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The value of side projects

This week I want to talk about side projects and the importance they play in your growth as a developer.

Fri Jun 19 2020

Greetings from sunny Los Angeles! No, I did not move back, but ended up having to head out here to pick up our car we left when we moved. Long story short, don’t leave your car sitting for too long or people will target it and steal your catalytic converter! The Prius sounded like a sports car. Anyways, it’s been a nice 2-day vacation 🤷🏻‍♂️🌴

This week I want to talk about side projects and the importance they play in your growth as a developer. For those that know me personally, know that I’m never not working on a side project. TBH I don’t think I’ll ever stop either. The benefits I’ve gained from the time I’ve invested has been oh so worth it. Today I just want to share some insight as to why I believe they are valuable and hopefully convince you to start as well if you haven’t already.

🧠 Thoughts from the week

What I’ve been thinking about, and think you should be thinking about too.

Whether you’re just getting started coding or are a seasoned pro, NOT having a side project can halt your growth as a developer.

Why should I care about having a side project?

10x your learning opportunities

Better job opportunities

Extra income opportunities

Overall be a more well-rounded developer

10x learning opportunities – My favourite part about having side projects is that there is no predetermined technology stack I have to follow, and no external pressure or decisions being made that limit what libraries, tools, etc. that I have to use. Want to give Gatsby a try? Maybe Svelte? Side projects are a great excuse to learn something new.

Better job opportunities – When I’m looking at resume’s for potential candidates, I absolutely love when I see side projects included. What it shows me is that this person loves coding and building things, which then leads me to presume that they are a curious type of person who is willing to go the extra mile to investigate and learn. That’s the type of person I want on my team, hands down.

There is also the chance that if you work on a side project that gets picked up by a company and they dig it, who knows, they may just reach out to bring you on board. We’ve definitely done this at Hopin.

Extra income opportunities – Built something cool that other people want? Charge for it! This is much easier said than done, but thousands of developers monetise their side projects, thus turning them into side hustles. Indie Hackers is a cool place to discover these (and just a great community to be a part of in general).

Overall be a more well-rounded developer – When you work on a side project you’re likely not working on it in the routine way you do at your day job like a code monkey (ie. picking up a ticket that someone has predefined, doing the work, opening a PR, merge, and repeat). Side projects require you to think outside the scope of typical day to day development. You’re not thinking only about implementation details, but also making the decisions as to what it is that needs to be implemented. Side projects can help you see and understand the bigger picture in the product development lifecycle.

How do I start working on a side project?

Aside from actually shipping your project, one of the most exciting and challenging aspects of being a side-project developer is picking what you want to work on! For me personally this has never been a problem, I have a dedicated Note on my phone I use to write down any random idea that I think of, regardless how stupid or silly it might be. If you don’t have any ideas right of the top of your head, start by asking yourself these questions:

What are my hobbies? Is there something I could build that could incorporate something I’m already interested in?

What problems do I encounter in my day job? Could I build something to help?

What are my friends and families hobbies/careers? Is there anything I could do to help make their lives easier?

Given my typical day, is there anything I could automate or make easier to accomplish with technology?

Don’t worry if you struggle for a bit finding something you want to work on. You can find something that’s already been built and just find ways to improve on it. Also, if you start a project and a few weeks in you aren’t feeling it anymore, quit! It’s totally ok! Take a look at my repository count:

More than half of those are side projects I’ve never finished or done anything with. But they have ALL help shape me into the developer I am today. The point is to just start.

Side note - I just finished and launched one last week https://www.react-togglr.com/

Finding the time

Everyone has different schedules, and if you are the type of person that doesn’t want to code on the weekends, or want to do other things, that’s perfectly ok - just pick something really really small to work on that you can spend an hour or two a week on. Your side projects don’t need to be these grand, 20+ feature apps. Even if you do have a grand idea, I still suggest starting small and building an MVP version first anyway.

Just pick something and start, you’ll be thankful you did. If you are finding yourself lacking motivation somedays, again totally normal and fine just remember that by committing to being a side-project-dev you’ll be increasing your learning opportunities, have better job opportunities, and possibly make some cash from it.

Thanks for reading / listening! If you are working on a side project, tweet me @stackyacker to tell me about it - would love to check it out!

Have a wonderful week.🤘

– Christian

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