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Why you should have a side project (erickhun.com)
263 points by guillaumec on Oct 8, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 202 comments

I really think with a proper full time job working long hours its unrealistic to spend much time on any side project. Its much healthier to try to spend time with friends and family, or hobbies. If you have young children there is little chance.

What everyone should strive for is the side project at work. Making new tools, monitoring systems, refactoring some library, user friendly applications, experimenting with new languages. Google is famous for the 20% project, but most people can get away with spending a few hours a week on whatever they want while working. If you deliver something useful its also a good way of getting recognition.

> I really think with a proper full time job working long hours its unrealistic to spend much time on any side project. Its much healthier to try to spend time with friends and family, or hobbies. If you have young children there is little chance.

I hear this comment every time this topic comes up, and quite honestly, it is BS. If you're in the minority of people who are spending every waking hour productively, maybe this is true. But for the majority, it certainly isn't. I know plenty of people who spend >10-20 hours every week on:

- Watching TV

- Surfing the web

- Playing games

- Watching sports

- Going camping/hiking etc

- Weekend trips

- Fishing

- etc etc etc

When someone suggests hiking, reading and meditation as a good way to spend your free time, everyone nods along and talks about how wonderful it is. But when someone talks about building a side-project, suddenly everyone has twin babies and elderly parents with dementia who are taking up every waking minute.

There's nothing wrong with any of the other alternatives listed above. If you're burnt out from coding, go ahead and do whatever gives you happiness and satisfaction. But please acknowledge that building side-projects is eminently realistic, and for some people, will give far more happiness and satisfaction than binging netflix.

Building a side project is work, spending time with family, camping, going on trips isn't.

It's not so much that we can't accept that some people enjoy working, it's that they're screwing their health. There is no free lunch, staring at monitors for years on end will take its toll.

Gaming and watching TV aren't healthy for computer workers either.

I hate this attitude. It's the same attitude that anything that happens on a computer is work because someone uses a computer at work. I also use chairs and desks and toilets at work and I eat food at work and talk to people at work and walk to diffenent places at work so I guess walking, sitting, talking to people, pooping etc all all work.

No, rather a computer is a general purpose device on which I can make music, listen to music, edit video, watch moives, learn a new language, look up recipies, talk to friends, chat with experts on all kinds of topics. I don't stop using the computer "because I use it at work"

The same is true of programming and side progects. Programming is not work. Programming is something I do at work like I alos talk to people at work, sit at work, walk at work, eat at work, write emails at work, chat at work.

Programming is also a fun activity in and of itself I get lots of enjoyment out of just like I get enjoyment from those other things. That fact that I do it at work as ZERO influence on my enjoyment of it. I might not enjoy certain things I do at work but that has nothing to do with "programming" and everything to do with goals or don't believe in or busy work for the sake of busy work or having to do things someway I don't agree with, all of which disappear on my own stuff.

> Programming is also a fun activity in and of itself I get lots of enjoyment out of just like I get enjoyment from those other things. That fact that I do it at work as ZERO influence on my enjoyment of it

I think that's totally awesome =]

However in the post itself, the reasons listed for doing a side project include making money and learning new skills. One of those things is literally the thing that defines work, and the other is something that many would assume is for work.

I believe that's where this animosity towards the expectation of side projects comes from. If you want to do it and would do it without any benefits to your career, then definitely it is purely fun and in the same class as meditation or hanging out with friends. However, if you argue that you should do it to make money, personally I would say that's no longer in the same class of things as hanging out with friends.

Indeed programming for the sake of learning and programming for the sake of enjoyment are two different things I'd say. It's like when people comment how it must be so relaxing to practice piano; no it's probably fun and relaxing to play but practicing is very boring and frustrating.

we should just call it out as it is - companies that only hire people who have side projects just want cog employees who will prioritize that over literally every aspect of their life under the guise of "passion"

If I came home from band practice and spent all night writing music and playing my guitar, people would say "wow, that guy is so passionate and creative". But since my craft involves a computer, they instead say "you're going to burn yourself out. You should get a different hobby."

The computer is a tool. It's the tool that I use to create things, and that creativity gives me life. I don't think people without creative hobbies can really understand this.

Band practice isn't equivalent to music work. It would be more like being on tour, and coming home to play some more. Which I doubt musicians do. Most I've heard find touring pretty taxing.

From my musician friends too, I seldom see them ever spending more than 8 hours a day doing music. As music work isn't really 9 to 5 style.

Here we're talking having done an 8 to 10 hour day programming, Monday through Friday, and then spending even more once home and on weekends.

Now, I happen to be, maybe as you are, someone who is passionate about CS. So I do actually do it as a hobby and as work. I just don't believe everyone should, and I don't want to make it the norm that you have too, because if that was the case, my doing it as a hobby for myself would now become me doing it cause I have too for employability.

It's also not my only hobby, I found that when it was, it did in fact slowly overwork my mind. I'd slowly start sleeping later, waking earlier, having issues falling asleep because I'd always be thinking about my problems. A few hours before bed, switching to a non thinking hobby has been really nice for me.

I agree with you about the stigma though. I think if anything, I'd like to encourage non-programmers to pick up programming as a hobby. It's a great creative outlet, and the computer is a tool. It can be very rewarding and so much fun. Plus, for many, it could translate into a better career for them.

As a programmer though, I think it's just up to you, but definitely you shouldn't have too.

Just my opinion.

I don't think people in general can really understand this. Especially now that tablets and smartphones have achieved such success, computers are probably used mostly for work. Not necessarily a job, but tasks and duties.

The programming "interface" is more or less staring at text on a monitor and clicking on buttons. All the creative work is hidden and the interface is complete crap... How can that be perceived as fun or creative by someone looking from the outside?

Music making always had an aura of coolness, so even if a professional musician were to do that, maybe people would not see it as work.

...nobody is saying this.

I'm starting a new side project from scratch and wanted to explore new architectural approaches, heck, I can't sleep all night, because I'm so excited.

When you get money for programming, that's work, but programming in itself can be both fun and work. A side-project you do for yourself should be fun and exciting.

Taking time away from socializing and actually resting will eventually take its toll. I tried following the HN advice in this regard for a few years in the late oughts. Spending so much time working on programming and little else was lonely and punishing, even though I liked what I was working on.

Whether something's like work is also defined by one's profession. If you're a professional pooper, to take one of your examples, and you decided to do some pooping after work - that would count as work-like, because you're doing something very similar to your job.

Especially if it'a a side-project, which implies planning and goal setting. Of course if one is just aimlessly messing around then it becomes less like work.

I partially agree with you: The notion of "programming as a hobby" starts to fade for some once they're doing this professionally.

Since I'm working 40h/week as a software engineer I find much less motivation to do PC related stuff (this includes gaming). That was different, I used to do random programming after school just because I could. During university this became less. However, I do enjoy most of my work, so there is that. And this is why I originally started studying physics - I wanted to keep programming as a hobby, but figured out I probably wouldn't really enjoy working in physics and then switched to CS.

Regarding health: I think with this you're wrong. It depends on the "how much". Staring at a monitor 8h at work, driving home, stare at a TV/monitor another 6h munching fast food, go to bed, wake up, repeat; this is probably quite bad. But get home by bike or foot (if feasible), program/game/watch TV for an hour or two, go outside, do some sport, reduce unhealthy food, and you can probably get by quite fine.

> The notion of "programming as a hobby" starts to fade for some once they're doing this professionally.

Well, I still do code as hobby.

The thing is writing code for company is not always fun, for example, your company use React and you want to try Vue, the only way to do it is create hobby projects of your own.

And there are other benefits as well, for example, if your project is useful, it may open new opportunities for you, showcase your abilities, let you make friends and maybe even allow you to directly make money from it.

> I find much less motivation to do PC related stuff

Me too, sometimes. But personally I usually found the main reason for me to lost motivation is when I realized the project I'm working on is useless -- No body will use it even I released it, so I just stopped working on it.

But you know what, some of my abandoned code can be reused when I have new ideas, so I count all of it as sleeping gold (Or maybe sleeping bug, depends on production results :)

> Building a side project is work

I'd say it's nothing like work. There's no stress, no deadlines, no fixed hours, no team work, etc. For many people programming is a hobby, something that's fun and they are not paid to do, they don't do it for the money, but for self-fulfillment. Not everyone find that at work, and even if they do, they may choose to spend a few hours a week building something for themselves, to scratch an itch or whatever.

