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Ask HN: for senior positions is it advisable to list side projects on your CV?
133 points by jcroll on July 22, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 152 comments
I worked really hard on two side projects during the pandemic that I am quite proud of (here you can take a peek if you like): www.hopupon.com, www.audiobookmate.com

When I was younger I used to list side projects on my cv and employers used to take notice. I find now they don't seem to care, usually are only interested in employment history and tech tests.

I also wonder whether side projects speak to the fact that you're not concerned enough with your employer's bottom line. I remember when Ken Cosgrove, in Mad Men, had a side gig as an author and got published in a magazine. Roger Sterling told him, quite sternly, he had to choose between the job and the gig.

The thing is I would actually appreciate if a potential employer asked me about the above two projects. I think they demonstrate some of my skills and would be interesting to discuss.

What do you guys think: Do you guys still list your side projects? What about for jobs more senior than senior developer?

I always ask candidates if they have anything to show off. I am _always_ more interested in what people do as a side project than I am of what they have done professionally.

Hyperbole time but I think it conveys the message: People do side projects for better reaons than they do professionally. At worst it's because they want to quickly learn/achieve something for their next job. Compared to professional experience, where at best it's because they were paid to do it and any fun or whatever altruism is a byproduct.

There are lashings upon lashings of caveats and nuance of course. For a senior role I will still be looking for interpersonal skills not just technical achievement. Part of being a senior is managing yourself, selling your ideas/concerns, mentoring and managing peers, and to some extent managing your managers.

FWIW your side projects are great examples and I'd would be impressed.

I appreciate your sentiment. At the same time, looking at side projects runs the risk of discriminating against qualified candidates who don't have time for side projects because of other commitments (e.g. childcare or care for elderly relatives) or who choose to pursue non-IT hobbies to keep a work-life balance. How do you avoid treating such candidates unfairly?

> How do you avoid treating such candidates unfairly?

To be frank, the job of a hiring decision-maker isn't to treat candidates fairly, it's to hire the best fit for the role based on the available signals. It's the job of the candidate to send the best signals they can, however they go about doing that. One thing we'll probe for in our interviews with more experienced candidates is what kind of experience/lessons they have from their former employers, for example, and that can weigh in their favor if there's conceivable overlap with what we're doing.

But I would say don't give any single signal undue weight. Side projects are nice, but not mandatory. Heck, we've even hired people who bombed our programming test because they did okay in the post-test interview (where we'll usually see if they can work out where their solution failed).

If I am trying to hire someone into my team, I want to make use of all relevant and appropriate signals that can help me make a better decision. I consider side projects to be an appropriate and often valuable signal.

While it is unfortunate that side projects have some selection bias against those who are time-poor, it also feels wrong to me to discriminate against people who can demonstrate their skills and impress through their side projects.

Like, if there are two candidates and all else are equal, and one has a really impressive side project that demonstrates positive traits (whether it's technical expertise, novelty, relevant skills, or communication/community), it's going to be hard to... actively ignore that?

I am not an ideas guy. Give me a project and I'll build it. Ask me what I'd like to build and I'll have no idea.

In 15 years I've had 1 side project. I'm a staff engineer.

That's fine and great. I never consider side projects to be a requirement, and I believe they never should be.

It's just an additional piece of signal that may help a candidate when relevant; the same way doing great during the interview can help a candidate.

I like to ask similar questions. If I was interviewing and that was your answer, I’d be just as impressed. Not everyone needs to be running around building things for fun.

I’ve also had people show me pics of their wood working, mountains climbed, hunting trophies, and even 3d models. I think only one time did someone say they did nothing but take care of their spouse. We talked about that, as I have some experience there. My job is to see how you solve problems and ensure they’re compatible with our problems, along with skill set, etc.

Ideas are not hard to find, even if you don't feel like you have them yourself there are loads of people pursuing side projects who would love help from someone skilled like yourself. I have pages of side project ideas I'd like to explore but will probably never get chance and would be happy to share with someone who might want to do them. Maybe it's more that you don't get very excited by side project type ideas?

The other thing that it might be is rational pessimism. A lot of ideas would take a phenomenal amount of work, and as a senior you probably see those pitfalls and that work right at the beginning, while someone more junior might attack a problem - and eventually succeed precisely because of their irrational optimism.

There was a fun quote on the Alexander long Piano story:

> I think because I was so young I absolutely knew it was totally possible to do, I was fully determined and without consulting any professionals I had no barrier stopping me.

I think the implication there is that if he had consulted professionals, the enormity of what he was taking on might well have crushed the idea.

If they succeeded, was it irrational optimism, or rather irrational pessimism from the senior person?

I consider myself senior, but I haven't really lost my optimism. I don't think becoming a senior should mean losing optimism. For me it's the opposite. I have much better understanding how to achieve something than before so I have the confidence that I can definitely do it. Maybe it's my personality though, that instead of thinking what the obstacles are, I think how I'm going to visualize and build it.

But I can see how it's different from plenty of other folks, and I think it comes down to personality. Usually I don't or can't think of challenges/weaknesses up front and I like to just dive in. I have been criticized and given feedback of having this flaw, but I have unrelenting belief, that I can solve everything on the fly and for me it has worked in the past.

It's like my mind is unable to bother or concentrate on what the obstacles will be. And it's frustrating because many people expect you to come up with a plan and potential obstacles beforehand while my mind just wants to jump in.

Most advice tells you to think/ask questions/plan before you code, but I code while thinking and iterate on that code. I can't think or concentrate if I'm not coding or actively solving the problem. If I try to plan something, it's half-assed and to me it seems useless and it kind of pretends to be a viable plan and when I finally do it, I do it completely different from the plan anyhow.

Not saying it's the right way, but maybe it's some sort of thing similar to ADHD where I just can't focus without building. And I am very impatient as well so if there's something that needs to be built or solved I will need to jump on it asap and get it solved asap. If I'm not building and am planning I have this increasing anxiety, that I should just be doing it.

I have a coworker who seems to have some of the tendencies you’ve described. Do you have advice to better work with them?

More specifically:

How do you handle collaborating with other teams if / when your work is a dependency for them delivering theirs?

How do you deal with requirements, use cases, and other pieces of functionality if you just jump into coding?

I'm also of the type "Give me a project and I'll build it. Ask me what I'd like to build and I'll have no idea". I'd love to see this list (or part of it), I have no idea what it could even look like. Mind sharing?

