I am trying to practice continuous learning at home so that I can keep up with newer technologies as a software engineer. For me continuous learning involves tinkering with code, reading stackoverflow/reddit/dzone sites that is different to what I do at work. The only problem is that I have a daughter that constantly wants my attention so I often put the continuous learning time on hold to make the time with her.

On the one hand I feel it's wrong to ignore your family completely in pursuit of continuous learning. On the other hand, and probably more so for software engineering, you need to keep up with technology so that you don't get left behind, so I feel that not practicing continuous learning is a bad thing.

There's also the option of proportioning time at work solely for learning, but I do not know the ethics of that (do people expect presentations of what I am learning about and stuff like that). Also how much time is okay from a work perspective?

So the question is, how do I manage/approach this properly so that I can get some sort of balance? I do realize that I can't do the kind of continuous learning that I really want; so I have to make compromises but I do not know which parts are important enough for me.

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    Hi Shiraaz, welcome to The Workplace. Your question is a very interesting one, that I myself am keen on learning more about. It is, however, better suited for a chat or forum than for this type of Q'n'A sites as there are lots of different possible answers and for each one there will be many opinions on whether that's the right or wrong approach. I hope you can find a suitable peer group to discuss this with.
    – CMW
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 10:51
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    @CMW on the contrary, this is completely answerable in a SE format by using Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and Back It Up! principles. It's no more subjective or discussiony than any other question here.
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 20:25
  • You might find this answer helpful, particularly the last bit about involving your child: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/58144/…
    – mhwombat
    Commented Dec 21, 2015 at 5:42

4 Answers 4


On the one hand I feel it's wrong to ignore your family completely in pursuit of continuous learning.

It is wrong to ignore your family completely. And it's completely unnecessary.

So the question is, how do I manage/approach this properly so that I can get some sort of balance?

I got my Master's degree while I had two young children. And I've spent a lot of time keeping up with my profession since.

What worked (and continues to work) for me was:

  • Spend time with the family as soon as you get home from work
  • Always have dinner together
  • Once the kids are tucked in to bed, do your homework, reading, writing, etc
  • Stop watching so much television. It's amazing how many hours that frees up
  • Eat lunch at your desk and do some homework, reading, etc
  • Be a bit less meticulous about things like yard work, cleaning the house, etc. While I enjoy puttering around and making things "nice" I might not have as much time for that
  • Probably the biggest trick - have an understanding spouse for those days when you really must make an unfortunate trade-off

Every day has exactly 24 hours - you cannot purchase additional time and there are no exceptions. We all must decide what is important and in what percentage. We often spend time on things that aren't really important, at the expense of things that are. It's hard, but sometimes we simply have to let go of the less important things.

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    +1: Stop watching television. It's amazing how many hours that frees up Indeed. I'd also add social media and video games to that list too. I used to play Madden a lot. Now I work on my GitHub profile. The latter is slightly more profitable. ;)
    – Jim G.
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 10:59
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    You never know how much profit Madden can get you ;)... on topic: Great advice @JoeStrazzere. What happens if the time your kids are off to bed is the same time you typically crash too? Another thing to note is something the wife would then feel you have given work, the kids and your education some attention, but not enough to her. What do you do in those 2 situations? Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 11:30
  • @TheOneWhoPrograms - It might be worthwhile to create some "alone time" or "learning time" or whatever. If your child is old enough to go to bed at a time comparable to an adult, then they're old enough to understand that everyone could use some quiet alone time. It can be used to read a book, learn something new, take a relaxing bath, or whatever. If you're crashing at 7 or 8pm, though, you might want to consider looking at your schedule and see if there's something you can back off on.
    – Shauna
    Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 14:08
  • @JoeStrazzere - Great points, but only useful when you have a lot of energy and you are super smart. Thats why, I suggest young folks put off having kids as much as possible. Make all the money and then maybe have kids. Commented Apr 24, 2014 at 21:15
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    +1: Every day has exactly 24 hours - you cannot purchase additional time and there are no exceptions. This is a universal truth that can be applied in all sorts of contexts.
    – durron597
    Commented Apr 25, 2014 at 20:35

I've been in tech 20 years and am a software engineering manager in the SaaS realm. I'm a single father of an 11 year old girl (since she was 2), run various tech user groups and a conference in my area, maintain two blogs (tech and personal) and mod a SE site.

Here's how I manage to have plenty of time for my daughter amidst all of that.

