The Importance of Side Projects

In my first year of college, I started teaching myself PHP. I spent a lot of time reading books in the school library and before I knew it I was coding a dynamic website. It was a digital flyer board that was meant to improve upon the analog concept popular at so many schools. A few weeks after I launched, Facebook Marketplace was introduced to the world, which was a vastly superior execution of my (admittedly unoriginal) idea. Some people started using my site, but I knew Facebook Marketplace was too awesome for me to try to compete against.

After spending so many months on my first major database driven project, my spirits were a little bruised. Most people would call this a “learning experience” and they would be correct. Indeed, it was a learning experience from many perspectives. More importantly however, it landed me an internship building web software. I was able to prove to the company that I had the skills they were seeking.

After working the job for 3 years (and going full-time) it came time for a change again. I didn’t feel challenged and I knew I could do better. However, the economy was terrible and I didn’t see a way out. On the side, Jim and I started a weekly video show about web design and development.

We strived for the best video quality we could achieve, and we tried to provide informative advice every week. We made the show because we gained a lot from the web community, and we wanted to find a way to give back. Jim and I were also avid followers of the events that Ryan had put together, and one day he posted a tweet:

 

He was looking for a designer and a developer that could teach their craft on video; exactly what Jim and I had been doing for several months prior. Our weekly video show wasn’t the only reason we got the job, but it certainly helped. The practice we gained from being on camera regularly also made the transition a lot easier.

Twice now, side projects have helped me achieve fuzzy or difficult aspirations. The deeper lesson is that no job or school provided the task or the motivation. If you do what you love, good things will come to you.

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Nick Pettit

Nick is a designer, public speaker, and teacher at Treehouse. He is also a co-host of The Treehouse Show. Twitter: @nickrp

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