I do arts and crafts. I also do informal scripted and improvisation acting. I do anything from elaborate costumes and props, to in-depth character study & period-specific costuming research.

Those hobbies sound pretty far from what a computer scientist does, right? But, these experiences have given me invaluable lessons that apply to any profession, that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else.

An alternate title to this is “how costuming, arts and crafts and acting are relevant to CS”, but I want to encourage others with oddball hobbies to chime in, and for you to take up some oddball hobbies. So, below are the lessons I learned through my oddball hobbies:

1. Presentation is key:

Whether you are not qualified enough to present the information(colloquially called “bullshitting”) or you’re the resident expert of what you’re presenting, presentation is equally important to the content, if not, arguably more important.

There is nothing more disappointing than seeing an actor with an amazing costume that must have taken months of work, and the actor isn’t acting the part. This is just as tragic as a researcher who has done excellent research, but hasn’t communicated or presented how ground-breaking their research is.

2. Practice makes perfect:

Iterations of design are much more important than getting it right.

Whenever I would attempt making the costume with one attempt, it would always fail or look terrible. My costumes always end up better if I practice on cheap practice fabric over and over again before actually do it on the fashion fabric. Even if I am close to running out of time, my second attempt of something is at least 3 times better than my first attempt.

3. Be kind & respectful to others.

My hobby is directly related to the entertainment industry, a very ruthless, yet tight-knit community. For every open position, there are 10 or more capable individuals that position, and people talk.

I learned these next two lessons in a panel about how to network in the entertainment industry, and the main message is to be kind and respectful for others. Pretty standard, right? But my last two lessons are practical advice that connects to that ideal. Do you do all this?

4. Never ever say that anyone or any company (or software program, research agenda) should be gone or fail.

Those companies, research ideas are all connected to people that have families to support, and friends that care about them. Why do you want people you don’t know, to fail? What if someone overhearing you is one of those friends? They would think you’re a jerk instantly.

5. Never use words like “you should do this”. Use instead “it would be great/beneficial if..”.

One sounds imposing, another sounds encouraging. In computer science, we use “we should” a lot, in part because we’re a young field trying to prove ourselves important in the world, but it’s really arrogant, not assertive. One response to that sort of comment is “How do you know what I should do?”

This doesn’t mean we can’t critique each other, but it means we respect each other and help each other become better. Another relevant tip is when you critique someone, say one good thing, then whatever bad things you want, and conclude with a good comment.


So again, I invite you to take up some hobby that is very different from your profession/discipline. Take a small class, join a random club, and explore. You never know what you might learn.

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