  1. Work/life balance - don't spend more time at work than you have to; obviously time at work cuts into time with family. Tech jobs are demanding, but we often generate a lot of that "demand" ourselves, and even in the most driven tech companies there's a good chunk of time in the day that can be fairly described as "screwing around." (I have spent so much time trying to get one specific engineer or another to go the heck home instead of continuing to burn themselves out in the office for no real value - why, oh why, don't they listen?) Practice good time management, use GTD and/or a ticketing system (even for my management tasks I strongly prefer to use the same Scrum process our devs use), generally be efficient while in the office so you don't have to be there all hours. Work hours that fit your schedule better - elementary school starts early, so I'd drop her off and work 7:30-4:30 instead of 9-7 like those young unmarried devs love to. Depending on the gig you may be able to spend some time there - I have a generous definition personally on what skills are related to the work, but also a lot of companies talk smack about "20% time" or other employee empowerment stuff that should let you take a little time each week to forge ahead with newer tech. Involve it in the "real work" when you can. "Hey, instead of building these boxes by hand let's try out Chef..." "Hey, for this new internal app's UI let's try Twitter Bootstrap..."
  2. Target high leverage opportunities - spend time on high value activities with your daughter. For example, I make sure and take off a day at least every semester to go volunteer with the WatchD.O.G.S. (father-volunteer program common in many elementary schools). Time spent like this is very high leverage in terms of understanding her life, showing you're involved both to her and to other parents (whose help is invaluable), etc. If for whatever reason you only have 2 hours to spend with your child on a Saturday, go for something interactive over going to a movie where you don't actually get a chance to talk and do stuff. Even very young ones can be involved in stuff you need to do around the house, which is interaction but also life instruction. A little sitting around on the couch together is fine, but try to think about the concentration of value in each activity.
  3. Be efficient at home - I'm not saying go full Four Hour Work-Week on it, but find a way to dispense with time-burning chores. I finally broke down and paid for a housekeeping service to come in every other week, for example. If you have a spouse who works, same deal; if she doesn't work, try to ensure she can either get it all done or outsource it and get it done so that it doesn't cut into family time. Arrange family schedule optimally as well - kids should be getting plenty of sleep, so they should be going to bed before you are. Be efficient with pastimes - on TV I only follow a couple shows that I DVR and watch at my convenience; I play some games but had to give up WoW, for example. Don't short yourself on "you time," though, if you run ragged after work and kid and wife you'll eventually flip out and unload one or more of them.
  4. Plan ahead always - A lot of this is about pre-planning - as a short term example, it's easy to find yourself doing the dishes while the kid's playing, then she goes and gets in the bath and you relax, then she's out and it's time for bed - but if you had spent time with her first and then done dishes while she was in the bath, you get better results through careful parallelization. But it's true in the long term as well, when my daughter was pre-elementary school I lived in an apartment immediately next door to a daycare. When she entered elementary we moved to a house 4 blocks from a highly rated elementary school, but still with good highway access to a lot of the areas tech firms inhabit. You kinda need to plan your years, months, days, and hours to get enough time to split between major concerns. The simple order you do errands in can cost you an hour or two on the weekend. Currently I use the homework time right after school to blog etc. myself; one she's done it's dinner and family time, then once she goes off to shower and prep for bed I again have a free half hour, then bedtime at 9:30, then an hour or so of more time for me.
  5. But be opportunistic - Some nights my daughter has a full slate of homework, sometimes she doesn't. Be prepared to work hard yourself while she's heads down, and have something fun to do if she shows up with nothing in hand. Have your wife (and kid if not in school) come meet you for lunch once a week. Find times that are not high leverage for work, family, or relaxing, and convert them to something that is high leverage.

A lot of this is basic Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People stuff, read that if you haven't.

NB: You might want to also ask this on Parenting.SE to get a slightly different take on the question.


I have found something that works well for me. For a child, the uncertainty of not knowing when she will get your time makes her pursue it full time in the hopes of getting part of what she is asking for. Giving her a schedule that she can count on may satisfy her while requiring less of your time.

For example, every other Saturday is Mommy-and-me day. She knows that I will take her to lunch at whatever restaurant she picks, even if it's not my favorite (I end up eating waaay more Mickey-D's than I ever wanted). Then she gets to pick one activity to go to. The zoo, a "bouncy house", playing World of Warcraft, going to a park, science museum, swimming...

I also make sure that she gets fifteen minutes of my time every night without fail. I read a chapter of a book to her, give her a drink of water, etc.

In return, she has agreed to respect my 1-2 hours of "mommy work" time. You haven't said how old she is, but hopefully she is old enough to understand bargaining. Remember, if you and she make a bargain, make sure you keep your end and prepare to insist that she keep hers as well.


Optimise your commute: I'm lucky enough to have a 45 minute train commute, so I have 1 hour and a half a day for me. I have a small netbook that can run pretty much any dev environment I need (Python, Java, .Net (Mono), node, etc) and tons of ebooks on various technical subjects. You can also save web pages to disk with the Firefox plugin Scrapbook, if you have some stuff you found on the web you want to read - or documentation for .

On a normal day, I listen to music while reading technical books, and depending on the subject, possible code some as well.

Sometimes I also work on pet projects or write stuff. Sometimes I nap.

I find that it allows me to keep abreast of new technologies and when I get home, I can spend time with the family, fully refreshed and not feeling much pressure to keep learning.

If you can't read (cuz you're driving for example), you can download lots of podcasts and audiobooks as well, which are almost as good.

Whatever you do, don't listen to the idiotic talk radio or looping pop tunes, spend that time learning something interesting.

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