“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.””
Programming is a skill and like any other skill, it needs practice to ensure that you stay sharp. Some of us are blessed to have a job where we get to code everyday while others aren’t that fortunate. But in either case, you can do something to keep yourself as much immersed in tech as you want. The simple solution is doing side projects. Doing side projects during spare time is a very good way of staying sharp by practice.
I was passionate about programming since an early age and was also keen on designing stuff. When I completed my bachelor’s, I wanted to get into a programming job. Those days it did not matter to me much about what language I used as long as I had something to work on. Though I was fortunate enough to get a job in IT, it was not necessarily going to give me the programming experience that I had hoped for. Over time, I became restless, not being able to shift the direction of my career into a fully technical role. Sure I did do programming here and there but not to my heart’s content. Thanks to my then boss, I used to work on internal projects to help the team with productivity.
I was concerned that my lack of practice might impact my knowledge of programming. I was still a newbie and wanted to learn more. I went over to YouTube and found out few channels with courses on HTML, CSS and PHP etc. I got my start by creating small web applications on my local machine. Sometimes just a good looking web page and other time creating a tiny social media web application. As a result of the skills that I managed to learn during my side projects, I was able to land a job in which I was able to work on technologies that I wanted to. Thus, side projects have played a very important role in my life.
Have fun with being in charge
The fun thing about doing a side project is that you are the boss. You decide the what, when and how of the project and are the sole stakeholder. You are not restricted by the constraints of your day job. It need not be a revolutionary idea either. You can even try and replicate something that already exists. Maybe you want to give your twist to it, add a new feature or try using a different technology altogether.
Venture into the unknown
Side projects are good to test out new concepts that might be too risky to try on a day job. It can be a new technology, a coding methodology or a new way of managing project. Since there is not a very huge business impact, it is fine to make mistakes and then roll back. But the learning that comes with these experiences is immense.
Helps you in your day job
Since all your experience working on a side project makes you better at your skill, this will also help you in your job. The new concepts and techniques that you learn, might one day add to your skills at work. This will also help you in venturing into new roles and take on projects which require skills other than what you are officially experienced in.
Might become big one day
There are many side projects which have become major businesses in tech industry. Sometimes you may find that your little practice app can be a viable business model. One of the most popular code editor Sublime Text was a side project of its creator Jon Skinner that later became his full time gig. Now Sublime is a widely used editor and for sure, a successful business.
Show your passion
So if you are a really passionate developer, do yourself a favour and start a side project today if you don’t have one. If you cannot think of something, build your blog yourself, instead of using any ready made CMS. Or build an app that lets you manage your tasks better. Or build a website for your friend or family member’s business. Find a reason to do a side project and do not be scared to try things you haven’t tried yet, because that’s how you learn.
Explore web development, mobile development and desktop development, you’ll learn a lot from exploring the unknown. Look at every side project as your learning. You’ll see how it contributes towards a better career.