> It's not so much that we can't accept that some people enjoy working, it's that they're screwing their health. There is no free lunch, staring at monitors for years on end will take its toll.

I doubt 50hs of screen time is a lot worse than 40hs, but I'd need data to prove/disprove it. However, you don't even need to spend that much time, it could be just a few hours a week.

No stress??? That’s been my main issue with side projects. It feels stressful in the same way that work does. The stresses of piano or bike repair wear on a different part of my brain and body.

Sorry, I can only speak for myself.

I wrote about side projects here:


It seems to me that you can treat side projects like work, but you shouldn't. Side projects should be about scratching an itch that can't be done at work, whether that is the domain, technology or some other aspect.

If your side project is like work, pick a different side project.

If every side project is like work, as is so for some commenters, then take some time off from them. Or don't do them and forgo the benefits.

> Building a side project is work, spending time with family, camping, going on trips isn't.

No, work is work, side-project is a hobby,it's done for recreation, for example to do some stuff you can't find a reasonable excuse to do at work. To explore and enjoy yourself doing what you love. That's also the only reason to have one..

Doing _ANYTHING_ is work if you look at it wrong enough.

Work, as in effort, tasks, projects is opposed to leisure, as in peace & quiet, recreation and relaxation.

Work doesn't just refer to performing a job in exchange for money.

Even the term side-project contradicts the idea of leisure. It implies goals, a plan of action and tasks that have to be done.

Side projects are the only reason I'm able to continue working professionally precisely because they are not work. Everything about them is different from work. Programming is a great hobby and in my experience turning it into your job destroys it as a hobby. Working on a side project is to find a new avenue for programming as a hobby, so they you can continue programming for money because that's the most feasible way to make money as a programmer, but can also program freely without project managers, conflicting requirements, deadlines, slow/non-communicative/differently-visioned colleagues/customers/bosses on your side projects.

No, building a side project is fun. Camping, family, and trips are work.

Professional programming sometimes diminishes the passion, I have to have side projects to keep it alive.

To be fair, I consider going on trips and camping to be work.

But I agree, there are ways to balance things, but you have to choose. You can't have everything (work, side project, family, health, hobbies) at 100% and be the best version of your self long term.

>> Building a side project is work

I agree, but... I used to do them for fun, for the challenge, to learn, to prove to myself that I could do it.

I've recently been working on an existing open source project. I do so because I like the software and want it to be better. I also have the background to contribute in areas that haven't been touched in years. While its voluntary and feels like a side project, it's still work.

These things are all work, it's just a question of why we choose to do them. Maybe the other commenters that dont see it as work have a bit to learn about their own motivations?

Why should it be work?

Work is what I am paid for. Anything else is either your human needs or hobbies.

I prefer a colleague's response to my question whether he has side projects: I don't like to do the same as I do (at work) here when I am home.

It's an incorrect answer, but at least it doesn't imply side projects are work.

No it's not just what you're paid for, I've already clarified this for two other commenters.

Grab a dictionary and you'll see something along "activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result".

Unless your side projects have no purpose or goals, they are a form of work and they require effort.

How is it different from playing music, reading books or DIY hobbies? I don't get it.

I don't understand why one thing is work and another isn't.

In my book, work is that which, when it stops being fun, you still have to do.

>Building a side project is work

for you it is, for me and many others its fun/hobby. This is why side projects are such a strong signal to competent recruiters -this person actually likes what he does and will put passion into his work.

Just cause someone codes for fun outside of work doesn't mean that they will put passion into their work. Furthermore, just because someone doesn't code for fun outside of work doesn't mean they won't put passion into their work.

I could even make a case that people who don't spend their free time coding make better employees than those who do - the employer wants the employee to spend their mental energy on work, not personal projects.

The vast majority of people who are going to give you a high quality 9-5 aren't going home to program, and it would be very bad business to discount them.

(The only person I knew of who coded outside of work was honestly a bad employee. I wouldn't use that case to discount others who code for fun outside of work.)

What the employer wants? You could give the employer everything they want for years and welcome yourself as outdated and underskilled for any other job. The employee needs to look out for what is best for the employee’s life. That only moderately aligns with what is best for the employer — often they are opposed. Jobs don’t typically last 35 years with the same company anymore. Skills need to be enhanced beyond what the current employer needs. Side project freedom gives you the power to pick any skills you want to enhance and run with it.

Heh. I used to put way too much effort into open source and side projects, and this made me a terrible employee -- I was always too tired at work, because I'd stay up late the night before, coding side projects!

Although that could be just me, I think it's a common problem.

I did a lot of development outside work, but then I had a kid. Something I realized a couple weeks ago (my son is almost two, so surprising I hadn't realized this before, but I think that shows my brain power) is that as a parent you learn to split your attention among numerous things.

I rarely watched TV, preferring to either do development or play video games (RPGs, action games with stories, as compared to FPS games). However, when you have a child you realize that, unless they're in bed for the night, you can't plan how much time you'll have to yourself. That's with one child and two parents.

When development, to me, is at least 30 minutes to remember where you left off and start being productive (unless you're monkeying around), and you don't know if you're going to have a child climbing on top of you in five minutes, even though he's totally into what he's doing now, you (or at least I) decide whether you want to try getting into the groove, likely to fail and then get frustrated, or find something you can do to be semi-productive.

After nine hours at work, plus helping get someone ready to go in the morning, plus getting him situated when he gets home, you're also mentally exhausted.

If you're doing your job right, your child is also on a schedule, which means that you're still getting up early in the morning, so staying up a few more hours is going to mean either being exhausted the next day (compounding issues) or wasting your weekend since you've been running yourself on empty all week.

I used to think the same thing as you. Then I had kids, and an expanded group of family and friends. And while you can say 'these three nights are times I need to focus on my needs,' realistically life doesn't always work that way. I wish it did, though. :|

Real life example: while typing this my son was in the other room. When I started to proofread my son had made his way into the kitchen and needed my hands. Now as I type this he's fine again. ~10 minutes of time, with a minute and a half break at about the 7 minute mark. Doesn't make it easy to keep my attention focused.

If you choose to code as a hobby that's fine. Nobody will stop you. The problem is when others say that I should do it. Or worse, when it becomes an expectation to get hired.

Here's the thing, all that other stuff you mentioned are things I can do with my family. Side projects aren't. I have trouble reading seriously now for the same reason; it is a solitary activity. But at least if I'm reading a book I can still pop out and participate in conversations; not so with programming.

The other important difference, and the reason there is always strong pushback when this topic comes up, is that many of us believe there is a subtext that people who spend a lot of time outside work on side projects are better employees. (I mean, it isn't even really subtext, it is in the text of the OP, and I've been reading the new edition of The Pragmatic Programmer, and it's in the text there as well.) If that view wins out (and in many circles it already has), then what you see as harmless, fun, and enriching side projects are actually a job requirement, one that is extremely hard for many of us to satisfy. So we (reasonably, I think!) push back on this view because we think we're good programmers and good employees without needing to spend our evenings doing solitary work away from our friends and families.

This comment really bothers me. The argument in the post is that a side project will fulfill you. Being told that if I really try I can fit in a few more hours of productive time and that a side project is what will fulfill me... 1) I don’t always want to be productive. 2) There are nearly as many ways to be fulfilled as there are people. So calling bs if that way isn’t a side project is immensely arrogant.

The (single? childless?) people you know, and yourself, can certainly choose how to spend your time, and nobody is saying otherwise.

I know plenty of people who spend every waking moment outside of work with family and friends, and a side project would mean choosing other things over those personal relationships.

Which, again, you can choose to do. I'm with the GP, though: I've done side projects, and even had one turn into something I sold, but for now I choose to spend time with my friends and family. Any TV I watch, I watch with my family. Any games I play, I play with them. Camping and hiking, I do with them or with friends. Weekend trips I take with them.

I used to feel the same... but once in corporate world, you already get exhausted by the mental pressure in office that you wouldn't want to think more on the same thing, logic, even if its your personal project. Coding is not physically exhausting, but it does use up your brain cells. And after 8-9 hours of screen time, after you reach home, you would definitely want some time off the screen, otherwise it ends up affecting your health.