Send me an email at me@kybernetikos.com. I can't promise any of them will be useful to you, but you can have a look and see if anything appeals :-)

>Ideas are not hard to find,

> I have pages of side project ideas

Well evidently not for you. But please don't assume everybody's mind or personality works the same way yours does. You were told to not judge everybody by the same subjective yardstick and your immediate response is to.. project and judge everybody by the same yardstick.

The ability to generate side project ideas or the interest in investing huge amounts of time into a project on your own time are largely orthogonal to the ability to actually build things when it's your job.

There was no assumption that other minds work like mine in this respect.

The point I evidently failed to get across was that there are lots of ideas around and you don't need to generate them yourself. People who like generating ideas generate far more than they can hope to work on and often would love to see others carry them forward.

That's what they do in their job.

I'm a side projects type guy, but maybe one downside of having active side projects is that it might interfere with work? As in stealing mental capacity and wanting to go home to work on your current side project

This has happened to me sometimes.

It depends on how much time you spend on side projects I guess. It also helps for me to have a fixed work schedule.

Having inactive side projects (as in never started, or a tiny bit ages ago) interferes at least 'emotionally' for me. Sometimes I can't stop thinking about an idea I want to work on, excited to 'go home' (i.e. stop working) and work on it, but then by the end of the day I'm too tired, if not physically then of sitting or computers, and cook, eat, and sleep instead.

For a while indoor 'cycling home' as I did when I went into an office more worked well to delineate the day, shower, and get on with something of my own feeling refreshed. I still do it, but I suppose I'm used to the feeling or whatever, I don't really find the same benefit any more.

Depends on what you prioritize. Sometimes I feel like work gets in the way of my side projects.

I used to think that I am not an ideas person and it turns out that I do have enough ideas for side projects. I just reject most of my ideas as 'that would not work as a product'. Then, I just started tinkering with an existing product and add some what if features to it and reduce it to a prototype ignoring it will work at all... That seems to get me started on new things... ymmv...

It depends a lot on what field you are in. For consumer-facing, web or mobile products, engineers who are able to speak the product language, collaborate on planning and feature development are highly valuable. That requires some investment into product and design skills, and it's a lot easier to start onto that path with side projects.

It's taken me a long time to come to terms with this fact, but I (also a staff swe) am not a great idea factory. But if you have a problem you need solved, I can absolutely make that happen, and come up with creative solutions.

Yeah you say that and it may work to get past your filter but then you’ll still send the candidate to do the generic code test or the create a pizza app challenge as the real firewall. So it doesn’t matter to do side projects. They will only move the bar higher. Your better off being good at pop quizzes.

If two candidates are equal and the tie-breaker is that one ran a side project in their spare time, is that not an immediate disadvantage to the otherwise excellent, hireable candidate who didn't have that?

Meanwhile, if you ignore the side project, that candidate isn't disadvantaged as a result. They're just given the same consideration as the other candidate, not more and not less.

How you choose between the two at that point is perhaps more difficult, but the playing field is still level. The single parent still has a fighting chance against the person who has the time and money to do extra work for themselves.

I think this is the wrong question, because candidates are never equal (mostly due to the number of variables involved).

The better question is if one candidate has a strong set of work experience but no side projects, and another candidate has an underwhelming set of work experience but a strong set of side projects, does one get valued over the other or are they given equal weight?

If they aren't given equal weight, do you understand the reasoning why (or is it just because they think side projects are cool and want people like themselves).

This is just impossible to do, the side projects are on the CV and will influence any decision, it’s not feasible to ignore them. Of course being less accomplished is a disadvantage.

You could make the same argument about any other aspect of their resume. The reality is that candidates are never exactly the same "except for this one thing." What if one candidate gets to do side projects as part of their job? Should you ignore that?

I remind myself that I've worked with fantastic colleagues who don't run any side projects, and I definitely don't want to miss out on someone like that.

When I interview candidates, I ALWAYS take these things into consideration. My best hire was a guy who took some time off after his last job, and the highlight of his previous year was learning a book of Bach piano pieces. It IS, however, hard to not pry too much into personal/family stuff, for HR reasons, e.g. talking with "women who are pregnant or may become pregnant" without giving the impression that pregnancy or child care might be a detriment to hiring. Obviously there are numerous other cases like this as well, unrelated to gender, pregnancy is just the first example that came to mind.

I love hearing about non-professional things. Coding outside of work is actually a negative for me, because I assume you are going to get burnt out. I WANT you to have a life outside of work, because A) you are human and deserve that, and B) you are more productive during work. I'm fine if you take a few days off to run an ultra-marathon, or take off a few hours early to catch your kid's baseball game, or care for a family member, whatever. Well-rounded people are better at writing software, in my experience, and better to work with.

Yes that's one of the many caveats. I myself have zero time for side projects due to family etc. so I am fully sympathetic.

And side projects are side projects. I was fascinated by a candidate's beer brewing project (there are some very relatable skills in management and organisation, supply chain dependencies, etc) as one example of a non-tech side project.

This is interesting. You say "side project" and I hear "hobby."

(Unless, of course, this candidate was starting a brewery, in which case, that is a hobby turned side project.)

Yes, they had started their own brewery :)

> How do you avoid treating such candidates unfairly?

There’s nothing unfair about preferring to hire someone who’s personal time is spent working in the same field as their job. All things being equal, I’ll pick that candidate over the alternative as it demonstrates genuine interest in the field as a pursuit, not just a career.

The obvious downside is that you're missing out on more diverse perspectives. People who spend time outside of work on things unrelated to their field, whether that's as a caregiver or unrelated hobbies, will look at the world differently than someone who dedicates most of their time to their craft.

> risk of discriminating against qualified candidates who don't have time for side projects because of other commitments

This is true and should be considered, but it’s also kind of the part. If the goal is to find the best candidate, then discriminating against people who won’t have as much time to do side projects, read, study and train more, etc will be likely.

I think it’s fair to consider these things and candidates shouldn’t be treated equally in this way.

A side project can be as little as 30 minutes or an hour a week, with lots of time spent away from the keyboard thinking about the problem and designing the most effective approach to code the least.

It could be a home automation project or applying tech to another interest.

It’s entirely up to the individual to take initiative in their own self directed learning.

Quality is far more important than quantity.

