I see a lot of people in the software community continually bring up the same problems and questions regarding side projects:
- Should I launch my side project?
- I never finish my side projects.
- Should I charge for my side project?
- I don’t have time for side projects.
Unfortunately, it’s not easy to respond because the term “side project” is too generic. Why are you making the side project? What is your goal? It is important to communicate this intent before moving forward.
But how? Well, I’ve come up with a simple solution, which is to stop using the term “side project” and replace it with a more descriptive set of project categories. Categories that encapsulate the intent within them.
Categorizing Side Projects
The following five categories can be applied to any side project to convey intent.
🎢 Amusement: To entertain yourself. Perhaps a small game or a coding challenge. Projects don’t always need a goal. Not having one can reduce stress and increase enjoyment!
🎓 Study: To expand your knowledge. Perhaps to try a new programming language, design pattern, or skill. The best way to learn is by doing, so these are a great way to sharpen your skills!
🧪 Experiment: To prove something or answer a specific question. Perhaps to see if a photo carousel can be made in pure CSS. These make really awesome evening projects.
🧸 Product: To release something publicly and get real-world feedback. Perhaps an open-source library to scratch your own itch.
💰 Business: To provide value to customers and provide income. Perhaps a SaaS service to monitor website up-time. These are multi-year commitments that often evolve from the other project categories.
Observe the Results
Now that we have new vocabulary, let’s go ahead and rephrase the questions from earlier to demonstrate what happens.
Should I launch my Product?
YES! The sooner the better. I know it’s hard but it’s important to start getting feedback as soon as possible.
I never finish my Study Projects.
Maybe you have. If the goal was to learn something and you’ve done that, you don’t need to go any further.
Should I charge for my Business?
Of course! Let’s talk more about where you can provide value and talk about ways you can work with users to figure that out.
I don’t have time for a Business.
That’s totally understandable. Maybe you could lessen the scope and tackle an experiment or small product?
See how much easier it is to discuss side projects once the intent is clear? This simple name change forces you to set a goal describing why you’re doing the project in the first place, which not only helps when asking for feedback but also guides project decisions going forward. For example, choosing a technology stack for an experiment will be much different than for a business.
So, the next time you start a side project, label it with one of these categories. You’ll be surprised to see what happens! 🤗