Side project is still a continuation of what you do for 8 hours everyday. Other activities are not. If your job was to hike everyday and then someone proposed side-hiking when you are back from your main hiking activity, I'm sure you would say "I'd rather just spend some time writing code".

And what about cooks? Do they also overwork in their free time when they make their own food?

Yes actually. Based on some of the Quora answers I've read, they don't enjoy cooking after coming home. But since cooking is an unavoidable activity (unlike a side project, you can't procrastinate with hunger) they might have to.


They are humans, of course they like and dislike doing things. However, that doesn't define work. You can also dislike your work. Still, you are paid for it.

When I'm done for the day I don't want to sit in front of a computer any longer. I can understand why a cook would come home and just throw down a microwave meal. The issue here isn't getting paid, it's doing the same when you get home. My current employer won't renew my contract because I oppose this mentality, it's toxic and making me debate leaving IT altogether. He considers me lazy for that. Is some balance really too much to ask?

> My current employer won't renew my contract because I oppose this mentality

That's crazy. Everyone should be free to do whatever they want in their own free time.

>it's doing the same when you get home

That's what my colleague answered me when I asked him "why don't you have side projects?". Everyone should be able to choose whatever they want to do with their own free time.

I don't consider a side project as "the same thing I do at work", and I don't consider myself special.

Yeah, almost everyone wastes time on "fun" and "relaxation" that they could be better using by working on a commercial project.

Yes I agree it is possible. Yes many people will be able to do it well. There is a risk though that after ten years you could be a great programmer with a great portfolio, but with a failing body and unhappy social life.

You seem to be under the impression a side-project means spending every spare time working on it.

> There is a risk though that after ten years you could be a great programmer with a great portfolio, but with a failing body and unhappy social life.

There's no reason this should be the case, and life is full of risks.

Agreed. If you can do a project on 10 hrs/mo that can fit.

> When someone suggests hiking, reading and meditation as a good way to spend your free time, everyone nods along and talks about how wonderful it is.

The key difference is the article is saying "should", and you are saying "suggests".

If someone says you should go hiking, you're more likely to get a similar response.

It's along the same lines as " I don't have money for X because I'm paying mortgage" and then next week, they renovate their backyard for 10K.

I don‘t think anyone’s using family and other real obligations as an excuse to skip side projects - my guess is that people are very aware of the fact that side projects will reduce their leisure time and it‘s a trade off few people are willing to make. Which is perfectly reasonable.

Personally, I don‘t intend to spend every waking moment in a productive manner. In fact the downtime, all the hiking, sports and playing games allow me to be productive when it counts.

Isn't there a slatestarcodex blog about the statistical average of people having at least one significant life difficulty they're working through overall result in nearly everyone you meet having serious life-changing problems they're working through? (He listed the average rate of assault, violence, abuse, addiction, etc. in the general populace made it such that every person you meet has or is currently dealing with one of them).

In that sense it makes sense that you'll have a massive amount of pushback when proposing that people should just work harder or work more. Statistically, there's a high chance that a majority or significant minority of your audience will have one many, many conditions that eat up their time: grad school, parenting, caring for parents, caring for siblings, caring for friends, caring for spouses...

If this slatestarcodex article exists, I would really appreciate anyone who could provide the link to it. I've tried some basic searching but am not having luck. Also, I'm getting distracted reading old articles.

Yes, it is this one, thanks.

I try to spend 45 minutes a day on meditation (as recommended in The Mind illuminated), though I probably average closer to 25. You are unlikely to get anything useful done in 25 - 45 minutes of side project time.

A side project is going to take a long time especially as your time on it is likely to be split up a lot more - so effectively far more context switching. All the other activities (except meditation) can be done more as a one time activity.

(I have started multiple side projects, but then I get busy with other aspects of my life and they get forgotten about).

The thing that I always wonder is what isn't work providing you that you feel like you want to program outside of it? I find my job really challenging/rewarding and I basically can't program after work (though I work like 50+ hours)

You can only think at a high level for so long. passive things like watching TV, meditating, sleeping, fishing require little thinking. Sports is tiring, but not so mentally taxing. Programming is entirely different.

Trouble with that is:

1 In Most developed countries any work related to you day job belongs to your employer.

2 Doing a side hustle like this looks incredibly sketchy and is not going to be a good culture fit.


1. I used to work for Disney. There is no such thing as a non-competing project if your employer is involved in enough industries!

2. Please, calm down and don't rush to judgement. You'll be better for it.

I used to work for a huge multinational conglomerate you've definitely heard of. I agree - pretty much anything I did while employed there could be considered competing, especially since nobody (beyond maybe a couple of executives?) knew everything the company was involved in.


If I am hiring your for a professional job having a "side project/hustle" is not going to be a good look in a lot of cases.

Of course some sidejobs like a musician are ok and different to say driving an uber.

I used to work with a senior project manger whose side job was a Jazz musician but he did get a residency during the Edinburgh festival at the Balmorral

nobody is saying that building side projects won't give you happiness - the point is that not everyone is the same and you cannot take a brush and paint the same expectations as everyone. is that so hard to acknowledge?

Its not bs to live life

....writing arrogant comments on HN

Over the years I tried a number of ways to develop things on the side. Ultimately I've learned what works best for me is to put as much time as I can into something until it's done.

One concern I have with a few hours a week is unless the project is really really tiny, you can begin to think that it'll never get done and it fizzles into nothingness.

For example let's say you want to make X app and it takes you 2 full time months to go from an empty folder to shipping an MVP. Let's just call it 300 hours. But if you only put in 5 hours a week (about 1 hour a day) it will take you 60 weeks to finish it. That's over a year of chipping away on something which is a very long time. You'll probably drop it well before you finish it because it'll feel like it's dragging along forever.

That's why you need persistence!!

Having watched "The Founder", when Ray Croc was selling ice-cream machines nobody wanted he was listening to motivational records where the speaker says "the world is full of educated fools" and highlights that the one quality required is persistence.

Of course, if it's a stupid idea or a useless app then persistence is also useless and it would be a true waste of time.

But if the app is solving a problem for you, it likely will solve a problem for someone else which is why a side project will always prevail with persistence.

I always think that a side project is still a project, much like your main job. The only difference is time spent on it. But it'll be the same outcome.

Great, but that says nothing about how to get persistence/become persistent. What you say correct, but its not actionable on its own.

For me, I find that if I work on something, eventually, my interest in it wanes and other things become more important. Unless I start making significant progress, its then only a matter of time before it fizzles out. There's only so many weeks or months I can work on something before my mind craves something else.

What definitely helps me stay focused long term is to not work on something on my own. When others are involved, then when my mind starts thinking of new things, I can set it aside and say to myself "no, stay focused, I don't want to let ABC down". Sadly when ABC is me, it doesn't work very well, but if its someone else, especially someone I care about, then it helps me stay focused. Currently on month ten of a large side project with my brother and still going strong :)

Let’s start with a definition shall we?

You are persistent if you keep coming back to the same task and advance it.

Let’s say that for an app, and with limited time, we can instantiate this definition as: if you keep coming back to developing your app regularly during a full year, you are persistent.

Now that we have a definition, what can you do to fulfill it?

Set time in your calendar, create habits, etc.

Have 2 side projects. Then when you get bored with one, you can switch to the other. Then, when you're bored with that switch back to the first.

Or it might help you to learn how to drop the useless things and just ship a bare essential MVP.

I read this often, and since people tend to do overengineering, this isn't bad advice. However: Some things can only be reduced so much.

Rebuilding the product we ship at $dayjob, and which I enjoy working on, with a comparable feature set would probably take me ~8 years fulltime, assuming I know the whole stuff as well as I think and I don't hit major blockers (e.g. I don't do UI stuff, but most work is in the backend anyway); there is virtually no FOSS to accelerate this. A lot of the features can be dropped to get to a MVP, but I suspect I'd still be working on that for 6 month to a year, fulltime, and I will not be as easily extensible as the current incarnation. So that's 1000 to 2000h with a huge amount of technical debt and magnitudes inferior to the "competition"/$dayjob.

Could I still pull that off if I wanted to? Yes. Would I enjoy it that way? Hell no.

I know, but one shouldn't try to build a death star as a side project. Pick the scope wisely would be my number one advice.

