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Discussion on: Full-time, side projects, learning, and staying sane

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Warner Onstine

I fall into the camp of lifelong learner. I've been doing side projects for most of my professional career. When I started out I didn't have a computer at home so I wrote out my Java GUI on legal paper and brought it into work. At the time they let me use the computer there to play with after hours.

Here are some additional tips I would add from the umpteen years I've spent doing this:

  • A specific goal in mind of why you want to build this thing
  • Once you have your goal, then I would time box it to 4 - 6 weeks. What is it that you think you can deliver in that time frame?
  • Once you've got your end goal and you have your specifics for a deliverable then you need to work on that project every single day. Not just on the weekends, not just when you think you have time, carve out at least 30 minutes a day and work on your project.
  • Document as you go. What are you learning? What is stumping you? Make sure you keep this up to date so that when you come back to your project the next day it is fresh in your mind and is easy to pick up again.
  • Run into a problem? Ask for help. Find the right forum or group and ask detailed questions about the issue you're facing. Most communities are very open and willing to help those who are learning.

Some of this I have distilled into a flowchart to help people pick a side project. Other sections are actually part of a course I teach called 30 Minute Project.