By focusing only on work experience you may discriminate against candidates who have previously been underemployed due to reasons outside their control. I don’t think only taking account of employment history somehow makes hiring totally fair.

I treat side projects as a "nice to have"

Some of the best engineers I've worked with had exactly none, and very full lives outside of work. But you could tell they punched above their weight just by looking at the resume.

I’d say that asking if they have anything to show off and not discounting them if they don’t is in bounds. Like extra credit that no one has to do and people can get the job without.

Personally, I found that if I do side projects, I simply burn out in long term. The family is not even necessary for that.

It is really no different then working overtime same amount of hours.

As someone with kids and side projects, I have doubts about "not having time".

I could do 2 hours of productivity after the kids go to sleep and I'd still have 2 hours for entertainment. I exercise too.

So let's make it even more reasonable. How about 30 minutes, 4 times a week?

>Meaningful progress

So then do an hour or 2? I make progress in 30 minutes and sometimes keep going. If the point is for a resume, you could even do a 1 or 2 week sprint.

I suppose you could even work on it while the kids are awake. My kids love Alphablocks.

If you don't have a personal side project, the issue isn't children. It's desire.

I work on something which will either be a side project for CV or a small business if I'm lucky - in either case most of the work at the time relates to development. On a typical week I put 30 - 40h into it (I don't work full time so I can afford it) and it still goes so damn slow. And the project is not anything crazy, just a standard Electron desktop app.

I can hardly imagine how someone could build anything at 2h/week. 30 min is barely enough time for the brain to switch gears.

I fully get how someone does not have time for side projects - they have life besides work, while I barely do.

The trick is to cheat: Pick side projects which you know you can make substantial progress on in a small amount of time given your unique set of skills and experiences.

I can either build a consumer friendly embedded project, or I can build one that I need to recompile when it's time to change settings.

Both count for the interview purposes.

Now it's not a side project: it's resume building.

Completely disagree: building side projects that you can ship quickly is just a more fun way of doing side projects.

Coincidentally I wrote some notes about resume building a few days ago: https://simonwillison.net/2021/Jul/17/standing-out/

it's not that i don't have time -- i do have time. but i don't want to write code as side projects anymore.

i much rather do something else. play a videogame, read a book, watch series. i already work 8~10h a day, after that, i want chill and think about something else that is not code.

Sure. The parent claimed there wasn't time.

Btw have you considered something drastically different than your current code? Embedded comes to mind, it's half electrical engineering and lots of instant gratification.

But in general, nonfiction books could help you ace an interview. I wowd some people by merely talking taoist philosophy and how despite having diverse skills, there's something to be said about sticking to your role.

> The parent claimed there wasn't time.

You forgot the second part of my sentence:

> or who choose to pursue non-IT hobbies to keep a work-life balance

I do find that I have time for side projects even with my wife and I working full time with a one year old but some / most weeks I feel like Im going to drop dead and that is in part because I find myself with little time for exercise and other self care. I just think its worth regurgitating the adage that every child really is different and so is every tech job. My friends that end up working till 9pm and on weekends regularly or have more demanding children are living in completely different realities and my heart goes out to them every day. With all this said my side projects end up being very consuming and not necessarily geared towards looking good on a resume.

I should put an astrik that this is only feasible when working 40 hours a week.

Beyond that and the burnout is real.

You're right that it's not always about time. Some people, like me, are just idea poor. Or, our brains are so overworked from the day we can't concentrate at 10pm at night enough to do anything coherent.

I think it depends on just how senior this position is. Senior developer, sure. VP of engineering, no. Team lead, maybe. If you list side projects, it needs to scale with your position. A VP's side project would scale up to a viable business of its own, which then is no longer a side project but a work experience entry in the CV.

Not necessarily. At my last job, when I was being interviewed by the company President, he had a little hexapod robot on the desk. I asked him about it and it was a side project he had. His workday was so focused on managing the business, that he kept it around so he could do at least a little programming every week and keep his feet in the tech side of things.

> it needs to scale with your position.

Does it? really?

> A VP's side project would scale up to a viable business of its own

Why? I don't follow your logic here, or we are using different definitions of side-project.

I disagree. Even if I was hiring a VP of Engineering, I think it’s be cool to know that he had a silly little side project.

The more senior you get, the more the biggest hiring risk becomes sociopathy rather than incompetence. Most VPs of Engineering are basically decent at the skills required for their job. But a lot are duplicitous or machiavellian and aren’t going deploy those skills in a way that’s aligned with the broader organization.

Having a stupid little side project, one that has no tangible business or career upside, is a marker of sincerity. It shows that the person has genuine interests outside raw ambition.

"I don't discriminate. I select the applicant most qualified to repay the loan."

- Algorithm which refuses loans to black people.

I've been hiring a couple of senior positions, and so far the most appropriate way I've seen side projects highlighted is with a link to the applicant's GitHub.

Honestly, finding a well maintained and substantive project in a person's GitHub would impress me, and that candidate would certainly stand out. So often people link their GitHub accounts, but when I visit, I only see toy projects and book exercises.

As part of my hiring process I've been giving out a simple take home coding challenge, but I offer to instead review a project you've already been working on if that's your preference, because I feel bad making people do work for a job they don't even have yet (I haven't been able to convince my boss to let me pay people for their time on the take home challenge yet).

It’s better to link to specific projects unless you keep the GitHub super pristine for interviews.

Mine has a few gone nowhere forks, scrap books, silly projects etc.

You want your side projects to help you get the job. They must demonstrate as achievements instead of hobbies.

For this reason, I'd default to no, don't list side projects, unless you make it a strong argument for the position you're applying to.

Are you a major contributor to a tech used in company? Have you written a book about it? Did you grow a community? Have you reached significant traction or revenue?

Any yes to one of the above, if they relate to the position, can hint you into mentioning your side project.

Other than that, your side project will be seen as a hobby and not an achievement, and will be disregarded.

Note: some nuances may apply, so take this as the generic advice it's meant to be.

> Other than that, your side project will be seen as a hobby and not an achievement, and will be disregarded.

I think you’ve misunderstood the purpose of a side project for engineers. They’re supposed to be hobby projects that demonstrate the developer’s abilities as well as their commitment to following through on projects.

The OP’s projects are perfect for listing as completed side projects on a Senior Engineer resume. I wouldn’t hesitate to include them on a resume and describe the technologies used to build them.

