Software engineer, it's okay to not have a side project

There is a believe that any software developer must contribute or have a side project to work on. Even if it’s great to have, I think there is something bigger at stake doing that.

As a software developer, I’ve been following for years the development community as close as possible. Especially mobile development. I discovered the biggest influencers of that ecosystem, people who wrote books, participated to tech talks, coded famous open source projects or blogged constantly.

I had (and still have) so much admiration to those people who were dedicated to that community: seeing that elite creating different type of projects, some of them making a living of it, that sounds amazing right? All doing as a side project, I hoped one day to be as helpful as they are to me.

In the following years, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. I worked on different projects and content, forcing myself to become a contributor and entrepreneur, matching the one I followed.

However, if it started with excitement and energy, it became a pressure to commit to it and eventually a source of anxiety.

First, I started small, I had a blog at that time (this very one), I tried to write about relevant content of mobile software development once in a while. It was mostly issues and questions I had and the solution I’ve found at that time. I also launched different mobile apps on the side, some slightly more used that others, but nothing crazy.

Over the time, my content became more and more relevant, 100 people a week became 100 a day. However, since I’ve never put a definition to “success” or “accomplishment”, I got stuck to only see what was missing: “It’s good, but it’s not 200 visitors a day”. At the same time, I was still witnessing what looked to me success of others. I got the feeling to not do enough, to not work hard enough. So I doubled down.

Thing is, if you already have a full time job, you have a very limited amount of time to develop side projects. So you can’t spend as much time as you want on each project. For me, I got two specific focus for the last four years: running and coding. If I’m not in front of my laptop, I would be running.

So I kept working on side projects as much as I could afford it. My daily routine was on the clock: training early morning followed by work then side project in evening until late.

More apps and content created more traffic and traction, which is really great. The problem was only in my mind, I never took time to take a break and actually realise what I’ve done so far.

It became a second job, the fun was nearly gone, forcing myself to blog regularly and release more apps and updates without break.

It slowly became a toxic environment, I became a source of stress and anxiety when I was missing to release any content. I created such a pressure that I couldn’t sleep at night, cultivating a feeling of guilt and failure.

After weeks of tiredness, I managed to push myself at my limits: I got myself sick. That drew a line and forced me stop and have break.

In that break, I realized the biggest problem was to compare myself to the one I wanted to join: his elite of developers.

The day you stop comparing yourself to others, then it will become easy to be happy.

One of my friend mentioned it once, I only understand now what he meant. We’ve got all those social media showing the best of our lives, I think I got myself duped by it, people sharing anything else but success and completion.

Since then, my goal is to take back control of my free time. I started first by trying to let go any side projects that didn’t make sense anymore. This half idea of a useless app? Gone.

It helped me make room and focus on the one I really care about. I’m also still running in parallel of my coding hours, but I keep a better balance to enjoy both.

My biggest challenge is still to learn how to fully let go and make sure I don’t compare myself to others anymore. I’m really glad that others contribute as much and create all those tools, but their pace shouldn’t be mine.

I also try to define what “success” finally mean to me to avoid going back into a toxic loop. Some define it by how many readers, or downloads or dollar made. My definition is my own, so I’ll know if and when I hit it.

Finally, I realized that it’s not important if my content is not relevant to everyone, as long as it is to someone. Fortunately, I’ve got chance to get some recent feedbacks telling me how what my work helped them to learn and grow as software engineer, and that’s all what I wanted.

In conclusion, I would say it’s great if you work on you free time to learn more or build something, but don’t do it because others said so or “everybody does it”. It’s better to find your own pace and get a great “work / life” balance that keeps you healthy and happy, regardless what others people do.

Photo by Toa Heftiba

© 2023 Benoit Pasquier. All Rights Reserved
Author's picture

Benoit Pasquier

Software Engineer πŸ‡«πŸ‡·, writing about career development, mobile engineering and self-improvement

ShopBack πŸ’°

Singapore πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡¬