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Do personal projects matter or help?

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Senior Software Engineer at Other8 months ago

So, some context:

I work as a devops manager (amongst some others, each of us managing a specific workstream). I have not really been that busy due to commercial reasons and thus not learnt much.

I enjoy coding and devops a lot (I was a coder before devops so can code too), and in the mean time, I was approached to work on an app with a friend, which I started. Commercially, that does not seem to be going anywhere due to the proposed high running costs in the cloud (despite automation and taking steps to reduce cost, but the scale and ambition of that app will not come cheap). Anyway, the business domain and requirements I got from said friend make it an interesting project and business problem to solve, with a genuine reason to explore techs I have not explored before (and not just for the sake of my CV).

So I am continuing with this as a development exercise for learning, and I am learning a lot as I am approaching the project maturely (doing documentation, understanding NFRs, etc).

However, some people say that personal projects won't help much etc, so motivation is a problem.

What is your take?



  • 5
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 months ago

    For me, personal projects are responsible for the following:

    • Uncovering my love of Android development - I still do Android to this day, and my passion for Android allowed me to become very efficient at it. This was great for my career progression as I developed a reputation as a "code machine", and I always got stellar performance review ratings as an Android engineer.
    • Getting me a job at Course Hero as their 1st Android engineer and tech lead - I got to build their Android app from scratch, which was an amazing learning opportunity. I joined around their Series A stage, and they're now valued at $3.6 billion. I did all this despite having 0 formal professional Android experience at the time of joining (i.e. I only had side project experience).
    • Contributing to me getting into Facebook - It was on my resume and I talked about it during the interview.
    • Making the most important part of my Robinhood interview a piece of cake - I had to build a small Android app live, and I did it in half the time. I spent the remaining ~20 just hanging out with Robinhood's 1st Android engineer, who was my interviewer.

    So yes, side projects do matter. 😊

    I gave a case study about them here: [Case Study] Building An App With 1,000,000+ Users To Get Into Facebook

    We also have this playlist if you want to go really deep: [Taro Top 10] Building Impressive Side Projects

    All that being side, YMMV with side projects. It's great for front-end product engineers as you can easily build sharable side projects there. For DevOps, it will be tougher as it's not exactly consumer-friendly. And if you're a manager and want to stack on M-track, they'll be even less important.

    At the end of the day though, if you're having fun building side projects and have the time for them, by all means do them. Fun is fun. 😁

  • 1
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    Senior Software Engineer [OP]
    8 months ago

    That playlist looks really interesting. I will watch it.

    Yeah I think it depends on the personal project's size and ambition. Even if my one does not go commercial, it is a real business problem from a real business with real requirements, and it is quite large scale, so will teach me an insane amount (combined with tackling it in a mature way, ie doing documentation, getting operational requirements, etc). I just get demotivated when some people rubbish the idea of side projects.

    I know if I did not do this side project I would learn about Azure and new services primarily by reading, and that won't be enough (i.e. need to deploy it, play around, etc).

  • 2
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    Mid-Level Software Engineer at Series B Startup
    8 months ago

    My side project was instrumental in getting my first three jobs, despite it being non-commercial. However, now that I have more experience I will be leaving it off my resume. Side projects are good at establishing passion, initiative, technical experience, and helps with culture fit.

    Early in your career, you're more likely to have gaps in any one of these dimensions. A somewhat technically complicated project that solves a problem is great at filling in these gaps. So, if you have a dimension lacking, like coding experience, a personal project can be a great supplement. However, since you mention you are a manager, you may not have any deficiencies in these. Or, the deficiencies are not big enough to warrant the investment into a complicated project.

    However, this is just speaking on the perceived value to employers. Projects also have the value of learning hard and soft skills, can be extremely fun, etc. So whether or not the project is worthwhile for its intrinsic benefits is a personal choice. But, if one of the main motivations is for your CV, it would be good to draft your CV with and without this project to see if the benefits are worth the investment.

  • 1
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    Senior Software Engineer [OP]
    8 months ago

    Hmm not really for the cv, but more to bolster my experience as I have only been doing devops for a very short time, but lucky to move up fairly quickly (a bit of luck and all the studying I did). I will keep it on the cv for now but may take it off at some point but could and would demo it. I mean, I tend to get a lot of system design questions in interviews and to show I have done this on a project and to show it live (ok, maybe no real users), will show value.

    My challenge is that in jobs you are in a team and actually a lot of the work is done for you. I.E. there are set templates for CICD, etc. It's rare I have to actually build new stuff, it'sm ore facilitating and tweaking what's created for new projects. There's so much I miss and I am doing like 5% as the others are tackling other bits. For example, I am Kubernetes certified and done a lot of studying around it and experience in the job (not this one, mind, which is sad, but my last), but I have never actually had to create a new cluster from scratch. It's more just creating namespaces for teams, etc.

    So I guess it's about how to get holistic experience and as this is a real case study, I am honing my documentation skills too.