You definitely don’t need to demonstrate significant traction or revenue for an engineering side project, nor do you need to write a book about it or build a significant community around it. These are ridiculously high standards for including a development side project on a senior engineer resume.

Frankly, if someone were to list “side projects” with significant revenue and a large community, I’m going to assume it’s a business and not a side project. We’d have to have a conversation about how much time and energy it’s going to take away from their employment, and how we can cleanly separate it from interfering with their job. Showing employers that you’re running a side business with significant revenue and therefore significant needs isn’t exactly a bonus when it comes to hiring someone. A fun side project that demonstrates their skills is a bonus, however.

"I think you’ve misunderstood the purpose of a side project for engineers. They’re supposed to be hobby projects that demonstrate the developer’s abilities as well as their commitment to following through on projects."

Most managers at my company view side projects positively. One of the main reasons is that it shows the person has a creative mind and is at least a little passionate about technology/coding and learning on their own.

I'm not even an engineer but I have some HR training as a Psychologist and this resonates with me.

aye - I don't list inactive projects, but some hobbies/side projects provide a small sense of what kind of person you are like and what it will be to work with you.

I wonder how I would fair in your evaluation of what I'm like if I have Android apps for ballistic energy calculations and a calculator for determining the alcohol needed for a party.

This isn't part of the evaluation, but it's a useful item to include for conversation starters. Whether these are useful conversation starters in a particular company is up to your judgement.

If you are interviewing for an Alcohol friendly company then the calculator might be a fun side project that shows you know Android development. Raytheon would probably love the ballistic energy calculator. If your interviewing with the quaker church then both items will probably have you rejected for culture fit.

Most people chuckle when I demo the alcohol calculator. They especially like the drunkenness slider to select how drunk your guest are expected to get. I make sure to give them the background that it was an idea that I started in college. The ballistic one is extremely simple, but that was my first ever Android app and I chose it for that reason (didn't do a regular calculator because there are sooo many of them out there already).

I might as well add the link. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.blogspot.t...

> I think you’ve misunderstood the purpose of a side project for engineers.

Perhaps, but you have to assume that many of those who are hiring will do exactly that. That's the meta-game.

There's a basket of opinions in this thread and they are all valid and informative, even if they are mistaken.

Generally only reading your last few jobs and educational background. Side project is fine to see but it’s not going to be the differentiator. If you’re getting an interview you’re getting an interview.

Side projects help junior candidates without relevant job experience most.

> I think you’ve misunderstood the purpose of a side project for engineers. They’re supposed to be hobby projects that demonstrate the developer’s abilities as well as their commitment to following through on projects.

I don't agree. A side-project might demonstrate those things, but most of the time, as an interviewer, I'm interested in a candidate's side-project because it shows curiosity and interest. It says something about their character.

I like your answer I just wonder: I used this project to teach myself kubernetes. If someone asks me how I know kubernetes what do I say? I suppose I say it was on a side project I did

Sure, people give me that answer all the time.

If you actually went beyond basic setup and dealt with real enterprise/production level issues then make sure to point it out. I assume that “I learned it for a side project” means mostly happy path stuff.

Then by all means mention the project. To me, what matters in this specific answer is not the side project, but the learning opportunity and associated curiosity.

All bonus points, especially if the company uses k8s or if you can answer aptly "why did you choose k8s?"

FWIW, I'd expect 3 kinds of answers: 1. "This was a right fit because..." 2. "I knew this was NOT a right fit but I wanted to learn" 3. "I thought it was the right fit but I was wrong because..."

When I'm hiring I consider "I learned that on a side-project" to be an extremely strong positive signal.

My experience is that side projects are 90% ignored. They are treated strictly as line items like education.

I got furious tired of this so on my last resume I treated my employment history strictly as employment history. A list of employers with dates and dates of promotions plus a sentence or two what I worked on. Supremely lowered emphasis.

I also put my personal projects into a separate section above my employment history. Between my personal projects and employment history I put in a small two paragraph section for personal bio. In this bio I mention how long I have been programming, some of my accomplishments. I also explicitly mention to carefully consider my personal projects to make an informed decision if I will be a good fit for their organization and that two of my personal projects contain over a thousand commits. I follow up that up with a mention that I am not waiting on administrative approval or a budget authorization to innovate and that these personal projects are years of experience other developers do not have.

This a recent change I have made so I cannot say if it’s successful.

>>"a mention that I am not waiting on administrative approval or a budget authorization to innovate".

I think what gets lost in a lot of these threads is that different employees, and different employers, look for different things. And that's OK. There's filtering going on all sides and not everybody is a right fit.

For example - depending on how you phrase that sentiment on your resume, you might be an immediate No for our team - we are in a very traditional production mode with a procedure-focused client, and the sentence is telling me you might not follow process, wait for approvals, engage the team and client, and will just do your own thing. That may or may not be what you're saying, as I said it depends on the phrasing... But! That may be in fact excellent and mutually beneficial filtering - you probably don't want to be on my current team, and the ideal company/team for you may see that very same statement as a positive signal :).

My point is - not all filtering is bad. In threads like this we focus on "doing / not doing this on a resume will be a red flag for many employers" - but that's not necessarily a wrong thing. It's like dating - some people will advise "don't be yourself", but I ask - Why? Sure, be a good version of yourself on first date / interview, but be fundamentally honest what both of you are looking for. You don't have to have relationship with everybody, you don't have to get hired by everybody. You need to find that one person/job that works :)

I have no experience in hiring and can't really talk about it from my experiences of applying for jobs, but this sounds a bit weird to me, essentially telling the person reviewing your CV: "I've been focusing more on side projects than on my previous jobs, that's why you should consider me for this _job_".

It makes perfect sense to anybody who has contributed to personal projects. At work there is an institutionally locked velocity for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons are highly qualified, some are accidental, and some are completely nonsense.

With personal projects you set your own velocity. Output is the result of initiative, time spent, speed of delivery, competence in product development, and expertise on the problem.

You're gravely generalising, as if everyone who does side projects has to do them the same way you do.

And even disregarding this, you're still not proving my point wrong. You're saying personal projects show you can work in some set of conditions that have little to do with how work in a company gets done. Yeah, you can "prove" yourself somewhat when you're on your own, does that automatically translate to being a good engineer in the office?

Again, I have no experience hiring, but I fail to see a logic here. Good luck with trying the CV out, and do write a blog post when the results are in!

