Why and how to choose a good side project at work

While it is tempting to point out issues that affect your team’s productivity, if you point out an issue without offering a solution for it then it will make it look like you are part of ‘the problem’. If there is an issue that affects your team’s productivity, addressing it in your own side project for your team makes you look like part of ‘the solution’. Being proactive and making a positive difference, even if it is something relatively minor, helps improve your standing with your manager and other team members.

#1 Don’t rush into it.

If you rush into it you will end up making something that isn’t all that useful. Wait until a problem becomes apparent to you and it looks like others have the same issue. Also do not put all your focus into something because it is, after all, a side project. Try to be consistent though with working on it for some time each day.

#2 Try to do something that will directly bring value to the company and is easily measured and quantified.

For example: “I made a hot swap for our server so you no longer need to shut down to compile. It takes 5 minutes to restart the server. Without restarting, it takes 30 seconds. An engineer previously needed to restart 15 times per day on average, so I am saving each engineer on our team an average of 75-7.5=67.5 minutes per day.”

#3 Do something that you are passionate about.

Choose something that you have a passion for, or you will run out of steam. Of course your company is getting into machine learning and many people are hopping on board the bandwagon to gain visibility for themselves. How long will the trend last and are you actually passionate enough to follow through or are you trying to ride a wave?

#4 It doesn’t have to be something complicated.

For example, if your team is often integrating code manually (as in copy/pasting code into the latest version on the main branch) and you find a tool that makes it a lot easier. Go ahead and document how to set it up. If you make things easier for people on your team, you will be remembered as someone who improved things even if what you did was relatively simple and didn’t require a lot of knowledge.

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