Why personal projects are worth pursuing

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Back in 2009, I moved back to the UK after a couple of years in Australia, and I was looking for web developer jobs in London. Not wanting to hang around, I uploaded my CV to a tech jobs site, included my contact details, and told recruiters I was looking for work. That certainly did the trick — I think I must have spoken to 50 agents in the first week, and saw a lot of job ads in a short space of time.

Naturally, any job search is a snapshot in time, and the ebbs and flows of the market are not going to be the same year in, year out. So, your mileage may vary here. But one thing I noticed on a lot of job specs was the mention of personal projects. Companies were interested to know what else you’ve been doing outside of the workplace. This went a bit beyond listing your hobbies — and instead asked if there are any projects you’ve been involved with?

As it happened, I’d spent quite a bit of my time in Australia working on personal projects, and I had quite a bit to talk about. At that time, I was running an open source CMS, an ad network for bloggers, writing music, and writing content for several blogs of my own. In general, the side projects I’d been working on were a really good topic to discuss in interviews. The open source CMS was particularly useful as I was able to show some of the code I’d written.

Fast-forward to now, and I have a Nintendo Switch site, this blog, and I’m still writing music. It’s a more refined list and probably a better use of my free time (I had too many things before).

The benefits of personal projects

Having run several projects over the years, I’ve seen lots of benefits. They include:

  • It’s fun and exciting: Starting something new is exciting! Spending time on a project of your choosing is a lot of fun. I do projects that I enjoy and they become a labour of love, where I’m spending time making improvements and having a great time while I do it.
  • Learning something new: If you want to try something that you’re not able to do at work (or you don’t have time to do), a personal project can help. You could learn anyway — but with things like coding, I find it’s much more enjoyable when you are building something — rather than only looking at the theory.
  • Helping other people: Some projects can be hugely beneficial and rewarding to other people, not just you. Writing can give great enjoyment to people who read your work. It can be insightful and informative. It can teach and inform. Music can also provide enjoyment to listeners. Depending on the style, it can also be therapeutic, or help people to focus and concentrate. Or you could build a website or app that helps people to find or do something easily.
  • Developing organisational skills: Whether you’re renovating your home, redoing your garden, writing a book, or building a new website or app, projects tend to have plenty of things that need doing. Whether you’re doing it all yourself or getting some outside help, being able to plan and make decisions on the various ins and outs of your project can be some really critical skills that are very reusable in many different careers.
  • Showing commitment and developing routines: I think there’s something to be said for showing that you have the commitment and dedication to see a project through. For ongoing projects, routine can be an essential part. Writing one blog post every week might not seem like much at first, but keeping it up for a whole year shows incredible commitment. Learning to play the guitar or piano takes a lot of practice, a lot of regular playing, and the stamina to push through the times when things aren’t going so well, to the point where you get better and better. Whether it’s seeing a colleague writing a book, or a blogging friend who writes a post pretty much every week and has done for 10+ years, it’s both impressive and deeply humbling to see long-term commitments such as these.

In summary — I think personal projects are great — I couldn’t do without them!

What do you think?

Originally published at https://www.benbarden.com on January 17, 2021.

Product Manager

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