As an employee you do what is assigned plus administrative things. That is incredibly limiting. On a personal project you accomplish whatever you want, regardless of demand or ambition or challenge.

You are your own principle audience. You aren’t trying to prove anything. You are trying to build something. Unless you are the kind of person just likes building things I suspect it will be impossible to understand.

You're still missing OP's point: an employer needs people who can take assignments and do them. Deemphasizing the evidence of that skill in favor of evidence of ability to complete passion projects isn't necessarily a good move on a resume.

For the record, I am someone who just likes building things. I totally get why building things on your own is more enjoyable. I just don't think that an employer really cares all that much about that.

The necessary technical competence is identifiable in the personal projects. In my experience though the prospective employer is incapable making any such determination from provided evidence.

I suspect that technical competence is an irrelevant aside to what you are looking for. It sounds like you are looking for someone who can check a box, perhaps copy/paste or a gear on an assembly line. If you are strictly looking for a box checker then I would suggest hiring people who never mention personal projects of any kind on a resume. You are looking strictly for labor, a hard worker, not initiative. Work harder, not smarter, and your targeted candidate will do exactly that.

The whole point of personal projects is the opposite: initiative building something new because there is a passion to build, grow, and improve.

"institutionally locked velocity" is a great turn of phrase

I've struggled with this quite a bit. My current employer initially hired me for a less senior position than the one I applied for... and then promoted me to the one I applied for within 2 weeks of me starting the job. I think a lot of that is because they didn't consider my side-project experience (especially the ones I did before my first dev job) as valuable whilst it actually contributes significantly to my capabilities as a developer.

You sound like a good engineer, but I’m afraid many of the people reading your resume would rather hire someone who can navigate their way through the administrative process instead of being stopped by it. Maybe that’s a good thing, because it will filter out jobs that aren’t a good fit for you, but it probably includes many of the top employers.

When I evaluate someone for hire, if they have side projects I will be looking at those much more extensively than I will their employment history.

How you spend your time, what you spend it on, and how you executed your vision are much more interesting and informative to me about how you'll handle your work than which corporations you've fit into a slot for.

Oh god yes!

When I'm interviewing someone, especially for a senior position, I want to make sure that they know what they say they know on their resume. Having code up on GitHub, or an actual working side project is a great way to show those things off.

Even code that doesn't look great, but shows that some level of effort was made to learn a new technology is okay. If anything, it then gives me a jumping off point in the interview to ask the candidate about that project, why it's in that state, why certain decisions were made, etc.

I am seriously having a difficult time thinking of downsides in listing a personal project, so I say go for it.

Historically when interviewing candidates I put more weight on side projects the shorter the resume was. A brand new college grad who made an impressive-looking portfolio web site got extra consideration.

But interviewers are still human beings, and so a link to a visually impressive, interactive and accessible side project will probably get you some credit. My favorites were multi-player games.

If the side project makes money, that's a whole 'nother consideration. Everyone is likely to be impressed.

I'm a professional resume writer and former tech recruiter, and I'd say "it depends".

Does the side project demonstrate a specific skill that you don't have in your day job that can/will be attractive to the hiring company? (if yes, include)

Does the side project have any popularity or adoption that would potentially make it impressive? (if yes, include)

Does the side project demonstrate your ability to solve problems within the hiring company's domain? (if yes, include)

Does the side project show some level of versatility that your professional body of work lacks? (if yes, include)

You'll get answers on every which side. I think they'll tell you less of a perfect "DO THIS" answer that'll work in every situation, and more showcase that there are different employers and different hiring agents supporting different teams and different cultures.

You seem excited about your projects, eager to talk about them, and you seem like you'd implicitly like some recognition/appreciation of them & to have a supportive employer. So my personal, not professional advice, if you have luxury to do so, is to include them and use them as a filter of your employers.

Unless an employee is in urgent dire straits, interview should be a two-way process - not just employer reviewing employee but other way around too (when I interview potential team members, I try to spend at least a third time if not more about the work, team, company, culture, expectations, honest up and downsides, so they can make an intelligent choice if we are a good fit too).

While I am actually currently practically in a camp that doesn't hugely care about people's side projects due to nature of what my team does, if you have something that's important to you, make it part of interview and figure out if the employer/team is the one you'd like to join.

I do a fair amount of helping interview senior positions at my current company. At the risk of saying something obvious: when interviewing senior people, the goal is to figure out whether they will do well operating at a senior level. Senior engineers usually bring two things to a team: a broader and deeper technical knowledge, and the ability to help influence and structure larger projects (doing larger scale designs, reviewing designs and code from other engineers, helping mentor more junior engineers, things like that). Side projects can sometimes help inform someone's technical abilities, but it's rare for people to have a side project where they are doing a lot of the "influencing others" part of the job.

But, yeah, if you put in the work, it shouldn't hurt to list your side projects. But also, keep them in perspective: don't bring them up simply because they would be "interesting to discuss." By their nature, side projects don't deal with a lot of challenges of professional projects: there's usually no deadline, there's no disagreements with other engineers, they deal with a smaller scale audience so don't deal with bugs and maintenance.

I've applied for senior jobs where the interviewer was very impressed with my side projects but chose not to hire me anyway. For the most part, they didn't seem to care about the other things as well - the fact I consulted for a tech giant the size of Google, or taught certifications, or architected a project with millions of daily users, or rewrote a year old social media app from Cordova to native iOS+Android in two months with a 3 person mobile team.

The decision seems to fall to the default, "What's the O(n) of a Set" or, "Tell me what you worked on recently." You could probably build an operating system or Dwarf Fortress as a side project, and they might not even notice it.

I'd say just pick whatever showcases you best as a person, and it will catch the eye of someone who's looking for a person like you. I ended up getting a job doing research, where I get to quickly hack together lots of prototypes, so it's a perfect fit.

Recruiters are mostly interested in the things other people paid you to do - because it shows that it's safe to pay you as well.

I list such things as "web presence" along with my GitHub account, "technical blog"(heavy quotes here) and LinkedIn profile. I think only that last one ever gets clicked on.

Large companies especially don't care about such things, because they need you to fill a highly specific role, not one that would make use of the broad skillset required to release your own product.

Is the last part really true? I think large companies often hire much more broadly and some don't even have a specific position/team for you until you go through the matching process after you start the job.