Or, maybe even more, recognize that the fun was in the developing, and not in the shipping. Don't stress over it not getting done. I have a ton of abandoned side projects, and I don't regret a single one. I also don't regret stopping them when they stopped being fun.

I've designed and shipped my side project after a year, presented it at meetups, social media, but now I'm struggling with marketing. I have very little motivation to work on it, but I have endless drive to polish the codebase and features :) But I also know that 2-3 visitors per day will case me to abandon the whole thing.

It's tough, shipping is only the second step.

I have a hard time with marketing too as it seems the most hustle oriented and requires constant vigilance. My motivation dwindles much past the website/product design but everyone likes the product. My project is stupid simple and has a niche customer base. I don't know but I'm thinking it might be best to hire a marketing person on fiverr or upwork and have them manage marketing. I don't know if the return would be worth it though. Have you looked into hiring someone to do the social/marketing work?

Apparently, Google's 20% project should really be called 120% work - it was in addition to and not in place of their work.


I worked on a Google.org project (my company was the beneficiary), and our time spent with Googlers was their designated paid CSR days (we're not even talking 20% time). They were fully expected to be always-on, taking calls and completing work to deadlines during their "volunteer" hours with us. Their contributions to our project were of very limited value, not through any fault of the individual contributors but just through the fact that they weren't really allowed any headspace to engage with our project.

Some of us work in technology and aren't coders.

Having to do requirements capture, design, coding, end user testing can be a hobby in itself if it's not what you do for your day job.

My last side project took me about 50 hours of effort across two weeks, taught me a lot about python, and made me ~$6000. The previous one took me about 200 hours, and made me and a friend $9000.

In both cases, I was motivated by the financial potentials (that never really lived up to what they were in my head), and the technical challenge. Getting paid to solve problems with friends is great fun, if it's not what you do for a living.

In that sense, I don't understand how some of my friends play Factorio, but then most of them are programmers, so I guess it doesn't feel like work to them...

Curious how you identify side projects with earning potential?

I knew people who were struggling to find work, performing menial tasks online for scraps of change, and built systems for them to optimise their workflow. It still required them to put in a lot of time and effort, but I could increase their productive output by 5-50x depending on what they're doing. I did this in exchange for 20-50% of the proceeds. It was a win-win, however it ultimately helped them get back on their feet, get on top of their bills, and then have the mental capacity to look for real work again. Once they got a real job, they stopped.

Which I suppose is a good thing overall.

Actually I managed to find a job where I’m doing what I love at a good pay rate but only 4 days/ 20 hours a week. So I have lots of time for my really big side projects and I still go hiking and see friends and family. If we’re talking life hacks in this thread then try to find a job that lets you work 20 or 30 hours a week.

Probably obvious question, but needs to be asked: do you have any tips? I'd love a 30 hour work week.

20 would be too little for me, or so I'd like to believe.

Hmmm, just ask? Places that do timecards are probably more likely to say "yes".

My employer allows it. Benefits other than health insurance (which is fully paid w/o any paycheck deduction) will be pro-rated to whatever you sign up for, but you can still work the extra hours for more pay. So for example if you promise 30 hours but work 36 hours, you'd get 75% benefits and 90% pay. If you promise 32 hours and work 50 hours, you'd get 80% benefits and 125% pay.


Don't work salary, work hourly. I did it as a contractor at Google so the pay was still good, but I'm not "taking" anything from my employer if I leave early. Google also has the benefit of not needing to be as efficient as possible so they can absorb some amount of reduced output.

Bill in 15 minute increments, and always be working if you're billing. If a coworker asks you how your weekends was, engage and say hello, but keep it under 5 minutes. Longer than 5 minute breaks, clock out (even if just mentally keeping track or keeping track on paper). If you work a solid 6-7 hours a day 5 days a week, you'll probably be just as productive as your salaried coworkers, so managers will only notice when they approve your hours.

Be good at working alone. Its hard to work in a team if others work 40 hours a week and you work a lot less. Other team members think if you don't work as much you're not committed (IMO a spurious correlation).

Continue this schedule unless a manager demands you work more. If they are passive about it ("we'd prefer you work more, but we won't actually ask that of you"), then continue with your 30-35 hour weeks. If you can continue doing it, it forces the organization to decide if your schedule is a real problem (and fire you) or just something they think looks weird but they are willing to deal with.

Keep doing valuable work so the momentum of keeping you even at fewer hours is worth more than letting you go.

Find some other passion work outside of work. Open source, robots, sewing, hiking, family time, etc. Tell your managers and coworkers how much you love your projects so they know you won't just say okay if they were to push you to work more. Also, finding stuff to enjoy is the point.

Push to 30 hour weeks if you can. Five 5-6 hour days is 25-30 hours a week. I'd usually have one 3 hour day when I had to leave early for therapy appointments (and I would happily not come back in to work after!) and then one 8 hour day to balance it.

Surf this wave of staying useful while working less as long as you can. In my case the maximum allowed two year contract was coming to an end and my half-assed efforts did not warrant hiring me full time (I didn't try or want that anyway). Then when looking for new jobs, I realized the biggest thing to me was working fewer hours. I applied to several places and one place I found really didn't care how much I worked. They key stipulation for me was that I would work 4 days a week, about 30 hours a week. They said that was fine, they cared mostly about total project cost not time taken. In reality I've settled in to about 20 hours a week and we're still making great progress on the project.

So in summary: be pushy, prioritize yourself, accept some risk, and once you're used to that schedule make it a requirement for new jobs. It takes a lot of privilege to pull it off so not everyone can do it, but it's possible.

During my short time at Google, I never knew anyone that had time for a a 20% project, and such projects had to be approved by management and have some kind of alignment with the company objectives. I think the Google 20% project of old died a long time ago, before I ever worked there. I knew plenty of people there that had various open source side projects outside of work though.

Agreed - having a pet project at work can really make you well known. It's far more realistic since you're already in the working mode in your brain. At the end of the long day you could not get me to code anything anymore. But while I'm at work I still have some mental strength left to do the code gymnastics.

Who knows, that pet project might get picked up by the enterprise as a product or an internal tool that others might use. In my past experience, some of the pet project dashboards that I made to make my life easier have been picked up by higher ups since they improved troubleshooting/time to recovery metrics.

Side project at work is a different thing. I do recommend them (at home), but that's irrelevant.

It's irrelevant, because if coding is something you love doing, you will have many side projects and enjoy them not caring all that much about their profitability or how do they look in your CV. And if you don't, why would you want one? Do the things you love. Possibly consider changing your career (but I guess this may be tough especially if you are a good coder).

I really think it depends. You would not say that it’s a bad idea if someone did more sport, started a new language or went hiking. The point is: it might give you a lot of energy and doesn’t feel like an extra burden, and, may potentially develop into something bigger. In any case it’s better than binge watching Netflix

But sports, languages, hiking, etc. are all different activities. I'm already coding at work 40+ hours a week, the last thing I want to do when I get home is code even more.

I know a guy that codes for 40 hours. Goes home and codes. Spends other time preparing for conference talks. Goes to the bar and actually codes at the damn bar. This dude absolutely loves to code. I just do this for the money. I spend my free time with my wife and son.

OP here ,

> full time job working long hours its unrealistic to spend much time on any side project.

Something I don't mention in the post is you should focus to reduce time you are working for "others". I feel not great when my friends tells me they stay at work because it's written in their contracts and they have nothing to do. Also when I hear 50+ hours a week (that I do at rare occasions), it gives me chills. It's about company culture and if they're focus in work life/balance or not. Some companies try concepts like the 4 days work week that I think amazing!

> Its much healthier to try to spend time with friends and family, or hobbies. If you have young children there is little chance.

I agree! I don't have a wife or children, but I'm sure if I had, I'd also spend time with them :)

So you are suggesting unpaid overwork, right?

I agree that it can be educational, however, it can also give your boss the false pretense that you are gonna do it "outside the sprint".

I personally did that mistake in the past, and I have seen people do the same. Never again. Again, the only good thing in that is the learning part and, if you want, the satisfaction. However, you can't even publish it, which means in terms of visibility, nobody knows what you do outside work.

And what when they ask you "any side projects?" in job interviews?

Horses for courses.

Do what works for you / your family. Whether that's a side project or not.

I really think with a proper full time job working long hours

Why would you be working "long hours" at your full-time job?

