Good software engineers are continuously looking for new side project ideas. Working on side projects has wonderful benefits, in terms of personal development, and can potentially become financial assets, if they really take off. But sometimes, it’s not that easy to find project ideas, tailored to your needs and hobbies, so the research process takes more work and requires a more systematic approach.
Why is it a good idea to work on side projects?
You are probably aware of how important it is for you to work on side projects. In some cases (like for those of you who work in the corporate world), this is the only way to keep up with new technologies and learn new programming languages, since what you do at work might be slightly outdated. Even for freelancers, it’s really worth from time to time to try out new tools and new software-writing techniques, since the technology is evolving very fast, and the new things you discover might actually help you a lot in your day-to-day hustle with projects.
Even if you are not that passionate about all these technologies, it’s still worth considering starting a side project, since there’s always a chance that your side project will be successful and as the years pass by, you’ll be able to extend it into a nice little business. There are many other reasons as well, but I think this is enough to make us recognize the tremendous value of working on a side project.
How do I find side project ideas?
The first hard question that comes up after deciding to go down this road is “How do I find side project ideas to work on?”. This is a tough question and you can find the answer somewhere between passion, curiosity and real-life practical value.
Start looking for side project ideas, in a conscious manner
First of all, you need to start looking for side project ideas, in a conscious manner. You should think about all the tools, apps, websites, open source repositories that you’re familiar with and ask yourself “What’s missing?”. Let these thoughts run into the background for a while. In the meantime, make sure you join a few communities, where you can find people with a mindset similar to yours, and find out what they are working on. There are so many awesome communities for developers out there (Reddit, Hacker News, StackOverflow, to name a few), where you can even ask for help.
All the time, remember to be curious! Try to dig deep into existing projects, processes, technologies with the main goal of satisfying your curiosity. If you’re passionate enough, you’ll be able to find many broken pieces, which your side project could fix. Maybe you’ll discover a niche that is not covered by the existing utilities. Or maybe you’ll discover the need for a tool to do some specific things related to a new technology. There’s also the case where you can create a better version of an existing project, by taking advantage of the recent technologies (which are usually much faster, much better looking, etc).
Be an early-adopter
In addition to that, you should be an early-adopter for as many products as you can. Do you like any new startup? Do you follow any successful entrepreneurs? What is new on the App Store? What’s the latest innovation in your field? Are there any new open-source frameworks that just got released? Product Hunt is a great resource if you’re searching for new products which are about to take off. Just pick everything you like and start using their products. You will amaze yourself with how many side project ideas you’ll get.
Make sure you pick the best project idea
Once you start to actively be looking for ideas, they will definitely come up. In picking up the winner, you need to factor in a few more aspects. You want to make sure you’re passionate about the theme you’ve picked and the technologies you’re going to use. It’s usually good advice to try and think a little in terms of business as well. Is it a good business idea? Would there be a market for it? You don’t really need detailed answers to all these questions, but viewing it from this perspective will help you to find a side project, tailored to your needs and goals.
Even after the point where you decided on a side project idea to work on, you’ll still be able to find even more ideas. While working on your side project you will be able to identify new use cases, the needs for new tools, etc. It’s not usually a good idea to just give up on a project and work on something new, but in some cases, the recent idea might be even more successful than the previous one, so you also need to pay attention there.