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Side Projects Essentials: 3 Tips for Booming Personal Skills

December 20, 2023

3 tips for effectiveness on side projects

Side projects are a great way to learn a new skill, gain experience with a new technology, solve a life problem, and showcase your work.  Together these benefits can lead to increased confidence, a better portfolio, and even improved performance in your work.  If you pursue your project in a group, then it could also lead to a new friend!

I am a computer science educator and a lover of side projects.  My side project journey has led to a lot of successes such as launching a successful app, building an online community, and making a lifelong friend.  But, just as importantly, it has helped me gain new skills, improve my self-esteem, and advance in my career.

I am an advocate for doing side projects and I regularly offer advice on how to get started with side projects including how to select a project, how to stay motivated, and how to share your creation with others

1. How to Select Side Projects

Select a project related to a topic that you want to learn about, are passionate about, or think you would enjoy.  You should select a project that will improve your skills and that you will be motivated to follow through with. 

Make a plan and do your research on this topic.  I think that it is generally better to pick an idea and run with it instead of spending weeks or months brainstorming because you can always make adjustments to your idea as you go along. 

Here I am presenting a side project that I pursued for a hackathon.  The goal was to have a turtle character (taking the form of a chatbot) train you to type more quickly within an existing chat application.

Project Hackathon

2. How to Stay Motivated During Side Projects

You need to be motivated to finish a side project.  I have found that some of the best ways to stay motivated are to connect your project with something you love, a problem that bugs you, or an activity that you regularly enjoy

If you love something then it will be hard to stop working on it.  If there is a problem that bugs you, then you will feel a lot of satisfaction out of trying to solve it. Finally, if it is an activity that you regularly enjoy, then you are already doing your project so you just have to package it together as something that you can showcase.

In addition to personal motivation, there can also be benefits to peer motivation.  Having a friend, group, or class that you are working with can help you by holding you accountable.

This is a project that I did because I love art and I regularly try to create visual artworks, even though drawing can be a big challenge for me at times.

side projects

3. How to Share Your Creation With Others

Eventually, you will reach a point when you are ready to showcase your work.  This could be when your project is finished or it could simply be when you have a status update after you added a new feature. 

There are a lot of different ways to showcase your work and there is no right answer on how you should do this.  Ultimately, it depends on what you want and what you make. 

That being said, here are some examples of ways that I have shared my creations in the past with positive results.  I often put projects on my resume and show projects to individuals who are hiring or seeking collaboration.

I have published apps to app stores, uploaded videos to websites, written blog posts, published open-source repositories, presented at conferences, and shared with communities online and in person. 

You cannot go wrong by starting a side project.  A side project only offers more opportunities for personal growth and you can always come back to your project to showcase your work or pick up where you last left off. 

I hope that you will start a new side project and you are also welcome to share your project directly with me!  

 

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Michael Wehar Computer Science Educator Swarthmore College

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