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Picking the Right Side Project

Published 9/9/2016

In today's episode, we talk about the aspects that make for a great side project to increase your employability.

Today's episode is sponsored by Linode! Head over to Linode.com/developertea or use the code DeveloperTea20 at checkout for a $20 credit towards your cloud hosting account! Thanks again to Linode for your support of Developer Tea.

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and today we're talking about picking the right side project to boost your employability. In today's episode we're talking about picking the right kind of side project to boost your employability. Now this doesn't mean that you have to pick only things that are going to boost your employability for your side projects. One of the beautiful things about side projects is that no one is telling you what to do except for yourself. But of course if you have the goal of being employed and that is the kind of primary driving factor behind why you're doing a side project then this episode is for you. Hopefully it will help you in your employment process. Speaking of side projects, if you need a Linux box for your side project perhaps the most economic solution for you is a Linnode. We will talk more about what Linnode has to offer later on in today's episode. Thank you again to Linnode for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. So one of the most important things you can do to learn something new is execute a tangible project using the skills you are learning. In other words build something with the programming language you are learning or build something with the framework you are learning. Take the time to come up with an idea that you can use to drive the skills you are learning through. We've talked in the past about a few important aspects of side projects but today I want to outline three specific characteristics of side projects that will help you look better to future employers. In other words that will help you be more employable. The key word I want you to keep in mind the entire time is relevance. Relevance. That's the key word for today's episode. We've talked in the past about how side projects should be small. We've also talked in the past about how side projects should focus on the most unique aspects of what you do. So it should come as no surprise that number one, the first characteristic of a side project that looks good to a future employer is that it is sufficiently small to show your peak skill points. This doesn't line up exactly with what we've said in the past and that the reason we're making this small is to show that your efforts are totally poured into the thing you do best. So for example instead of building something that anyone can build, you're building something that took a lot of thought that is highly designed a very specific thing. If you're applying to be a front-end web developer, this is the difference between showing a 10-page website that was built on Bootstrap that just about anyone could have thrown together or showing a two or even a one-page website that has a lot more attention to detail and custom interaction and specifically designed animations. Those are the kinds of things that employers are going to look well on because if you and 10 other people come in with the same basic idea of what Bootstrap does and you show your portfolio to your potential employer, it's not going to look any different from those other 10 people. There's nothing particularly wrong with a 10-page website that is built with Bootstrap that anyone else can do. But an employer is looking for what makes you unique and what skills do you have that are once again relevant to what they do. So if you are showing off your peak skills, the thing that you do best, the thing that sets you apart from other developers, then most likely that side project is going to necessarily need to be small. That's simply because it takes more energy to do some kind of custom work. It takes more energy to show off that peak skill than it takes to just build something that anyone else can build. And when I say anyone else, I mean other developers who are similar to you in terms of experience. So it takes about the same amount of energy to build a two-page site with custom animations and a high attention to detail as it does a 10-page website that doesn't have that attention to detail. Characteristic number two, the right kind of side project to boost your employability will go deep. The right kind of side project to boost your employability will go deep. For example, it would be more valuable to an employer to see that you've taken the time to build a project and considered a lot of the details of that project. For example, a project that connects to an API that shows that you know how to re-documentation. It shows that you know how to integrate with existing systems outside of the system that you're building. It shows that you know how to do something valuable with those processes, that data that is outside of your system. It's more valuable to do that than it would be to create your own account creation portal and a blogging system. While the latter certainly shows a grasp of some of the basic ideas, it is a bit too basic to be uniquely valuable and you're proving that you have a grasp on the basic ideas when your side project is a bit more involved. As a practical tip, as an employer, I like to see projects that do integrate with some kind of external API or authorization system. This is such a common need in today's application development environment, that if you can read documentation that in and of itself is a huge value add. It's very important that you know how to integrate with other applications, other software. If you come to me as a potential candidate, if I have two candidates that I'm looking at and one has an application in their portfolio where they could have connected to an API and they didn't. The other one decided to connect to the API and also do multiple steps beyond that doing something interesting with that API. Then certainly that second person is going to be more employable in my eyes. We're going to take a quick sponsor break to talk about today's sponsor, Linode, and then we're going to come back and talk about the final characteristic for today of a side project that will help boost your employability. Today's episode is sponsored by Linode. Linode has been a sponsor of Developer Tea for a while. So I'm going to go a bit off script and say that if you are a web developer or even if you're just an app developer and you need some kind of server, then I want you to consider Linode. Linode provides a very fast server spin up process. You can get a server running in about a minute. They have Intel E5 processors. They have a 40 gigabit internal network and they have two gigabytes of RAM on their bottom tier plan. Those plans start at $10 a month and if you use the code that you're going to get from us today, you get $20 worth of credit and a seven day money back guarantee. That's a ton of value. Pretty much every developer needs a server. Every developer needs access to a server that they can use for various side projects. Linode is a fantastic option for this because they offer hourly billing. That's the most important piece of the puzzle for those of you who want to use Linode for your side projects. Go and check it out. Linode.com slash Developer Tea and use the code Developer Tea 20 to get that $20 worth of credit at checkout. If you do the math, that shakes out to less than $10 a month for that first year. Go and check it out. Linode.com slash Developer Tea. We're talking about picking the right side project, the characteristics of a good side project that will boost your employability. Number one, was that the side project is sufficiently small to show off your peak skill points. Number two, go deep. Now, combining those two together, that means that you want a very narrow but decouly focused kind of side project. That's the kind of thing that you want to do for a side project. And number three, it needs to be realistically applicable. Remember that word relevance. Your side project should be realistically applicable to the types of projects you would be working on in the future at that employer. If you are applying to work at a web development company and your portfolio is full of small flash games, your employer may have a hard time assuming that you have a grasp of the fundamental concepts that would make you employable. If you are hoping to get a job working at a company that builds iPhone applications, download the applications they use and find out some of their commonalities. For example, if they are all games that work with physics systems, then you may consider showing a project that explores something similar with physics. Even if that project isn't an iPhone application, doing something in the domain will show that you know how to work with the concepts, the underlying concepts. If you are hoping to get a job at a company that builds location based applications in the business sector, a physics application, a physics game is significantly less applicable, significantly less relevant. So some of this depends on what kind of job you are seeking. Instead, you may consider doing some work with interface animations or form design or going back to our previous example showing that you can work with data validation and API integrations. Ultimately, a side project is an opportunity on multiple levels. Of course, a side project allows you to build something for the fun of building it, but it also provides an opportunity to learn and integrate your skills. But for the sake of today's episode, a side project offers you the value of proving what you can do. It's a wise decision especially if you are looking for a job and if you're wanting to use your side projects as a booster for your employability, maximize the value in each of the areas that we talked about today. Focus very narrowly but go deep with your side projects and make them relevant to your employer. Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. I hope that you found this information valuable, especially if you've been trying to decide what kind of side project you should do. Please reach out to me and let me know. You can find me on Twitter at Developer Tea. You can always send me feedback and questions at developertea@gmail.com. Thank you so much for listening. If you're enjoying today's episode, make sure you subscribe and whatever podcasting app you use that will make sure that you don't miss out on future episodes of Developer Tea. Thank you again to today's awesome sponsor, Linode, the official side project sponsor for Developer Tea. At least that's what I'm going to call them. You can get $20 worth of credit today by going to linode.com slash Developer Tea and using the code Developer Tea 20 at checkout. Thank you again to Linode for sponsoring Developer Tea and until next time, enjoy your tea.