want to know how I can get the best of both worlds -- a secure livelihood that I enjoy, with more time to pursue my art. I am willing to sacrifice pay for this.

There are several options I know of that may accomplish this. I just don't know how achievable they are.

  1. Find a part time software job.
  2. Becoming a freelancer
  3. Find a 30 hour software job
  4. Find a remote job.
  5. Save money and quit my job for X years
  6. Ask my current manager if I could work fewer hours at my current job

Which of the above options is most attainable for me as a junior developer, and what strategy can I use to avoid hurting my software career?

Update: I live and work in NYC, where I am able to attend a free prestigious arts program, and there are a lot of opportunities for artists in my field, so living elsewhere would hurt my arts education. Rent and health insurance are expensive, but I can be on my parent's plan for two more years. I am willing to live on less, but I am nervous to give up a good health insurance plan, though I am healthy.

  • This question as written seems to be more asking about time management or personal productivity. For a Workplace question focus on one workplace issue (e.g. how to approach your boss about flexible hours). Also you're trying to ask too many things for a good question. E.g. "How do I ask about flexible hours" and "How do I transition to professional artist" deserve different questions and answers.
    – Brandin
    Jan 24, 2019 at 5:27
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    Are you pursing Arts as a career or a hobby. You have only been a developer for 1 year which is nothing. You can have a passion and it can simply be something you do in your free time.
    – Shadowzee
    Jan 24, 2019 at 5:34
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    Shadowzee: I am pursuing arts as a profession. The reason why I didn't get an arts degree was because of the risk involved, and at the time I hoped that getting a technical degree could shift my interests.
    – Jen
    Jan 24, 2019 at 5:42
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    Brandin: I just edited the question. Is there anything else I could do to fix issues? I feel like a question like this belongs on this site, but I definitely can improve it to make it follow guidelines more.
    – Jen
    Jan 24, 2019 at 5:43
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    Can you add a location? A country where part-time work is a privilege you earn after a few years that has to be granted by your employer is very different from a country where your employer can kick you out at a whim for anything or nothing at all.
    – nvoigt
    Jan 24, 2019 at 7:38

8 Answers 8


[...]I have no free time at all, which can feel demoralizing.[...]a secure livelihood that I enjoy, with more time to pursue my art[...]

Welcome to life as a worker bee.
Sadly this is true for most of us.


If you can unite two or even all you'll have mastered ... time (;

While it IS a time management issue, the actual thing you NEED to manage are

Understand and lower your needs / expectations so that you can live with as little income as possible in order to devote more time into what you really want to do if you couldn't turn your passion into a profession.

OR find another occupation or way to make more money or quick money or easy money (yeah, right).

Software development and art aren't usually well paid enough (especially at the start), so you're stuck with managing money and the time between work and passion in order to barely get by in our financially demanding world.

Unfortunately you need lots of time and dedication to become proficient at something.

In your case that is 2 things you want to do in parallel with the consequence of

  • either one or both suffer and you remain mediocre in it/them

  • your progress in both is slowed down considerably becoming demoralizing as well (you'll need much more time as you would one by one)

  • you devote every free minute you have to your endeavour, increasing your likelyhood of burnout and losing your social life

  • potentially you strain yourself too much, risking your health

2. & 4.: Becoming a freelancer or remote worker have advantages but most likely you'll end up working more than 8-10 hours a day and you have added running a company to your workload, somewhat defeating the purpose.

You can only mitigate that if you're extremely disciplined AND learn to say no to client demands AND don't become trapped in the necessity or urge to earn more.

But give freelancing a go, it liberates you and gives you complete control but also great responsibility...

1., 3., 5.-6. These are all a variation of time management (income vs passion vs life) and are all equally viable.

5. Is probably what most people want to do and it can work out really well if you can quickly make a nice amount of money.

If it drags on for too long you may become miserable and resent your work and / or regret not having done enough for your art.

Most people probably end up with no X years to take time off and basically remain in the loop of adding and subtracting time between work, passion and life.

In conclusion

It is possible and will depend on your dedication, capacities and luck.


I want to know how I can get the best of both worlds -- a secure livelihood that I enjoy, with more time to pursue my art. I am willing to sacrifice pay for this.