I mean the standard 40h + 3-10h commuting per week is already long hours IMHO. People usually work the hours their employer sets, so.

Ah, OK. I thought something different was being said by "long hours." To me, ~40 is "normal", but when you start talking 50+, that's "long hours". And I don't think anybody should be doing that unless they're being compensated appropriately.

I try to commute on a train. Sometimes it's feasible to work while on the train, and a long commute is less of a problem.

> If you have young children there is little chance.

It's tough but (imho) well worth having a side-project if you don't have kids. I don't, but if I did I can't imagine how a side-project would even be possible.

I managed a side project over the pregnancy, birth and to age 4 of my twin girls and full time job. I dropped down to 15 mins a day, but a tiny amount of forward progress aggregated over years can achieve a lot. And actually, I got so good at context switching by having clear todos, that those 15 minutes I got were worth a good 15 mins. You get to spend the rest of the day mulling about how to use those 15 mins that the quality was surprisingly high and going down the wrong path was rare. I had to save refactors for Christmas though.

This is a good practice. I find that diligently doing like 15 min a day tasks sets you up to subconsciously put your mind to solve problems when you’re busy with less analitical cognitive tasks around the house/family or idle moments. The project’s always on the back of your mind this way and when you spend 15 minutes you’re in the save to disk mode.

Side project + hobby = euphoria.

Find the intersection

So, assuming you're early career, I get the idea that you are anxious about your CV and your job security, and you want to build up something of a portfolio that you can show publicly.

Me, I'm mid career, and wish I hadn't focused so much on doing more programming in my off time. Most of the side projects I worked on never really came to any sort of long-term fruition, and I'm not even sure that they were that helpful in my career. What really helped was being able to demonstrate domain expertise, and I built that up by becoming less focused on programming, and spending more of my work time just talking to people and understanding their business.

There are two big problems with just working on raw programming skills: First, if all you are is a programmer, then you're fungible. The only programming skills that aren't particularly fungible are skills in entrenched-but-uncool languages like COBOL and RPG. The cools ones are cheap; anyone who can stick to a MOOC can build up a portfolio of side projects on popular technologies. On the other hand, domain expertise is very difficult to replace. The resources to build it up typically aren't publicly available, so they're less common.

And there are plenty of side projects you can work on that give your brain a break, or at least a change of pace, while still looking good on your CV and opening up job opportunities you might not otherwise have. Lately, for me, it's been learning languages. It's a lot easier to fit into a life, because you can do it while commuting or doing housework. Having a business proficiency can definitely open doors. And, once you get past the beginner stage (which is best undertaken as a solitary pursuit), it's a _great_ social activity.

This is great advice if you are early career and anxious about your CV and job security. I don't believe side-project-as-portfolio is the ideal strategy for career building for most people (though it may be for some).


> you're early career, I get the idea that you are anxious about your CV and your job security

From reading the article, I didn't get this impression about the author at all. I strongly got the impression that the author is mid-career, and that they feel their career has benefitted from side-projects (I still don't necessarily believe this will be the case for most people, but certainly can for some).

What about the article gave you that impression?

Side note: I think outside of career progression, side-projects have many ancillary benefits and are very worthwhile.

Thanks, lucideer. OP here. You're correct! I believe that who want to have more opportunities early in their career will benefit from a side project. It can only add value.

And I also agree with mumblemumble, that later on, you might want to focus on some specific skills and make better what you already knows to sell yourself as a specialist, and that's where you can make $$$?

just my 2 cents

I didn't get the impression that the author is early career. But I would assume that that article's intended audience is people who are earlier in their career.

I don't have side projects. I don't really want one. What I do is satisfy my intellectual curiosity. I've always been very curious how things work. If I see an app with a widget that does something, I will (try to) recreate it. I'll then move on to the next curiosity. I like protocols, so maybe I'll implement a minimalist IRC server. Then move on. I don't fully flesh out these applications. I do the minimum I need to understand and learn and satisfy myself and then move on. I am curious about so many things, I don't have time to have a side project.

Another thing is, I love reading code, so if I see an Open Source project that does something really interesting, I'll read the code. If there's a particularly tricky piece of code, I'll print it out, grab a sharp pencil and go sit on the back porch to trace through it and understand it.

I don't do side projects. I don't have a github account. But I do code a lot. And I do read a lot of code.

I end up doing exactly the same thing though I start with the intent of starting a project. What usually happens is there is no particular algo or technique I wanted to explore and once I do that I lose interest and feel bad about never finishing a useful side project. This was especially true with video games when I was younger!

So you have many interesting side projects.

You just don't have a consistent approach to self-marketing.

That's fine. But a couple of days to set up a blog may pay you back.

Would satisfying one's curiosity count as an extracurricular activity on a CV? For example, I love learning about how airplanes work. I spent this weekend reading about Boeing 737 bleed air systems and how they power many things on a jetliner. Sure it's not code, but something interesting.

I don't think so, unfortunately. I think that that sort of thing says something (positive) about a person that the traditional hiring pipeline misses.

Well first of all, we need to abandon the concept of the 40 hour work week. Very few people are actually working all of those 40 hours and even if they were, it's just a bad way to work for any client or company.

In all likelihood, the people managing you aren't technical and have a very small window into the work you're actually doing. On top of that, even if you can outperform your colleagues by as much as 200% by working more or working "harder", there's no point in doing so because our work world doesn't really understand how to deal with exceptional individuals. You'll just get 15% more pay and some meaningless title for all of that hard work anyway.

So you work up to the point where people tell you "that's amazing", then you go work on side projects. Simple customer management. They're happy, you're happy. No more exchanging hours for dollars, we all get what we want.

Just focus on what matters, both for your own longterm happiness (building skills, scratching an itch, whatever) and for the happiness of your customers (they won't get their project completed if you're burned out and disengaged).

Reject the 40 hours. This isn't a factory and we aren't slaves. It will all be fine.

I agree! But shame we have contracts that say stuff like work you do at work is the property of the company, and you need to be at work for 40 hours per week. I'm sure individuals on HN do negotiate, and working remote gives you this freedom probably, but for most of us it doesn't seem realistic.

My only advice is to get your finances together and have a giant ball of "FU" money so you can afford to quit situations where you're wasting your time. Software engineers have the luxury of making large sums of money, so it shouldn't take too long to get a few hundred K together. Things start to look much more rosy after that.

Just remember to think like a business person. They're doing that. Why not you?

Saving "A few 100k" is one solution, probably for the American FAANG (or equivalent) engineers. But there are other solutions.

Frugality helps - less money is required if you live in a shared house or a couch (you can invest in property at the same time but not live in it).

Having a life partner helps, one of you can have a job at all times, so one of you has the FU card.

Other sources of income. I think coding side projects are hard to make work, but real estate is more doable (but there is more risk and patience required).

Even with none of that, a good CV, interviewing technique, keeping up with the interview puzzles, and living somewhere with plenty of jobs will give you a FU card to your current company (but not the industry).

Oh for sure! There are so many different FU cards, money being the obvious one


Your free time should be about rest and recovery, not about grinding out even more code.

Even if it looks bad on your CV

Your free time should be about enjoyment. If you enjoy doing some code that is fine. If you enjoy playing on your PS4 or (hopefully) enjoy spending time with your kids, that is fine to.

You're an adult, do what you want in your free time.

Edit: softened the response a bit because I do agree with the parent that you also need some rest and relaxation. :P

Do what you want, but keep in mind that spending too much time coding can harm your back, eyes, wrists and so on.

8 hours per day is already pushing it.

I don't get why everyone here seems to be assuming that a side project = coding...

Because that is what head hunters and employers expect from their "passionate developer for...".

In that case side project = what? Anything? Netflix binge?

Yeah getting some sports during your free time seems to be a good idea. Will alleviate a lot of the physical issues!

I'm guessing the people complaining have never had side projects of their own.

One of the huge benefits of side projects isn't to pad out your CV, but to decouple your career and your professional life from your employer.

When work sucks family, friends and hobbies can be great at taking your mind off of your work problems, but they can't really free you from the fact that one company controls not only your income, but your entire professional identity. When you do work that is recognized outside of your office, you own that work and shitty managers can't take that away.

Not everyone has to be start their own business, but I highly recommend that everyone "owns" something related to their livelihood outside of their 9-5. It means that friends, family and hobbies don't become merely a means of "recovery" from an oppressive job, but things that I can honestly enjoy more because I have an identity outside of my employer.

