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There are no projects like side projects (crastina.se)
84 points by stared on Jan 2, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 23 comments

>> John Carmack and John Romero had a lot of freedom in their work at a company. Yet, they decided to moonlight on their

>> own projects (working all weekends without sleep, on a “borrowed” computer equipment) to accomplish their goals

Which didn't work out well for Softdisk, their employer. Since they were employed as developers, they were obligated to offer the technology (2D EGA side-scroller for Commander Keen), but Softdisk turned them down since they still wanted to do CGA games. Off then went to form ID, and you know the story from there.

Also similar to how Woz had to get HP to sign off on the Apple I. They didn't want anything to do with it as they saw the original Apple computer as a toy device, which freed Woz to go start a computer company with Steve Jobs...

People make a lot of the missed ideas or technology. I think that's the least valuable thing HP and Softdisk missed out on. Carmack and Woz were the only real value, they were the only parts to those stories that mattered, lots of people had the same ideas, and that is always the case. If you have a Carmack, everything else is possible, so to speak.

Sure you could give those companies the tech. Then Carmack and Woz are both going to eventually quit and go out into the market place, and create something new and better. Meanwhile HP would have been sitting on the old Woz tech, having no clue what to do with it or where to take it.

I don't know if Carmack or Woz wanted to be founders or entrepreneurs. They might have been content to work as employees on a steady salary if they were given freedom to work on their ideas.

I wonder (genuinely, no trolling) if the mentality has changed with the startup explosion.

In other words, would large companies in general be as keen on signing away rights to pet projects by their best and brightest today as they seem to have been in the past?

Or maybe I'm just young/naive...

I'm not super familiar with the ID story (I haven't read the book), but that seems awfully simplistic. Certainly many companies have been short-sighted and missed opportunities (your second example is one of the most obvious ones, although HP may have just screwed that up), but a game company not wanting to use newer technology for games doesn't jive with my understanding of the game industry at any point (and I've been programming since the early 80's.)

That said, you might be right, it just seems weird.

>> I'm not super familiar with the ID story (I haven't read the book), but that seems awfully simplistic.

Softdisk (SoftDisk?) was a company who sold subscriptions similar to companies like MicroZine. Each month or two you'd receive a disk in the mail with games, utilities, and other software. The ID guys had recently moved from writing Apple ][ software to the IBM PC.

When they did a demo called 'Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement', which consisted of a clone of the first level of the NES game Super Mario 3, they sent it off to Nintendo, who of course responded that they weren't interested in doing PC games. ID ended up partnering with Apogee to do their sales and distribution, when SoftDisk found out, the guys ended up having to do a handful more games for SoftDisk.

To make it even worse, they took their PC's home on the nights and weekends from their desks at SoftDisk!

Softdisk created a lot of stuff for the IBM Big Blue Disk, a software magazine like you mention. I've scoured the web, and am now polluting Google even further perhaps with this comment, but I'd love to find some of that old stuff. Lots of great memories from those demos.

It could have simply been a question of effort. Maybe Softdisk saw it as a speculative R&D project and didn't want to go pedal-to-the-metal committing lots of resources to it, like Carmack & Romero clearly thought they should.

Also, the PC games market then was very complicated and segmented, making side-bets quite risky. I've personally never met anyone with an EGA card, whereas CGA and VGA were popular. The PC market was also smaller than other games-oriented ecosystems back then.

Maybe the cost of learning and adapting the new technology was too high. I know many things that could be modernized at my company but we choose not to do it right now because we need to focus on other things.

I often think, it would be cool to have a 50% job as developer. I would make enough money to live and had plenty of time to do what I want.

But somehow those 50% jobs are only available in industries where 50% don't pay for a living...

I tried it with freelancing once, but I felt the overhead eradicated the benefits :\

This is essentially what I've been doing for about a year and a half.

I've found that the best way to do it is to focus 100% on client projects for a month or two, and then take a month or two for yourself. IMHO "single-tasking" results in much better quality work.

While you're working on your own thing, you should be meeting with potential clients and setting up your next paying gig, since the sales cycle on a couple month project large enough is about a few weeks to a month anyways.

This sounds completely awesome! How do you get people to hire you for just a month or two though? I assume it's not as simple as the typical job search

I talk to a lot of people and try to find those who need a specific project done. I try not to take on "open ended" jobs.

(Author here.) It's a thing I am trying to do right now: 50% for data science freelancing (which I enjoy a lot nonetheless), and 50% for my own musings and self-development, without any restrictions (whether technical, scientific or educational).

It's clearly better financially than academic jobs _and_ I am not restricted by grant topics & timelines or a place.

I am just curious what can go wrong? (I.e. I don't know personally anyone living this way.)

The biggest dangers are going to be non-paying clients, and leads drying up. If you can't find any leads, you'll end up spending all your "self time" eaten up with business development.

Thank you for clarifying something I've been struggling with for years. I have a couple hundred project ideas and inventions written down but always have this sense that I can't work on them because they are seemingly not the best use of my time. Instead, I spend nearly the entirety of my time either immersed in the logistics of wrapping up a contract, or working to find another.

If someone could solve the business development end of freelancing, that would be more valuable to me than matchmaking. The work was never the problem for me, but the angst surrounding it.

Tools like https://freelanceinbox.com/ and 10xmanagement.com are trying to solve the leadgen problem for developers. Haven't used them, but might be worth a look.

I will see. As of now I have more leads than I can manage, but I am aware of the risk (also for this reason I rather do it part time than full switches of paid work vs side projects).

I've followed a similar path for the last three years, and it has worked out very well for me so far. I don't even want to think about how low the odds were of getting initial funding for my side project through the usual grant system; but now, thousands of academics depend on what I've built.

An alternative to freelancing is a not-too-demanding day job that you enjoy, and which is sufficient to pay the bills. It was good enough for Albert Einstein...

This phenomenon is a symptom of the Relevance Paradox [1]: people trying to solve a problem try to minimize how much information they get (seeing most of it as irrelevant), when a seemingly-inconsequential piece of information may be the solution. It's also a major factor of Hierarchical Incompetence [2] and part of why one really needs to think about the costs and benefits of establishing a hierarchy to achieve a goal. Hierarchies can be efficient for solving some problems and devastating for others.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relevance_Paradox

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hierarchical_incompetence

It's true that certain top-down structures are great at coordination and increasing efficiency for small changes, but at the same time are creativity killers (because ideas need to go past a few layers, because most new things are not beneficial from the first second thus can be "optimized" by elimination).

Or putting things in a different way - we need "noise" to get further of a local optimum, so we can explore more distant (and perhaps: better) optima.

The benefits of side projects can also be demonstrated by "in company" side projects I guess? 20% time etc. (gmail, post-it notes)

I'm trying to attempt to introduce 20% time in my department, trying to convince the management that it is worthwhile is going to be hard I think.

Some of the benefits I can see, learning for staff, fulfilment for staff both of which aid retention, and potential products or product improvements that would otherwise not see the light of day.

Anyone got any suggestions of ways of introducing 20% time, other than listing benefits and crossing fingers?

I agree w/ the premise. However, for those working for big corps, don't the company have a legal right to go after employer's side projects (IP laws etc). Wonder how feasible it would be to produce worthwhile projects while working fulltime for an employer

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