In life, there are no free lunches.

You need to decide how much pay you can sacrifice.

If you can get by without a paycheck, then quit and devote all your time to art. Some folks have enough savings to do this. Others live with their parents or are otherwise supported by family and/or friends.

If you still need some income, then find a part time job and devote the rest of your time to art. Many folks have multiple part time jobs.

If you need your full time income, than arrange the rest of your life so that you maximize your free time for art. This is the most common route, in my experience.


Stick with programming for 5 years. Once you've solidified that as a career (assuming you improve), you can start taking 2-3 month sabbaticals every few years if you save properly, because you will be able to find jobs easily. In the meantime, dedicate an hour a day. A 50 hour workweek with commute time doesn't sound that taxing to me, especially for a young person. There's 168 hours in a week. 50 is work, 56 is sleep, leaving you with 62 hours a week for anything else. That's almost 9 hours a day on average.

  • 2
    This is the approach I have been trying for a year. I am very good at managing my time and I have been prolific, given my limited time, creating completed works regularly. However, becoming a successful artist takes time and years of consistent time and effort. (Think of the 10,000 hour rule) Also, programming is a creative job. It's hard to do creative work for 16 hours a day. I find that hours I do put in after work take more effort, and I worry that continuing this for too long can burn me out. I have been exercising less, and have been experiencing stress because of everything I am doing.
    – Jen
    Jan 24, 2019 at 6:06
  • @Jen, I was in the same boat. I took art classes in high school and college, and was in a few shows, and was offered money for one of my paintings. Nothing spectacular, but enough where I might be able to do it full time. I ended up getting an MIS degree with some CS classes thrown in and got a job programming full time, but I really enjoy it. I still painted occasionally after work, but quickly dropped it. I don't regret it though, it was a fun hobby, but chances of getting rich are super slim (especially while still alive) and programming has earned me a comfortable income for 20+ years.
    – Tombo
    Jan 24, 2019 at 19:58

It depends on where you live and how free you are to move elsewhere. Some countries are more flexible about this sort of thing than others.

In Switzerland, where I work, many jobs are available on a percentage basis. A job might advertise as 60-100%, for example. You can work it as a full-time job if you like. But you can also choose to work, say, 60%, the equivalent of three days a week, for 60% of the full-time salary. In my office, 80% is a popular option. Some people do it and take one day off per week; others do two half-days; and others just work a shorter day five days a week.

Perhaps you don't speak German or French. But in larger cities like Zurich, Basel, and Geneva, it's possible to find positions where the standard company language is English. (My company in Basel is like this; we are small but internationally diverse.) And as a C++ developer, you have skills that are pretty much always in demand.

If you live in a country (or can move to one) that's flexible like this, you can still make a decent salary while devoting more time to your artistic career.

  • 1
    My company in Zürich no longer has any German speaking developers. Everyone in the company speaks English. You also don't need any German to deal with officialdom - although it is always welcome. Jan 24, 2019 at 12:31

Your question is one about, effectively, optimizing your life. There are a lot of ways in which you can do this. I will focus on the job, though. You are a software engineer, spending 50 hours a week. You want to spend fewer hours on id, and improve the money-per-hour that you're getting back. These are entangled, but not the same.

The first thing is that the very beginning is the worst time in your career for this. As you gain more experience, and improve your skills, you'll naturally be improving your value to various companies. This will both increase your money-per-time naturally and increase the likelihood that your employers will be willing to make more flexible hours available to you. It is likely that your ability to do these things right now is going to be somewhat limited, but as you go it will get better, especially if you can keep your costs from rising.

Now, ways to reduce time spent.

  • It sounds like you're burning an hour each day in commute. This can be attacked in a number of ways. Some companies will offer work-from-home. If you can actually be productive under those conditions (some can, some can't) then you can eliminate your commute altogether. Some companies will offer 4x10 schedules, where you're still working 40 hours per week, but by more hours in fewer days, saving yourself the associated commute times. Other than that, you may be able to either move your living place nearer to your work, or switch to a job that's nearer to where you live. You probably wont' be able to get down to less than a 15 minute commute that way, but that's still 2.5 hours per week.

