Long hours are nothing unusual in the tech industry. Whether you’re a developer facing hundreds of hours of crunch time in order to ship a new game, or a datacenter administrator on a tight deadline to upgrade too many server racks, or a QA tester with a zoo of bugs to squish, there’s seemingly no end to the work that needs to be done.
Which is, of course, why you should consider doing a side project.
As developer (and frequent Dice contributor) David Bolton describes in a new column on Dice’s UK Website, side projects—whether writing software, building Websites, or contributing to an open-source platform—are an excellent way to not only boost your skills, but improve your chances when you’re searching for a new position.
A good side project, he wrote, could “make the difference between your CV getting you to an interview [or] ending up in the rubbish bin.”
And he’s right. Side projects allow you to:
- Show Off Skills: It’s one thing to learn programming in school, or take some classes to pick up a new skill-set; but showing that you’re acquired skills and put them to practical use will set you apart from other applicants.
- Show Off Time Management: Side projects take a lot of time and effort. If you’re completed a few successfully while holding down a day job, it hints that you’re very good at time management.
- Show Off Your Passion: Employers are always on the lookout for candidates who are passionate about what they do.
- Show You’re a Self-Starter: Side projects are usually started under your own volition. Pursuing one will demonstrate to employers that you have the initiative to begin something and see it through—a valuable skill in the workplace.
As with all things, however, there are some caveats. You should always tailor your résumé and application materials to the position for which you’re applying; if your side project is relevant to the job, by all means include it, making sure to emphasize how its results and required skills make you a better candidate. If your side project is irrelevant, on the other hand, consider leaving it off your materials, and using that space for other accomplishments.
If you get through the application and job-interview process, make sure the job will allow you to continue that side-work, under conditions you find favorable. For example, some employment contracts stipulate that anything developed by employees, including things built while on their own time, belongs to the company. If that’s the case, and the employer doesn’t budge or offer a workaround, you may have to put the side project aside (so to speak) during your tenure at the firm.
Many employers, though, are amenable if you explain from the outset that you need to maintain a side project, especially if it’s more of a hobby than a full-time line of business.
If you’re interested in pursuing a side project, but you’re unsure of where to start, consider participating in an open-source platform, where you’ll work on software used by a lot of people (and collect tips and best practices from dedicated community members). Check out opensource.com for tutorials, overviews of current projects, and other resources (if you’re unfamiliar with Linux, for example, here’s a jumping-off point to learn about it). Once you’ve contributed to a project, it’s a fairly straightforward matter to integrate that fresh open-source experience into your résumé.