Five reasons why you need side projects as a developer

February 07, 2019

A post by Will Mayger
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I list the top five reasons why you need side projects as a developer to help you grow.

As a developer you have the ability to create and build all manner of amazing projects off your own back.

Which I know, for me at least, was a huge plus for getting into development in the first place.

This can give you the keys to work basically anywhere in the world because of that, we, developers, often get lazy and comfortable!

There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, but being comfortable will keep you in the same place as you are now.

If you have the ambition, motivation, creativity or drive to build your own world around you or if you want to learn and improve as a developer, you need to start doing side projects in your spare time!

This blog is a side project. The apps that I have created / am creating were and are side projects.

I will tell you for free, that side projects are some of the most rewarding things you can as a developer.

Here are 5 reasons why side projects are so good.

1. Learning

My first reason as to why you need to do side projects as a developer is to learn.

This is the probably the most important reason why you should do side projects in my opinion.

The more you learn the more you will get out of life, even if you think you may not need it.

The learning potential you can gain from side projects far out ways that in which you can learn in your job.

There is no limit, no project manager, no stake holder, no team lead, no designer to tell you what you can and can’t do, this means you have complete control of technology, design, animations and functionality.

This then means you can can do what you want to do.

I highly suggest that you do something slightly out of your comfort zone or something that you want to improve on, so you learn from it.

For example if you are a react developer, it might be worth trying out technologies such as gatsby, firebase, react native, and react-spring so you can add this to your portfolio.

If you are a front end developer, your only option is to learn react. Only joking. Haha.

But you can learn different front-end libraries such as animation libraries, or maybe you want to learn about backend coding, so maybe you want to try out languages like python, ruby, or node js.

Maybe you want to start creating API’s or using OAuth to make an single sign on login.

I think I have made my point.

These are all things you can learn and get good at completely for free by spending a couple of hours a week learning and trying them out.

You can learn them from youtube videos, blog posts (some you may find here at atomizedobjects.com), official documentation, free coding platforms such as codecademy, and many more places.

This will add value to you as an individual and will mean you have more skills as a developer which will help you out now and in the future if and when you apply for new jobs or even progressing in your current job.

2. Income

This is another big one. I am sure a lot of developers are highly interested in the topic of money, income or passive income.

I know it interests me, as developers we have a huge advantage to make money over the internet as we can either create products, services or platforms.

We can blog cheaper than other bloggers, we can create any app that we choose to create.

I don’t recommend you do anything purely for money though, when it comes to side projects, make sure you are doing something you are passionate about.

If you do want to just do it for money, it will be very difficult to stay committed to whatever it is you choose to do, just look at other youtubers or bloggers, they often preach that they had to keep producing content for years and years before seeing even a single penny coming in.

Don’t get me wrong, if your intention is money there is nothing wrong with that, I mean who wouldn’t want to earn a little more money each month?

I believe if you have the drive and motivation to do it then you should stop waiting, and get out there and do it!

Just make sure that whatever it is you want to do, you are passionate about doing it, otherwise it might not work out how you plan.

Perhaps a good mindset to have when it comes to this is asking yourself if you would do this for free. If you would then get started, if not, maybe you need to re-evaluate and keep trying.

Now that is out of the way, let me list a few ideas for you that might help you get started!

Freelance work

This is not contracting, this is you finding websites, web apps, mobile apps and more that someone or some business needs creating. You might have a local shop or gym that needs a website that you can provide them.

I would say this requires a fair bit of commitment and guts because you will have to reach out to these people, however it will probably pay the most, at least in the short run and you will learn a lot about selling, marketing and people skills.

Blogging, Vlogging or youtube

These can be some of the best and simplest “passive income” earners on the internet.

You must, however, keep in mind that they require a lot of patience and might not ever pay off, and when it does some could earn very little but there are reports of people earning a lot of money using these methods.

Just don’t expect anything over night. Think more in terms of 1 - 3 years before seeing any results.

Mobile app development

This can be pretty lucrative, very enjoyable and you will learn valuable skills that will help you out in your career.

There are some down sides to this method though, but if you have a good idea, and good execution of it, then it will pay off!

Here are a few of the down sides:

You will have to spend around £100 - £150 just to be able to release your applications on Google Play and Apples App Store.

You will need to put in months of work into your app, and it needs to be the best it can be, and this doesn’t just mean the code.

It has to have a good design, good user experience, good functionality, not be spammy and a good idea and that is just for the app…

You will also need to go into similar detail to create a listing, videos, screenshots, ads, social pages and more.

After you complete all of that you will then need a fairly decent budget to market the app to ensure it gets enough initial downloads to gain some visibility in the app stores so that people will download it.

If you go through all of that, then it will be worth it on the other side, you would have learnt a lot and you could be earning a decent amount of money as well.

A few more ideas

  • Ecommerce
  • Selling services
  • Creating courses
  • Selling your holiday photos.
  • Be creative.

3. Career

Employers like developers who do their own side projects.

It shows passion for what you do.

It also shows what you can do.

And it shows commitment, doing something before or after work on top of everything else that you have to do.

There are a lot of developers who don’t do this, but if you don’t, in my opinion, you are limiting your full potential and slowing your progress.

On top of this there are the benefits that I have already mentioned about learning which is a great way to build up your career, I know a few developers who started doing “side projects”, before having any knowledge of development, myself included.

I started developing on a computer at my parents house whilst I was in 6th form, with absolutely no experience with computers. I wanted to make a program to calculate macronutrients (I was really into fitness), I went online, learnt a little C#, made my program.

That shortly turned into making a version in Java as a mobile app (I never published it), which then turned into an apprenticeship / junior software and web development job starting my career in London!

I had no professional experience in coding or development, no grades in IT, but because I showed passion, commitment and drive to be able to make these things off of my own back I got the apprenticeship, and I have known people to do similar things and go straight into full time junior roles.

This just shows how far side projects can take you.

4. Networking

Networking can be a valuable skill in life on its own. But you may be wondering how exactly it fits in with side projects, and well… It’s tied into learning… again.

I am actually working on this skill myself as it takes good people skills and confidence which is why it is so essential.

When you go to a networking event you will probably meet some influential people, eat some pizza, and you will learn a few things about the subject of that event.

Now this will help you find new technologies and new ways to do things that will help you out with your side projects.

For example, let’s say you are into angularjs, you go to a front end networking event about frameworks, you may hear about frameworks such as react or vue and that they may be the next big thing.

If you like what you see and hear you might want to try it out as a side project. You go home and try it out and decide you like it, sometimes you may not, but most of the time you will like it.

You then start using it more and more in your side projects meaning it’s another skill you can add to your arsenal and then go to meetups about it.

This creates a loop where you meet a lot of people that you will want to get to know, and learn and try a lot of different technologies helping you improve yourself as a well rounded developer.

This goes for online events as well, or even joining communities that help discuss new tech coming out.

5. Enjoyment

Finally, have fun.

I love doing side projects, I actively prefer to do side projects in my spare time than to watch TV or play games.

I used to be addicted to playing games in my spare time, I loved playing League of Legends in particular, but since starting to be fascinated about learning and creating my own things as side projects in my spare time, I haven’t looked back (from time to time I do still watch TV, I am human).

It is very rewarding in more than one way, and you can be as creative as you like.

You can learn about marketing, or selling your side projects, opening your eyes to new worlds you were otherwise oblivious to. This is a very exciting feeling, especially when you look back and realise everything you have learnt.

I really hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing this because side projects in development are very close to my own heart as they are the reason I am in the position I am in today.

Never stop learning.

Will