  • Going part-time. The easiest way to do this is to be at a company for a while. If you're in a company that has a somewhat irregular workload overall, and you're known as a good worker, there's a good chance that your bosses will be agreeable to having you work fewer hours during the slack times. Alternately, if you can set yourself us as the subject matter expert on something, but that something doesn't have enough work for you work on it full-time, they're somewhat more likely to be willing to let you dial back the hours spent doing everything else. Finally, if you're just plain good enough that they know they want to keep you, then they might be willing to let you dial back to part-time as a way to keep you happy. Regardless, if and when you do go part-time, try to strip days rather than hours. Every day of commute you save is another hour (or whatever) you can spend on something else.

  • Going contractor. This one is a bit extreme, but there are software engineering careers that are feats-or-famine. The position lasts for a year or two, the project completes, everyone gets laid off, and you look for another job. I don't know how much of that is available in NYC, but if it does exist, then that's a very easy, organic way to scale hours spent. You work when you're working, then you get laid off and make a go of your art. As the money starts to run out, you get another software engineering position. It's a bit feast-or-famine, but over the long term, it'll let you devote quite a few hours to your art while still keeping your head above water with programming work.

Finally, you might consider ways to fit a bit of art into your programming career. It's not much, necessarily, but UI work will let you leverage some of the more rudimentary of your artistic abilities to a degree, and it may help feed those buts a little. Every bit counts, right?


Be more efficient!

Reducing working hours is one option but the real timesaver is being more efficient.

Tested by myself...

  • Get rid of distractions.
  • Focus only on what you have to do, do it quickly.
  • Learn new (advanced) coding skills.
  • Automate your work where possible.
  • Learn to use your IDE correctly. Learn shortcuts, new windows, views.
  • Find and learn a new tool that would speed up your tasks.
  • Don't invent your software during coding. Create a plan or draft and then implement it. It's much quicker.
  • Create tests to reduce bug fixing.
  • Design your software so you can extend/modify it more easily.

This way you'll have some sparetime left already at work. It requires some preparation but at the end you'll be working maybe for the half of the day.


You have been working as a software developer for a year so...

Welcome to the working life!

Now in all seriousness, you have just started, you state you spend about 50h at work+commute.

I'll try to answer this in 2 ways.

Personal example:

I work 2 full-time jobs and a part-time job. My working hours a week are: 32h in one job, 36h in another job and 12h in the other. 80h of work, I still have hobbies like playing MTG, have 2 kids and a wife.

Time management is definitely a thing and I really understand what is like feeling burn out so...

Use the money you are getting now wisely, find investment opportunities and other ways of increasing your income. How can you do this?

  • stock exchange trading if that's your thing;

  • phonefarming - don't ask, just google it;

  • freelance - join both passions and do web designing, you can take work up at fiverr for example.

Gather some money that you feel safe relying on, then apply for flexible working (if there is something like that in the US, not sure) or simply reduce your hours at current or new job. If you stick to software development your wages can increase in the next 5 years which means that you can still keep your current wages with less hours and still accounting with inflation.

Do not give up, but give yourself time...think about any job as an investment on the company and on yourself...you may only see the profit in a few years.

6 years ago I was looking at chicken thighs going through a conveyor belt and picking the ones that didn't look like any customer would buy. I felt my braincells dying by the second. Today I am a PM in a multi-billion dollar shipping company, learning C# and VB and using spare time to develop my developing skills.

Give yourself time and take time for yourself every once in a while.


Don't just quit your current job unless you have another source of steady income.

I've been where you are. Working my first full-time "real" job but wondering if I should pursue my passion. In my case it was music.

In my case I did some real research as to what I could earn if I would leave my job and pursue music full-time. My analysis was that the best I could do was ½ of what I was earning at the time. This was a combination of teaching guitar through a music store, playing bar gigs and some other part-time job.

There's an old joke: How do you get rid of the ______________ (musician, artist, etc). Pay them for the pizza.

In my case, I continued my full-time job as the pay cut would have been too drastic. Then family and kids happened.

In your case have you thought about something that combines development and art? You already have the C++ skills. Why not apply you passion for art into the visual end of programming. Front-end, UI, UX or whatever it's called. I know that if I was hiring a full-stack developer someone with solid programming skills and a talent for the visual part would be in great demand.

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