I've never been part of such a recruitment process, so I can't comment on that.

My role as a contractor was always highly specific, and so were the roles of my more permanent co-workers. That being said they did tend to switch to mostly unrelated roles every few years or so.

I have a friend who worked in accounting for a large company and complained that nowadays large corporations slice responsibilities into these little bits, because it's easier to train for them this way, but the side effect was that her role had a very narrow scope and she was easily replaceable.

I can imagine some degree of inflation where experienced people are called senior engineers so they can be paid more while the still have room to move around and get training in a new area. But at a high enough level, I'd think the goal switches over to hiring key engineers based on their command of a niche. E.g. a principal engineer with 15 years experience in whatever to lead the new product in that area.

I’d honestly list a side project that highlights the skills relevant to the job over a job where you used irrelevant skills.

But you have to come strong with the side project. The site/app better be up, you better have a repo, and it better be something beyond a todo-app or a bootcamp project.

I do mention my side open source side projects, but not side hustles.

This is a good distinction.

Side projects = Fun project that demonstrates skills

Side business = Ongoing obligation that could distract from your job.

Be careful in how you present them.

Side project isn't really impressive though like a to-do app in Rust. Yeah, that doesn't mean anything.

Side business actually is. Because it means you can build, launch, acquire, and retain; and you have to deal with customers.

This means you do have skills to be in a senior position.

I was going to mention that if you somehow turned your side project into a side hustle, that could be received well, because it shows you were able to evolve your project into the business (maybe even monetization) direction...but that would require really careful, nuanced explanation...so i defer my position to what @PragmaticPulp rightly stated about being very careful in how that distinction is presented (to avoid concerns around distractions, etc.).

The best way to get a job is not to need it.

Not needing it is conveyed in a thousand ways. Personally, I think being your authentic self is the most important aspect. If you’re proud of your work, list it! Side project or not, it’s still your work and is a reflection of the kind of work you can do for them.

I don’t think senior vs junior is particularly relevant. People care about your work history, but as long as your projects are listed under “other” then there shouldn’t be any confusion.

If you're qualifying for a true senior position, and if you haven't done something outside of work in the decades of your professional experience, it's a bad sign. If by "senior position" you're thinking something that can be done by a 25-year-old with over 5 years of experience in a specific product, your resume is already on the discard pile.

I recruit a lot of work-term students (and have filled a few senior positions in the past). I always look for side projects. I always check github accounts for unmentioned side projects. Side projects tell me more about who the applicant is than a resume does. I hire people, not resumes and not previous positions of employment. Folks who are interested and enthusiastic about their field are better to work with.

Honestly, it's pretty rare that anyone lists a side project on their resume, so it's not absolutely required. When it's there, though, it usually makes the interview better ("tell me about your side project") and it's often the difference between getting an interview and not.

If you care about only FAANGM companies, leetcode is all that you need. No one at these companies care about your side projects.

They fit in different part of the hiring processs. A side project is something that potentially makes your resume more attractive and makes it more likely you get a callback/interview. Leetcode is a technical test which comes later.

Being the best leetcoder doesn't make a difference if you don't get an interview.

I think the takeaway was actually Roger Sterling was mistaken there, and it later came back to bite him.

At any rate one question I have had in the last few years (maybe due to age) is how do you keep up on latest technologies - I then have side projects and articles I can point to as a way to learn new things.

There are two plays you can make by listing a side project. For example, if the project is in some way commensurate to the role. For example, if you are applying for a VP of engineering job at a large technology company and your side project is co-author and commit rights to a major open source project, say Python or a well known and use library and you're actively involved.

Or, if it's on the resume to demonstrate you're still actively hands on and you believe that is valuable to the role.

However, if you wouldn't talk about it in an interview, don't put it on your resume. If it wouldn't help you get the job, I wouldn't talk about it in the interview.

It’s about strategy: you don’t know what the interviewers are looking for. Being human they may be dazzled by side projects and it may help get the job at company A because person 13 was interviewing that day but make no difference at B and C. But you get more offers and negotiate a better compensation at B.

In other words interviews are human and messy, not strictly logical.

Different people review resumes differently. Here's my take:

Important questions for me include: Can they build things? Do they have enough experience dealing with real-world deployments to avoid common pitfalls? Do they care about the domain? How long will they stick around?

You're correct that they're going to be of the most help early on, because they demonstrate real-world experience with production software. It's a great sign you'll be able to take a vaguely-specified user need and get something valuable done in production. But even more senior resumes sometimes still leave me wondering if they've worked at sufficiently big/bureaucratic places.

Assuming your resume demonstrates competence without the projects, then yes, they could just as easily count against you as for you.

If the project is one that's related to the domain and/or the tech stack, that's a positive sign that you're interested in what we're actually doing, and so joining us would give you something you could be very engaged in.

Otherwise, I'm going to be concerned that we're going to have to compete for your time and attention with your side project. That this is a day job you're just doing until the side project takes off. I might hire somebody like that, but one of the things I think about when hiring is ROI on my time, so if I can get somebody as good who is likely to focus better and stay longer, I'll hire them instead.

The particular side projects you list are of the kind that would be most concerning to me. They look like attempts to build actual businesses. And you have two of them going at once, which is a bad sign: if you can't focus on one of your commercial projects long enough to make is successful, maybe you won't focus on your actual job either. And there's something cold and unappealing about both of them to me. They are trying to compete with full commercial sites and prominently say they're the best, but when I try them out it doesn't seem that way.

In contrast, the kind of side project that I'd react positively to in more senior engineers is one that demonstrates competence without looking like it will be competitive, and bonus points if it's related to the domain somehow. Modest open-source projects, for example. Twitter bots. Niche Twilio apps. Small, fun services like mcbroken.com or typelit.io.

To me things like that indicate enjoyment of the work, a desire to create things, and an interest in serving users, all positive traits. But they do so without giving me questions about whether they employee will be able to focus on what they're getting paid for.

I suggest you zoom out a little and consider that landing a great job isn’t about checking boxes — it’s about demonstrating how you’ll be awesome at helping whatever organization you’re applying to do what they do, and hopefully do it even better than they’re doing it today.

So the answer to your question really depends on the specific job, and what you think the side projects demonstrate. Do they show off great problem solving ability? Organizational capacity? Team building? Tenacity? Etc.

It's interesting because when I'm screening candidates (especially at the senior position), I never expect them to have side projects.

