Five reasons to have a side project

7 Key Habits that Successful People Develop

 

I’ve been doing side projects for many years and can highly recommend it. Projects can be writing software, creating websites or mobile apps, maybe just learning a new programming language or some technology, running a user group, setting up your own newsletter and lots more.

If that’s not enough to convince you, here are five reasons why I believe having a side project is a really good idea. 

You stand out from other job candidates

Possibly the most compelling reason is for having something exciting to talk about in interviews, or make the difference between your CV getting you to an interview and not ending up in the rubbish bin.

I’ve found it best to be open about existing side projects. When I’m offered a job, I read the contract of employment very closely to check it’s free of any nasty paragraphs about anything you develop becoming owned by your new employer.  With one job I started, I had to point out that I was maintaining some software that I’d written for a third party in my spare time and the IP in that software belonged to them. It’s definitely best to be upfront about such things, there are always workarounds.

Having a side project gives you experience that may not be on your CV from previous jobs and when it’s your first job you’re going for, having that experience is a big plus. Of course it’s not a side project until you get your first job!

It gives you new skills that you can show off

If you’ve been doing a side project for a while then the experience is something that you should include on your CV. I learnt HTML on a night school course and though the current job didn’t need it, it was a good-to-have skill for the job after that.

Having created a postal game as a side project , I then spent 17 years as a full-time Turbo Pascal and Delphi developer  – this was ten years before the web appeared. That game got me my first job as a Pascal programmer two years later and later led to me getting a job as an aerospace software engineer. Concurrently with the Pascal job, I started a Pascal User Group and that got me into technical book review work, two new friends and six years later a contract in the City of London from one of the user group members.

Writing about the project can get you sought after

Publishing details about your side projects can attract the right sort of attention, though it never hurts to push yourself. Don’t forget to submit links to websites such as HackerNews or Reddit, and include links in your email signature or forum links. After a while, as you build an audience, others will be doing the submitting for you when you publish new articles.

If it aligns with their plans, publishers may offer you a book deal or recruitment agencies may tempt you with jobs. Having a decent number of commits on sites like Github will also help, as will being a known name for open source.

It can be profitable

Writing computer books is unlikely to pay your mortgage, but gaining the exposure can open doors. Writing the user group magazine got me a three year columnist gig on a printed magazine and that paid well.

You can never predict how these things pan out. Years ago my business partner and I (both games programmers) entered a new business competition and got to the final. We came last out of seven, but two weeks later one of the judges got in touch and we ended up making £20,000 from coding a dozen games for him.

Don’t forget Open Source

Perhaps you’re not interested in making money, but you’d like your side project to mean something and give you credit. One way to do this is get involved with open source. Now you can start your own project on GitHub; it’s free and very easy to do, but you might find it easier to start by getting involved with an existing project.

Not all projects want helpers, but many do. Not just programming, but graphic design, looking after the website, maintaining the Wiki, running builds, doing translations into other languages and so on.

Take a look at Scribus’s Contribute page. Scribus is an open source desktop publisher, a very impressive piece of work. They’re happy to accept contributors, but remember before jumping in that like any side project, it is a commitment and you need to have that time spare to dedicate.

Conclusion

Unless you are gregarious and happy to go looking for editors face to face, and networking at relevant meetups, you’ll probably find reaching a larger audience easier with a website. Registering a domain, getting it hosted and running a WordPress or other blog can be done for under £20 a year.

 

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March 22, 2016 at 4:41 pm, Shuaib said:

Great post David,

I always believed in side project projects. From time and time friends and family can be supportive but at times they think I am trying to do too much.

My first side projects began because I needed pocket money while at college and uni but 2 months ago I have taken on some interns (uni level students) and teaching them web design and development while they are getting invaluable experience I am also doing my 9-5. To add the interns work 100% remotely so there are no overheads like office space rent,electricity etc.

I have been working in IT my self as a Application Analyst/Developer for around 5 years and it feels good to see some off my skills transfer to the interns and they seem happy too because I still act as Lead Developer/Designer anywhere they need help or tips with the website development.

Although they are currently building basic websites right now, the next two projects will see me introduce ecommerce and CMS systems to them and how they all work.

We are working on a site right now using Responsive design and have a few more projects in the pipeline which will take us till summer. Bare in mind I still source the clients and do client relationship all myself so at time’s it can get busy around the clock and working days 12-13hrs a day is becoming the norm! ;-)

Finally I hope this is a good doing on my part and gives back to the IT community, helps uni students get experience for the world of work, and if they stay with me long term it turns it could turn into full-time careers for them so helping the greater Economy.

Regards,
Shuaib MBCS

Please note link below is my own website and nothing the interns have worked on.

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