Aaron Kardell, founder and chief executive of the Minneapolis software firm HomeSpotter LLC, thinks he might have written his first computer program when he was 6 years old.
At least a couple of years ago, with HomeSpotter having grown to more than 30 people, he decided as CEO that he needed to leave coding behind.
HomeSpotter had a great technology leader and great coders, he said last week, and he "wanted to make sure I'm doing the rest of my job, to make their job easier."
He said he loves his work as CEO — every year it feels like a new job with the company growing — but hobbies are good too, and he just started up with a new one. It was software coding.
The biggest hobby project payoff so far came with one he created that hunts for information from the internet on recreational-vehicle campsites, as his family has plans for a trip and campsite availability has become tight.
He estimated he only worked maybe half an hour on his little "bot," but it worked perfectly last week, alerting him to a prime spot.
"It was a small deal, but it was exciting for us," he said. "We are going to be able to spend some more time at the Grand Canyon as a result."
When I first noticed Kardell posting this story on Twitter, how his old vocation had become his new hobby, the thought popped into my head that this story is about a boss really missing the hands-on work he used to do.
This might be familiar to a skilled accountant who became the CFO, a graphic designer now leading marketing or the chef who manages restaurants and rarely gets to cook.
But listening to Kardell speak of the "fun" of coding, his story seemed to be more than that. The fun came from working on a project from start to finish and having the program work. And he had fun solving the problems that popped up along the way.
These are the satisfactions that come from doing a particular kind of work, the theme of a fine book on my virtual shelf called "Shop Class as Soulcraft."
It first appeared during the Great Recession, and while not exactly a memoir it clearly came from author Matthew Crawford's own work experience.
He had graduated from a prestigious University of Chicago graduate school program into a Washington think tank, only to learn that the real work there was producing thoughts that lined up with the agenda of the corporate donors who funded the place.
He couldn't understand why he was even being paid for work that was so obviously useless and he found that he always felt tired.
He later became a motorcycle mechanic. He didn't feel at all tired after a long day of standing on a concrete floor — not when he could watch a customer joyfully ride a repaired motorcycle away from his shop.
In his book he tried not to romanticize the work of what's called skilled trades. Instead he was mostly hoping to help people understand and appreciate why repairing an old motorcycle could be really satisfying.
Part of it came from the pleasures of developing what he called manual competence, which meant just getting really good at using your hands to make things or fix them. That competence seemed increasingly rare.
If owners open the hood of their fancy new car, they will likely find another cover concealing all the mechanical stuff happening underneath it. No one's expected to know how anything works, let alone know how to fix something that breaks.
That isn't the way things used to be, as household appliances from the Sears catalog used to come with detailed drawings. The company just assumed customers would try to fix them if they broke.
Another big benefit of working with your hands is control over your own work, including being able to see exactly what you have accomplished.
Homebuilders know that satisfaction, as they can see shingles now on the roof. In the motorcycle shop, it's a job well done when the engine finally starts.
Those rewards from work are much harder to come by when working all day in the cubicles of a big employer.
Office work is mostly judged by far more subjective standards. Things that sound great, like reviewing a worker's job performance based on the judgment of bosses, subordinates and peers, likely will make workers first decide they have to put their energy into becoming friends with all those people.
Corporations emphasize working on teams, too, but that makes any sense of individual contribution even harder to come by.
Working in the office still means knowledge work, but even that term is worth thinking through.
It takes a ton of knowledge to become expert at something like diagnosing the problem with an old motorcycle engine and then fixing it. What the mechanic has come to know probably had to be learned over years of experience.
Software coding seems to be one of those vocations that's more like the kind of craft Crawford described than some other office work.
No one's working with their hands exactly, unless hitting the space bar on the keyboard counts, but the coder is working under the hood of the machine and knows exactly what it feels like when it finally runs.
As for those doing office work with a lot of subjective standards and on big teams, getting a little more control is worth trying.
Maybe ask the boss for an assignment when getting it done right is both measurable and will really matter. Then maybe take up knitting or woodworking on the weekends.
The thought occurred to me once again last week that I have lucked into work that has some of the rewards found in writing software code or fixing a motorcycle.
While manual competence might be out of reach, all it takes on Sunday morning is one glance at the business section to see what I made at work last week.