If they are excited to show me something, that's great but I certainly don't assign that much weight to them.

The things that I really do look for however are work/life balance, i.e do they have other hobbies besides software engineering?, what do they think about people in general? are they vocal about sharing their ideas? can they resolve conflict? etc.

I think a team that is formed of healthy, balanced individuals is a successful one and what really matters is having high cohesion between members than anything else.

Hence, I have been very vocal about designing a great interview process that puts the candidates at ease: no whiteboard hazing, no leetcode questions, no homeworks (though we offer the choice).

We simply give them realistic technical challenges that we face in our day to day work and walk through their solutions together. If something is odd in their implementation , we'll ask them about it and inspect their thought-process.

Further, we pay everyone the same rate in USD (based on years of experience) regardless of the location and try to offer a fair compensation as much as possible (admittingly, it's hard to compete with FANG).

This process is slow and costly for us but has been absolutely worth it.

As an employer, I'm keen to see people show side projects that they follow through with.

It's one thing having the technical skills to be able to write code and build a product. It's another thing entirely to have the focus and discipline to actually get all the work done. The side projects you listed look as though substantial effort went in to them. You said you're proud, and you ought to be. They certainly should impress any potential employer!

To hiring folks: find better ways to evaluate candidates than a resume. Preferably an evidenced based assessment that measures actual skills for the job and not the esoteric witchcraft required to discern what _you_ think is important in a resume.

The only thing I look for in a resume is number of years doing development and a very rough assessment that the experience there fits with what we asked for in the job description. Beyond that, we have questionnaires that ask the specific questions we care about and real world work simulations that attempt to measure fit for the position.

To the OP: the better teams shouldn't care too much about something like this. But, I'd say add it. It shows you like programming enough to tinker. That's a positive signal to me. But, I'd never dock a candidate if they said they don't do side projects because they have other ways they'd like to use their time outside work.

Yeah, I agree with you on evidenced-based assessment. Our hiring process has two practical portions meant to mirror important parts of the daily work. It lets me care very little about resumes as far as technical skill goes. Sometimes colleagues will ask about a candidate, "Where did they go to school?" I will have no idea, because I don't care.

That said, resumes are still useful to me for things I can't test in a couple hours. E.g.: How long is this person likely to stay? What motivates them? What kinds of environment are they used to/comfortable in?

Yes, sometimes, but you need to have a good sense for what is actually impressive to the people reviewing you, not just impress yourself (and you are the easiest person to impress).

Merely the fact that you put in the time to build something isn't going to be that impressive for someone considering you for a senior role. They'll want to know that your work was valuable to others, that it had impact. So if you just built something for fun or as an exercise, I don't think it's worth showing it. But if you wrote or contributed to a popular open-source project, or built something that is used by a large number of people, or you got published somewhere respectable, or you were successful in achieving some impressive goal like helping a community you care about, do share.

Make sure to explain how your work was impactful with numbers, quotes, use-cases, etc...

I list my side projects, i am pretty sure it helped me get my (senior) job. I am a fairly non-trad pathway in a niche language, so, keep that in mind. Also, listing side projects is probably more of a value-add if the code is open-sourced and interviewing engineers are likely to be curious (a good quality in a company you might want to work for) and likely to check up on the code quality you have in your repos. Otherwise, I would probably pass on listing them.

I wouldn't want a gig that obsessed about my owning my time so much they don't want me to have a side project, so that's a pretty good ultrafilter.

If you do have open-source side projects that you want to show off, don't forget to "pin them" to the top of your github/gitlab/sourcehut (if that's an option on the other services).

I think most views in this thread already presented are valid, even if contradictory, as it depends a lot on the hiring side.

As a single datapoint: for senior positions i will look at all side projects presented in a CV after the first phone screen. However, it can only serve as a signal amplifier for traits established in the CV by experience or education. So if a candidate does not have side projects, we try to get a better signal in a different way. That said, i have never seen someone getting hired because of their side projects (or someone not hired because of the lack of them)--but i have seen us pass on candidates that accidentally provided negative signal with their side projects.

For junior positions having or not having side projects can be a deal maker or breaker.

Personally? I don't care about side projects. What I do care about is "have you worked on a hard problem that fascinated you, and can you explain to me what that problem was, why it was difficult, and why you liked working on it".

I want to know what you care about, and if you can explain well. Side projects make great examples of that, but most people encounter one or two interesting things in their jobs once they're seniors, too.

In short, run side projects if you have fun running them. Run side projects if they help you learn something. Don't run them for the sake of your CV. (And don't take your cues on behavior from a fictional dysfunctional ad agency if you can ;)

I've hired junior developers, and senior PMs, but never senior developers, so take my recommendations with a grain of salt. I would definitely continue to include side projects on your CV, especially if:

1. they are technologies you are unfamiliar with. It's an easy and effective way to demonstrate that you are eager to learn new things.

2. they are emerging technologies (crypto, VR, AI, etc). In most organizations being a senior engineer who doesn't get "stuck" or complacent is a plus.

I'm not sure why employers would not be looking at those things, they definitely should be, it's a treasure trove of information as to who you are and how you think.

Last year, I interviewed for a senior role where the interviewer actively made fun of my side project. They suggested without directly stating it that they thought it was a dumb side project toy app, despite it being quite complex and not trivial.

Doesn't dissuade me. That interviewer was the stupid one, not me. My best lesson learned is to make sure that your side projects that are involved, look involved. If it is a big side project but you are humble about it, it's possible it will work counter to you in the interview. Senior roles need senior side projects and if you make toys it can definitely (stupidly) count against you.

Sounds like that was potentially a good way to weed out a terrible place to work.

Sure. Toss them on the side or something. Just don't expect them to get brought up often. It shows you code outside of work which some employers value. Add a link to github if they are public.

As echoed from others, if the project is relevant and communicated in a way that brings value. Page space is an important consideration too.

We've been working hard to build a library of the best engineering resumes we've seen - you can get an idea for best practices here - https://www.rezi.ai/resume-templates?search=developer&resume...

Personally I will always look through side projects or a GitHub if it's on a candidates resume. It's another source of signal and can be really valuable especially if there is code to look through.

That said as the role gets more senior the value of the signal goes down IMO. Side projects are typically done solo, and are small-ish in scope. Whereas a key function of a good senior IC, at least in my opinion, is to be a force multiplier more than a heads-down coder.