Agree with that. Having a few side projects really made me happier.

I agree to this to a certain extent.

This view that everyone must be passionate about programming is dangerous. What does "passion" mean - working an extra 4-8 hours every day on some random side-project to prove to a hypothetical future employer that you are "passionate"? I don't know if that is what "passionate" means, but I know that for junior people I have in my team that I will repeatedly bang home the need for work-life balance if I ever catch them sending emails or submitting code late into the evening.

That said, if you enjoy spending all your work time coding and your spare time also coding, sure fine go ahead (and I think that probably all of us go through this from time to time). But I really don't think we should be encouraging that you should be trying to hustle a genuine revenue-generating side business as well as your normal 9 to 5. I fear that it is unhealthy to set these expectations that you need to be working two jobs simultaneously.

I don’t think anything done to prove something to a hypothetical outsider is done out of passion.

I do all kinds of random side things (fewer now that we have kids). None have a purpose to prove anything to a future employer (or anyone else beyond sometimes my family [demonstrating to my kids the value, or even mere possibility, of doing more than passively compnsuming, for example])

Why are some people so strongly opposed to others using their free time to better themselves and stretch their minds a bit?

Many of humanities greatest scientific discoveries and works of art were 'side projects'.

It's better than lounging around like a lemon doing nothing with your time.

Do that if you want to, but I worry that people feel like they should be doing this because that is what "everyone else is doing" or that you need to because otherwise you wont get a job without revenue-generating side projects etc.

We're setting expectations for and normalising something which is not normal IMHO.

By all means do side projects if you want, but don't feel compelled.

Yeah, this breeds insecurity among those who don't yet have a strong enough base to believe in themselves and their abilities, and even more FOMO isn't really something to be encouraged.

It is about dealing with expectations.

I do have side projects, most of them never come to an end, after I learned what I wanted about programming language, framework, OS, build system, whatever.

What I am definitely opposed to is the expectation that I have to transform my 40h week into a 60h one just to keep some companies and head hunters happy.

I play with tech when I happen to have some time available to myself away from family and friends, while in business trips and such, and not to fulfill some implicit passion requirement.

I'd wager Hacker News has a strong population of people who've been down that road. Over the years I've read many accounts of people dealing with burnout.

They opposed expectations and pressure that you somehow should code at home. They make it like a required condition to be a very good software engineer, which is wrong.

Even if you want to improve yourself professionally, coding is not always the best option for everyone: you can study more the industry, domain you work in, improve your communication skills, build connections, improve your physical and mental states, draw, etc.

It definitely sets a bad precedent where a new mind comes onto HN, sees all the articles about side projects, and then realizes that in order to keep up with the rest of the hive mind/career field they too have to grind out extra hours coding something on Github.

Right. And it leads right into the abyss of anxiety and lower self-confidence.

I can recommend these guys to pick advice from something like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Subtle_Art_of_Not_Giving...

A very good software engineer, is defined by the code they don't write

The people that I see react most negatively to the suggestion of having a "side project" are those that either don't enjoy programming or don't have time to outside of work.

That being said, I think the main point that most people fail to get across about "side projects" is that they don't have to be programming. I play music with a band in the area and would very much consider that to be a side project.

It would be a much healthier exercise if we focused the narrative on doing anything you enjoy outside of work.

Yeah I'm writing a local history book as one of my side projects. Maybe I should lie on the sofa like a slob instead, but it doesn't seem as healthy or fun to me.

But what's the ARR of playing with a band?

Couple thousand dollars/year and some great experiences with friends.

Likely way more than what I would get out of trying to build a software product myself.

And its very attractive to potential partners :-)

You have to have it to give. Rest and recovery so you can keep being productive is a valid need.

How much self care you need and what constitutes self care varies tremendously from person to person. High energy people may actually need outlets for that energy so they don't make themselves or other people crazy.

Nadia Commenici was enrolled in gymnastics at age five in part because she was breaking the furniture at home. I have heard that Chuck Norris does two workouts a day and makes everyone crazy if he skips one of them.

If you have it to give, directing it into something productive with potential payoff is good advice. But for other people it's a case of "You can't get blood from a stone."

Most people don't do a great job of speaking to all use cases. They tend to speak to the one with which they are familiar. So then you get these situations where one party says "You should do X!" and some people reply "Absolutely not. You should do Y instead." Both are typically guilty of not including any provisos or qualifiers and talking like it's universal truth.

> It's better than lounging around like a lemon doing nothing with your time.

Why assume that that's the only non-work option out there? There are plenty of productive non-work things that you can focus on. Exercise will benefit you in numerous ways. So will learning about nutrition and how to cook. I would say those are both benefiting the person more than repeating what they do at work for 40+ hours a week.

I've noticed a strong negative reaction from some people who have kids. There's a weird kind of expectation from some that because they don't have time to work on side projects (which is fair; kids suck up time like nothing else), that others who don't have kids and do have the time shouldn't be able to derive any kind of professional advantage over them from it.

There's more to it than that. It's not just about a professional advantage - it's about company cultures that are toxic toward people with families.

This quote for example: 'I’ve asked David Wong, working in the cryptocurrency team at Facebook, what would be the best way to be noticed by Facebook? He answered: “Side Projects” and “Blog”.'

To many people with kids, that reads: Facebook doesn't want to hire engineers with families, because the things they care about from folks are diametrically opposed, in many cases, to the time required with children.

I absolutely think that if you have the time and flexibility you should use it. But there are (and should be) other ways to stand out to companies or to create value that don't involve side gigs outside of the normal work day.

I feel like there's an element of wanting to have and eat ones cake here. Programming isn't so different to playing a music instrument - you become better through a lot of deliberate, sustained practice. like it or not, people who have the time and inclination can jump ahead of others in competence the same way a musician who practices 8 hours a day can.

It's not particularly compatible with having kids, but it makes you a better musician.

I'm all in favour of finding better ways to let programmers who don't have side projects stand out but I don't think that devaluing side projects is the way to do that.

And does Facebooks employee handbook allow side projects ?

But thb it's not only kids. If you have free time it would be better to exercise your body- your mind gets enough exercise at work already...

concerning professional advantages: after spending more than two decades writing software I seriously doubt that a side project gets you professional advantages.

Imho more important are soft skills that are not in the focus of most technically savvy people. Being able do communicate well and being a team player are at least as important in most cases- not everybody builds a new google...

We tend to focus on technical aspects while most fail to see that this is not a purpose in itself (in most cases / companies) but the purpose is to generate business value.

>after spending more than two decades writing software I seriously doubt that a side project gets you professional advantages.

>Imho more important are soft skills that are not in the focus of most technically savvy people.

I find that this is mostly true outside of tech hubs, especially in non tech companies, but not necessarily in tech hubs.

Hard technical skills are much more valued relative to soft skills in, say, Facebook than in, say, an insurance company or HMO based in Houston.

It's a by-product of feeling like they're missing out on something. Also, some narratives around software side projects pit them as something you have to be doing in order to be successful. That's not true at all, but if you're even slightly insecure about your skills could elicit negative reactions.

I do sometimes worry about that, like when applying to jobs I am competing against other people who are out there doing side projects and contributing to open source. Hopefully employers don't place too much weight on those factors for my sake!

I like to refer to my kids as my side projects! As they get older I would like to do things together which to me seems like the best option.

Everybody is different and some people may prefer to spend their free time in fun side projects. Nothing wrong with that.

Competent lawyers, doctors, engineers, and teachers spend time improving and honing their craft through continuing professional development (CPD).

Sometimes it is required by licensing and professional bodies for those occupations, other times it is optional.

Sometimes it is compensated by employers and other times it is not.

It can include: participating in conferences, meetings at informal local professional organizations, independent study through journals or other professional publications, coaching/mentorship, and personal time spent working on career-related research and development.

I expect my doctor to spend at least some time during the week while not seeing patients and attending to administrative tasks browsing professional journals to stay abreast of the the state of the medical art.

I don't understand why there is a reflexive revulsion to software developers having a github where they throw up stuff they've tried out.

Unless software development is less of a professional occupation and more like wage-slave drudgery.

Grocery store cashiers don't typically spend their down time reading the quarterly "Proceedings of the Supermarket Checkout Professional" to stay up-to-date on cash register developments.

