On the Merits of Side Projects

After reading Spotify Lead Designer Tobias van Schneider’s outstanding post on side projects, I wanted to expand upon my feelings about them as well. Hopefully, if you’re not working on something outside of your normal day-to-day, you can find the motivation to start a side-project after reading this. There are really only four benefits I see to side projects. Enjoyment, Education, Accomplishment, Sanity. Let’s talk a bit about each.

Engineer Whiteboarding a Side Project

Enjoyment

Enjoyment is simple. Whether you’re building a bird feeder or some website that you’ve been dreaming about, you generally try to have a good time. In the normal day-to-day, you may be told to build your bird feeder out of concrete (It should be obvious by now that I’ve never built a bird feeder), but you think it makes sense to build it out of wood. It’s enjoyable to use the tools you want to use to make something that interests you!

Education

Education is relatively straight-forward as well. When you spend time working on a side project, you learn things. Let’s take the bird feeder example that I mentioned above. I can come back to my day job and tell my team of bird-feeder-gineers, “I made a bird feeder out of wood and it was 5x faster, 10x lighter, and 15x less weird looking. Maybe we should try using wood on the next one?” Additionally, when you work on a team, it’s easy to take for granted the person that always does the same job. For example: If someone always puts the roof on the bird feeder, it’s easy to forget that it could be a difficult task. When you do a side project by yourself, you’re reminded of all the work that goes into your day-to-day projects.

Accomplishment

Accomplishment is the most meaningful reason to me. The bird feeder metaphor might get lost in this example, so I’ll switch back to a website to keep it flexible. If you work on a team that maintains one big website, it’s safe to say that you’re never “done” with the project. You can be done with a piece of the project, but it’s often going to evolve again and again. With a side project, such as a virtual time capsule project (A weekend hackathon project I completed many years ago, no longer), I was able to build something from scratch and be “done” with it in only five hours. Sure, there’s plenty of things I could do to make it better, but it works, and for a side project, that’s all most people really need.



Sanity

The last one I hesitated to put in here. Side projects revitalizing your sanity seems a bit strange, but hear me out! Often, when working on a team, you have to make a compromise (Your team may only know how to work with Concrete, your company won’t pay the extra dollar for wood, tons of possibilities). This compromise can slowly start withering away at – what I call – “Workplace Sanity”. The best way to mend your workplace sanity is with a side project. Don’t compromise. Do your project your way and have a blast doing it. It’ll make building concrete bird feeders much easier the next time you have to do it again.

If the bird feeder metaphor wasn’t universal enough, fill free to swap it with whatever you’re passionate about. I’m a web developer who’s passionate about what he does, so I strayed towards that in the Accomplishment example.

Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know below!

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