Definitely useful to be able to demonstrate you've implemented, tested, deployed, and maintained some sort of software on your own.

Also being able to talk through design decisions and tradeoffs from an engineering point of view is useful.

Finally, I would advise that if you are applying to a position through a recruiter, stop asking for senior level positions. Ask for staff level positions instead, you'll receive more autonomy and a higher pay as well.

You should list your side projects if they've been influential in some significant way, e.g., if they've developed a large user base, become a dependency of some other noteworthy project, or changed how other people approach similar problems. If you're merely proud of the code, then don't list them directly; instead, pin those repos on your GitHub profile and link to it from your résumé.

The best bang for buck would be to spend your spare time gaining a certification, for example Java, CompTIA, AWS, Azure, etc. This IMHO is far better on your CV then a side-project, as it shows a willingness to perform continued learning. Your side project could be using tools and techniques that you learnt decades ago, which could be fine but my org is only interested in cutting-edge stuff (for example).

> ...Your side project could be using tools and techniques that you learnt decades ago, which could be fine but my org is only interested in cutting-edge stuff...

Or, perhaps the inverse could be the case, where i learned cutting-edge stuff for my side project, but at enterprise, sorry, they're only using legacy Java (for example), so can't really use my cutting edge experience, etc. Now, as far as certs, i agree that they should help get through the door, but wonder if pairing them with discussions about experiences gained on a side project - to play with the knowledge learned from said certs - would be an even better combo? If i was hiring, and saw that a person got some certs (and maybe checks some needed box), but also has interests in side project, again, for the experience of it...then that is well above average for sure (at least in my eyes).

It's funny - the reality is that it depends on the organization. It's not lost on me that everyone wants to hear about your side projects from a technical and general interest perspective. It serves many companies as a reasonable proxy for life long learning, and checking up on a passion.

At the same time, several of those companies would be mortified that you had, or continued yours once employed there.

Off-topic feedback on your side project - audiobookmate.

I really enjoy the layout of the site, and it feels very natural to navigate. A feature I'd appreciate is a small modal popup on-hover whenever my mouse sat on top of an audio book's cover for a couple seconds, providing a synopsis and maybe the reviews for the current book I'm hovering. (See Goodreads for an example of this)

Otherwise, great job on both sites.

Have the right pedigree and brand in resume is what all it matters in my experience for getting interviews easily. And all these with interview skills and having good profile itself would make interview round go really well and for people to even consider you worthy. From my experience here in India all these right credentials matter really more than Github and all these hacker type things.

To me it is a huge plus. There are a lot to tell by looking at the side projects. At earlier stage start-ups, where interview process is not that rigid, it helps interviewer (at least for me) to gauge many aspect at once. Candidates love talking about their own project than anything. For me side project is a shortcut to peek into applicant's mind

I wouldn't place huge importance on it, but a side project is probably a useful way to show that you know some tech outside of your normal work, eg if you want to demo that you've worked on blockchains or k8s or whatever that your normal work doesn't use. That way your potential jobs expand by a fair bit.

Your CV can sometimes show the whole person. As a result, side projects can give some insight into the personality a bit and generate subjective interest in addition to general “box-ticking” as it applies to the job description. Never underestimate the power of an even modest conversation starter like a side project.

It depends on technical vs general management, and what it shows.

On the technical side, starting or leading a side project can show the right things. Just coding perhaps not.

For general or sales management, things like chairing the fundraising committee for the local symphony can look good. But not mandatory.

In both cases it should show interest but not distraction.

Depends on definition of "senior". If you are still an individual contributor and need to demonstrate technical expertise, fine. But if you are a manager, you need to demonstrate the ability to lead, create impact, and deliver results. Side projects are for entertainment / continuing education.

Yes. Resume is an instrument for getting through a fairly unintelligent filter so probably nobody will even notice that these were side projects at the resume filtering stage. Be prepared to answer interview questions about how you have sufficient spare time to work on two projects at once though.

I wrote this a a while back, but I think it' still is true: https://russell.ballestrini.net/career-development-is-a-game...

From the recent bit of looking around I have done for Senior and Staff roles the typical process after screening is;

* Behavioral interview(s)

* Some form of pair coding excercise

* System design interview

Side projects have never really come up explicitly, but my GitHub profile is included in my deets and I'm sure people have viewed it.

Do side projects for you, not for them. List them at the end of your CV if you want but don't expect them to care. Some do. Most don't. Just keep that passion alive and continue doing side projects - who knows, maybe one day it will become your primary job.

I put a section in my CV for open source contributions with a little summary of the patch. It's just a sentence with the Github link.

It's sometimes a good talking point for the question, 'describe a difficult technical challenge you solved'.

I definitely see those side projects positively and I'm hiring for my team. It wouldn't matter to me how senior the role you'd be applying for is. Of course, I am also the sort of developer that works on side projects.

I don't think it can hurt. It's definitely impressive when candidates have diverse and interesting side projects on their resume. If nothing else, side projects can make for a good talking point in interviews.

I make brief mention of them. Like a couple sentence blurb about stuff I build when I choose to spend my free time that way.

That said, I work a full week as it is so I don’t invest a ton in them. Just when an idea grabs me.

Judging both from my experience and other comments here, the organisations that value side projects are not the majority, but they are exactly the places where you WANT to work at.

If you’re trying to get hired by a human, and you’re proud of them, then it can’t hurt. If you’re trying to get hired my a machine, then they don’t care and it can’t help.

I think personal projects help you get your foot in the door but they do nothing to accelerate or skip parts of the interview process.

It depends on the culture and if it would be seen as a flight risk. If it’s less product type side projects it could be useful.

Short answer is no. At least if you're approaching unknown environment

If you been introduced - matters less. Could be positive convo point.

I would be more interested in refactoring work. How they have turned upside down a project and make it more scalable.

Depends on if you are concerned if your new potential employer has an issue with employees moonlighting or not.

If they are impressive why not show them off?

In the interviewing I've done, it's never about side project vs line of work. What I'm looking for is proof of competence. It could be a side project, it could be your work, it doesn't matter. However if you're side project is what you're looking to get hired on, it had better look and feel professional.

I think the bigger issue is to put your best foot forward and not dilute your message. If hopupon and audiobook mate are your strongest work, emphasize those. If your employement history is stronger, emphasize that.

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