Civil engineers do typically read civil engineering journals in their spare time, at least all of the ones I know do. A few nights per week, for a little while, they'll sit in their recliner after dinner and page through a civil engineering magazine and occasionally jot things down in a notebook that interest them.

I don't think programmers are exposed to a level of stress that requires more "rest and recovery" than a physician.

40h of work. 10h side projects. 5h leetcode and interview prep. Ah, what a life!

I agree with your point that free time should be about rest and recovery, but I think that programming can be a fulfilling and engaging recreational activity that aids in recovery. Maybe not for you, but definitely for myself.

When I program at home, I don't "grind out even more code" in the sense that it's in any way a continuation of what I do at my day job, more than watching TV, reading or browsing the web would be. I work on totally different projects, unrelated to what I do at work, and I do it for myself under no pressure to perform. The playing field is very different.

If a side project _is_ recommended or advisable, then perhaps it should be about diversification. If my main job is software development, then my side project should be import/export. Branching into different areas will provide the growth and understanding of self that the author speaks about. Plus diversification will help me when AI takes over my coding job and I'm left jobless.

A tangent: I also think that rest & recovery should be about just that. Too often I see articles extolling the importance of R&R to make you a better, refreshed, worker. I see popular books like Digital Minimalism urging us to get away from our phones and newsfeeds but it all amounts to some grand productivity hack. Disconnect, relax, refresh yourself so that you can hit the ground running on monday and outperform others.

R&R can be almost anything, but don't make it look like work and certainly don't do it because you think it'll make you a better capitalist.

If you've never done a side project, I would definitely recommend the experience. That being said, the people I know who always have to have something software and/or business related on the side are stretched thinner than anyone else I know.

I've gotten the most mileage out of the extracurricular pursuits that have the least to do with programming - usually those around art or sports. When I have an interesting idea for a technical side project I pursue it, but when I was in a phase where I felt obligated to do so, it brought more stress than enjoyment.

Alright, I have many thoughts on this.

In summary, this article says: "I like side projects! I have done a bunch of them, and here are the reasons why you should do them too:

1. You can make money

2. They're a gateway drug to entrepreneurship

3. You can learn new skills, including business skills

4. They look good on a resume/when networking

5. You can learn about yourself

6. Work with friends/make new ones”

I don’t think there is anything _wrong_ with this article, but I think it misses the mark a bit.

In my experience there are 3 reasons to work on a side project:

1. Learning- picking up a specific skill you didn’t have before.

2. Experience- doing more programming in total (making you more experienced).

3. Fun- sometimes programming is a fun thing to do!

I think if you don’t really hit at least one of those, you shouldn’t be doing side projects. On some days I take the even stronger position that unless you are trying to make a career change or you really find programming fun, you should not be doing side projects.

Making money can be part of it, but as the author says it can't really be the driving force of a side project. If making money is your goal, I would argue that that isn't a side project, it's a small business and should be treated as such.

It’s also worth thinking about what value you get out of which parts of side projects. You can hit all those goals without actually finishing and releasing your project. I see a lot of devs not bother starting projects when they hit all 3 reasons, because they don’t want to polish their project into a full product.

I don’t want to go off too much here, I blog at length about side projects at https://weeklyproject.club , and I wrote an article recently about this phenomenon at https://weeklyproject.club/articles/finish/

I've never understood the grind culture. When I'm not at work there are a millions things I'd rather do than more work. I know some people who are always working. I can't. I need down time.

I somewhat agree. I've written about this before, but working on AlgoDaily[1] has helped me develop an amazing amount as a software engineer and entrepreneur. I've gotten to work with tech that I don't get to play with at work, learned what really makes a business tick, and have been able to network with many amazing people.

At the same time, there's been days that I've had to step back and reflect on the time spent in front of a computer, when I could've been traveling or partying like many peers.

It also can be a ton of work on top of your regular job.

[1] https://algodaily.com/lessons/getting-your-first-software-jo...

Hey, about algodaily, when are you guys planning to add Java?

I already spend 7 to 8 hours a day working on software, the odds that I'll spend a single minute working on anything remotely close to that are close to 0: I have significantly more enjoyable stuff to occupy my time with.

Sure, I find my work to be interesting and engaging but there are extremely few activities that I enjoy doing for over 8 hours.

I had been been working for 18 hours a day (for a duration of 1 month) - this is what happened to me.

1. Woke up at 4 am - 15 minutes - planning and thinking about the schedule for the rest of the day.

2. Review the code I wrote previous day (30 mins)(though I was the only one developing this I do PRs :)(iOS mobile app - swift for front end, golang for microflow, docker, k8s and google cloud)

3. Refactor and add features for the next 2 hours.

4.Glance through NYTimes(liberal left), Fox(republic) RT, South China Morning Post, Global Times(CN), Economic Times(IN) and DW(EU) to understand where world stands.

5 Get ready for office (train 30 mins) - attend the standup - provide and listen updates - fix issues , develop features - (NodeJS & Java)

5. Thankfully all the office meetings - are scheduled only on Mondays.

6. 5:30 leave office, get into train and reach home at 7:20 pm (walk from train station to home - 2 km approx. - and take a shower

7. Play with kids, read stories (and fight with wife :))

8. Family prayer and got to bed.

9. On Fridays - have a beer or a glass of wine after prayer.

10. Saturday & Sunday - take children for extra curricular activities, shopping (mostly groceries and house hold items.

After one month - I couldn't carry on with waking up at 4:00 am - couldn't concentrate at work - getting irritated easily etc. I switched to waking up at 6:00 am.

Side projects are possible - but there is a cost :)

More like, "Why I feel like I should have a side project"

Is anyone else working full time and getting a degree part time? I’m a year away from my masters and it’s just been grueling, especially given that the government sees no difference in terms of taxes whether my tuition is paid directly by my employer or if they just gave me a $20,000 check every year and I ran it straight to the bursar on my own accord, so I’ve been screwed for money and time for it seems like as long as I can remember.

I really want to do side projects (I’m getting a degree in machine learning and google colab is free) but I have a job to go to, classwork to do, tests to study for, groceries to shop for and dinner to cook because I can’t afford instacart or delivery...and then I read posts like this about the joys of side projects. It’s really depressing.

I really want to do this, my new employer will even help subsidize the cost but there are major problems.

1. Traditional universities schedules do not work with a full time work schedule. Even getting information on admission and such is a pain because it's all geared towards HS seniors.

2. Most online bachelors are either post-bacc or require me to have preexisting college credits (I went to a CC a couple years back and quit after a month so I have nothing). A few others often a handful of limited degrees such as Nursing or Business or a vague "IT". The latter seems to be the case with most adult education programs.

I suppose I could could take a handful of weekend classes at a community college and then try to get into one of the distance learning programs, but I dont want to spend a decade to get a degree

I've been considering getting a masters. The thing holding me back, is that I worked full time while getting my bachelors and it was a grueling 9 years. I'm not sure I want to go through that again. Though I do dream of quitting my job and going back to school full time. I think that would be fun. I have the money to do it, but the opportunity cost is just too high.

Though I do spend a couple of hours most weekday mornings learning stuff I want to learn. I get up about 5 spend a couple of hours studying and then head into work. The nice thing about studying on my own, is that I can take a break if I need to. Like right now work is real stressful, so I decided to take a week off studying.

Taking classes full time was much easier. Even with the mental whiplash of subjects and classwork to do, I at least had the freedom to figure out the best way to work my schedule around it. Not so easy when I have to be at my desk at 8am every day.

I did a masters in Electrical Engineering while working full time, it took me 4 years. Luckily I wasn't married or had kids at the time, but my school was next door to my office so it was easy enough to get back and forth for night classes. It did take up all my free time for those years though.

I wouldn't stress about doing more than you are right now! Getting a degree is just as good if not better than any side project! Take a long term look at the skills you want to develop and maybe map out how to get there after the degree is finished. Good luck!

I am in the last year of my master degree and I have been working for 7 years. The pressure from both work and studies have left deep scars in my body and soul.

This attempt on my education has left me scarred and deformed...but my resolve...actually that’s pretty worn down too.

