Side projects either make you employable or help you make sense of the world. Having a sense of the world means knowing how to solve peoples' problems.
A common recommendation given to aspiring programmers is to create side projects. To come up with a simple idea that can be developed in their spare time at nights and over the weekend. This is good advice but it missing some key insights. E.g. what kind of projects? What should be achieved? I.e. Which ‘track’ should people be getting on?
The educational hyper track
This is the easy path in that everything is laid out for you from the top down. Go to school, listen carefully, optimize output for high grades, and then graduate.
People say the educational system doesn’t prepare people for the real world. This is not true. Large corporations are precisely where people excel if they excel within the education system. We still glamorize people who went to top schools, even though if we were to set aside their degrees, we wouldn’t know what tasks to throw at them or which slot to place them in.
The problem is knowing what one gets out of being on the educational hyper track other that the pleasure of working at Google. I understand this holds meaning for many people but it’s a negative to people who want to build something of their own.
Back to side projects
If the projects your working on run in parallel to the educational hyper track then know what you’re in for. Know why your working on the project. This will guarantee you success.
If, however, you have no interest in being a replaceable entity at a large corporation but rather a builder of ideas then think long an hard what you need to be learning from your side projects.
A side project that helps you learn a new programming language or a new software tool is great for the ‘skills’ section of your résumé. If, on the other hand, the project teaches you how to launch something and solve peoples needs that will feed you thirst for building a fan base and potentially a company.
It’s much easer to identify and work on a side project that will help you appear more employable. What’s harder is working on one that will make you a good founder. The inputs and process is completely different. It requires thoughtful strategy and a kind of effort not required when “just building something.”
Understanding what it is you want before you start a side project will ensure you’re on the right track. Do you want a job? Or do you want freedom?
Side projects are great at either making you appear more employable or helping you make sense of the world. When you have a sense of the world you’re in a better place to understand how to solve peoples’ problems.