start-a-side-project-says-github-founder by dhotson:

Pretty old, but worth a re-post I reckon.. :-)

This post has been gestating for too long: I was going to start with “The problem I have with side projects is that all mine seem to be at work”. This was a problem in my head because I felt I needed a side project outside of work, something visible to ‘show off’, but in the process of writing I realised that was only half true, and not necessarily a problem.

With the work thing: yes, unfortunately that means my employee gets all rights to them. Which means I can’t really share source code and have something out there as bragging rights. However, even if I could share, their relevance outside of work would be minimal, and the main benefit I would get would not be bragging rights, but rather feedback along the lines of “Gosh, that’s a really bad way to write that, you should do it like this…”. So, I am missing out on something to showcase, ok, but worse I’m missing out on feedback - personally I consider that the bigger negative. However, on the plus side it’s currently the only place I can find the time to do stuff and, equally as important, I’m inspired to do stuff: There’s an odd mix of old and new technology. Chuck in the fact that IE6 is still the defacto and designed for web browser on the intranet, and there’s plenty of scope for improvement and innovation. Especially since these are tools you have to use everyday; When you are using a tool or a bit of software, everyday, to get a job done, it is very easy to find inspiration to improve or fix things (In fact at the moment I have too many side projects at work).

I have also found this true in the past. The term “side project” not only means something you do as an aside, but reflects that these projects grow out of the side of something else. So my foray into programming started with things like visual basic scripts for CAD software, or javascript macros for FEA software I was using. Outside of work, back when I was using Final Cut Express I wrote a FXScript that would benefit me day to day.

So it seems it’s not all bad having work based side projects: I may lose out on an external showcase, but it does bring the benefit of internal networking. And seeing as how my current role is not within programming, not even within IT, but that is something I’d like to move into, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

As to why there is a lack of side projects outside of work, well I’ve already alluded to above. One of the biggest is that I don’t use a bit of software any more to the extent that I used FCE and so I’m not inspired enough to fix or improve anything. Second biggest is probably time. And the third issue is that at home my main computing platform is now an iPod Touch; which, although a great time killer, is perhaps not so great a productivity tool. (You can’t program on it. Yet.)

When I first started thinking about writing this I was worrying about finding a side project outside of work, and thinking that perhaps because I’m mainly on an iPod at home I should go down the route of iPhone apps (although it would have to be a web app, since I can’t get on my mac to develop…). But for one I have NO IDEAS and two, well it doesn’t matter. As long as I’m using my brain somewhere.