I don’t think there’s enough discussion in spaces like this on how hard it is to continue education while working full time. Working full time is already hard enough. Life is hard enough. We in tech like to pretend that ours is the most meritocratic of industries, but we also contend with job postings that wouldn’t dare a second glance at a candidate without an advanced degree next to their name.

I just wanted a skill set that couldn’t be as easily outsourced or replaced by H1-Bs so I could make art with A.I.

Shit’s crushing.

I have to work, study and remodel an apartment [0]. It's damn tough.

[0] This has probably saved me more money than I would get from a side project.

Especially since those savings are not subject to taxation!

The first $5250/yr of employer paid educational benefits should be non-taxable to you.

I agree with some of the points from the article, but I also agree with the people saying to spend your free time with your family and on your hobbies.

So I have always had side projects that combine them. I'll write tools that help my family do something together. It used to be mapping tools to help us plan outdoor exploring in the mountains and deserts. Then it was conversion programs to turn photos into craft patterns. Most of those are offline now, too, I just left up a basic cross-stitch one. I turned the others off for the same reason I stopped the mapping tools -- similar tools were popping up everywhere, so I stopped putting my time into it. Now my kids are getting into writing, and I am working on a writing tool that can help them organize their thoughts... which will probably get seen and copied into more robust tools, and then I can turn it off.

These projects always go the same way -- they are something cool to help my family, they let me practice new things, I learn more, and some day people with more time surpass my idea with a real product.

I really have no problem with this cycle. It seems like everyone involved gets something out of it. And I'm way too old to play the game of every new idea having to have a goal of becoming a startup.

I'm currently full-time on my side project as I'm done with graduating, tired from searching for the right job (it has been months) and I just need to do some actual coding, to get it out my system or something.

It is a code vacation, because when job hunting, I'm not coding that much.

I'll try to be brief:

1. I am passionate about digital creation again

What I find really cool is that learning to program has been worth it. It has taken one bachelor and 2 masters, but it has been worth it. Studying computer science has been worth it. I'm capable of deep diving if I have to, and otherwise just stay on a web stack flying on a high level zipping code together by gluing npm packages but creating my own ones if I have to.

2. Passion has downsides

I'm seeing my friends less, I'm seeing my girlfriend less. I feel that everyone around me tolerates my behavior, but I don't suspect they like it too much as I'm thinking 24/7 about this thing. It also makes me a bit mentally absent when I'm with them. The issue is, I can't help it. IMO, it's a good lesson on how passion is overrated as the downsides of pure passion are not being discussed. My sleep (and code quality) is terrible as I'm too excited to get up again, and the problem is: I can sustain this a lot longer than I thought I could.

3. It allows me to do some much needed self exploration

Why do I like this? Why am I now procrastinating on creating the backend but am neck deep in learning how to rearchitect the backend to a p2p architecture (easy: because p2p web apps are more unusual ;-) ). I'm getting a lot of questions and answers that I need.

4. It feels like a game

I think the reason it feels like a game is because I have my own agency. I get to decide to solve a problem that I think is worth solving for whatever reason. That type of agency is quite common in games: you're in a big world with tons of quests and you can decide what to do (even abandon the whole quest line!).


All in all: doing your own side project on a full-time basis is a much needed and interesting exploration for me. For 9 years people told me what I should do. It's interesting to see what I do when I tell myself what to do. It's a much needed break from just doing what other people want.

On this note, I'm setting up an OSS side project (finally going public after a year+ of internal revisions) for many of the reasons cited in this project. It's something I care about.

With that said, part of my plan is to have a hosted version of the application - at least until the moderation of content makes me regret it, hah. However, I am concerned about the overhead of both writing and maintaining a complex FOSS project, but also handling [dev]ops of the project.

I know enough ops to be dangerous, but not much beyond that. I also know enough to know how little I know. Due to budget constraints, I will likely be hosting this on a very low cost server and exploiting CDN caching/etc very, very heavily - but I do imagine I'll need a cheap VPS. Ie, I don't think I can exploit a fully managed Function as a Service architecture; I think I'll be managing a VPS.

So for a low budget project with minimal ops experience, how can I ensure security and safety? What path to growth can I walk, without consuming my time trying to become an expert in [dev]ops?

I've never been able to get into side projects, but I have recently taken up contributing to open source projects. It was accidental, but I ended up making my first ever real contribution to an open source project after patching a driver to work with some hardware I was too lazy / cheap to replace. I'm in the process of moving, but I think afterwards I'm going to ramp up my work because that was the first time I generally enjoyed programming in years and it could also have a good impact on my career. I don't have any real friends or family right now so I have plenty of free time.

I feel switching two words around in the article title brings things into better focus:

Why Should You Have A Side Project?

Ask yourself:

- What do you want out of this side project? Money? Fame? Learning?

- How would you define success for this side project?

- What will you do if it succeeds? (unlikely)

- What will you do if it fails? (likely)

You need to chart a rough path. Creating something open source and aiming for popularity and notoriety is much different than hoping to make enough money to quit your day job from your side project. You end up in two vastly different places if you succeed. If you fail, you end up in the same place. Plan and be ok with both end results.

Doing some side projects for a while. Nothing else made me happier and more fulfilling then this. It makes you grow and challenge yourself and opens your eyes to what you can do or be without your employer.

Might as well title it "Why there should be more hours in the day"

A very much related article, which can even be considered a response to the articles like OP of sorts, is “I Can't Do Anything for Fun Anymore”[1][2] by Dave Bennett. I seriously recommend reading it.

[1] https://www.bennettnotes.com/post/making-money-out-of-every-...

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19727156

If you read the "making money" numbers as how much you could make from a side project, remember that the values appear to be revenue and not profit.

I have strong feelings about the "making money" reason.

As much as I do like 2-3,000 USD extra in my pocket every year, investing the time directly into getting better skills and better-paid jobs trumps such amounts even if you get just 1% more every year.

An extra £200 a month before tax -and how much effort doe that require.

You should ask yourself, does side project bring joy? If it does not, must go out.

[random internet advice]

Don't should on yourself.

Consider the source when should on .

Why you should have a side project? So you don't waste all your off-time reading HackerNews comments, that's why...

Ah all these comments.

I pity those who are in this industry only for money :(

It sounds so miserable not to get any joy from your profession . What side project can we talk about if you can't wait to get out of the office, to run away from the code to literally do ANYTHING except coding.

What creativity and progress can we talk about when we have a bunch of miserable oompa loompas.

I get joy from coding and five years in, my programming job is far and away the best job I've ever had and the most I've ever been paid.

That being said, I also realize that there's more to life than writing code. I spend all day at work writing code. The last thing I want to do is go home and write more code. There's an entire world out there that I won't see any of it if I stay inside locked to my computer 24/7.

Why does everyone HAVE to have a side project?

You are ok with your job but there is no passion. That’s what I’m talking about.

You don’t have to have a side project.

Passion is so rare these days, isn’t it?

I don't think it's rare, it just doesn't always put food on the table.

Passion fades. How long have you been professionally programming?

Not too long (~9years), and getting used to the absence of passion. Unfortunately. I disagree that passion (if you have one) fades in this industry. There is so much going on! All the time! It touches every domain you can think of! Passion here is rare, but it never fades, its not marriage. You are free to create, and to explore, and to mentor, and to contribute! It’s certainly never boring. And oh boy those passionate discussions, even something as simple as tabs vs spaces, can be so much fun!

Picture marriage. But not an ordinary marriage, an extraordinary one! Imagine marriage where you are married to all attractive men in the universe, and you are free to experiment, and have full access to every single one of them! That’s how software development works for me.

Eh, I should probably cut a bit on exclamation marks, but I can’t, I’m passionate!

Things that bring joy and that bring money are not always the same thing. That's all.

www.Levels.fyi started out as a side project! One benefit of starting out as a side project is it allowed us the flexibility and freedom to focus on user features without needing to worry about revenue.

Wow I love the map on citymayor. What did you use to make it?

Thanks! it was done with mapbox :)

I actually count much of my hobbies as 'side projects' as well even though almost none of them include actual programming. It's something I do which isn't work. And most of them do involve some other kind of skill and labour. And also almost none of them get me any money, and that also usually isn't a main motivator for me. tldr; I sort of agree with the general sentiment here, but feel the article is written a bit too much from personal experience without much more general reflection on the topic and focussing only on programming and not treating other things as side project. Or maybe that's the definition of side project, not sure :)

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