Take control of your career and professional success with personal side projects
Build your portfolio and resume
When getting out of college or university, no one has real experience. At best you have an internship or two under your belt, but any serious student has that. The only way to separate yourself is to have a portfolio of side projects.
They don’t even have to be successful or used by anyone. But to stand out, they do need to be published and available online or even offline on your computer.
How your resume looks like without side projects
The sheer existence of personal projects shows that you are proactive and willing to go the extra mile. You are a self starter and self finisher. Every manager’s dream.
Having more than one personal side project conveys the following traits:
- Hard worker
- Willing to take initiative
- Independent worker
- Potential leader
You get 1000 bonus points if you’ve managed to actually ship your projects, complete them and have them online for anyone to see. Very few people do this, thinking it’s too complicated or expensive. In reality it’s very easy to host them online even for free: Netlify, Heroku and OpenShift are few of the many platforms that have free plans for personal side projects.
Stay on top of your industry
Software developers do this by nature. We see shiny new tech or new language feature released and we immediately want to try it out. This helps us stay relevant with the new trends and on top of our industry.
However these days every industry is impacted by technology and software. There are always new tools, techniques and improvements in all industries. There is software for accounting, architecture, marketing, sales, project management. Actually all software is built to enhance something else. There is very little software build for developers themselves.
Just like you can learn about new technology from home, you can also watch course on anything under the sun, from the comfort of your sofa.
Why not set a challenge to watch 1 hour less TV every night and use that extra hour to watch a course for your personal or professional improvement.
Learn adjacent skills
Use personal side projects to develop skills closely related or in some way adjacent to your core competencies.
This one is rarely done unless it’s required by your boss or manager. I’m talking about learning skills that are not related to your job directly but will help you in your job if you get better at them.
Personally I can speak for developers, a lot of us would benefit greatly if we could communicate better. More efficient and more understandable. Watching a course on this is so boring, but starting a personal blog or doing a presentation at a local meetup is fun. Do that. Your next personal project can be your blog. Or you can blog about your personal projects 😉
For lots of analytical professions or basically people that have to sort out and analyze lots of data, learning basic Python can do wonders to improve your productivity. You can automate so many things and become a hero in your organization.
There are many cases of programmers that get employed in ancient companies and are required to do manual reports or something every week. After a few months they write a script that can completely replace them.
Now wether they tell their boss about it or just enjoy their extra free time is up to them.
Ideally you want your knowledge to be like the letter T. Have a wide variety of shallow knowledge and be an expert in few select areas.
Pivot your career
Wether you want to slightly change directions in your career or do a complete 180 degree turn, you have to developer your new skills first. Completing lots of small side projects is a fun way of going about this.
Example 1: Learning to code
Project 1: Build a static HTML page, deadline 2 weeks.
Project 3: Save your todo list into a database, deadline 1 month.
Example 2: Learning a new language
Project 1: Learn to ask simple tourist questions: Introduce yourself, talk about accommodation and directions. Deadline 1 month
Project 2: Write 10 tweets in the new language – Deadline 1 week
How to make the time
In your 20s you can afford to 2-4 hours per day. Depending on the day and depending on your circumstances.
After doing this for few years you will be surprised how much more efficient you become at adopting and experimenting with new things. As you get older and your responsibilities increase you will get that much more efficient. Even 30 minutes per day will be enough to try out new things. You will have the consistency and the efficiency to make these 30 minutes count.