The Power of Side Projects

Do you want to become a better developer? Do you have a side project in mind? Are you trying to figure out if programming is for you? Do you need to spice your resume up?

I challenge you to grab a buddy and build something.

It was the end of my junior year at USF. No software engineering positions lined up. No internships. Nothing. Another summer of video games and anime, hurray!

Then I met a gamer on Facebook, who was looking for a web designer to build a video game blog.

At the time, I was just a web designer. A really inexperienced one. I knew zero about building websites besides basic HTML/CSS. I commented on his Facebook post because I wanted to build this website. I love video games, and if I really wanted a job as a developer after graduation, I needed something to put on my resume. So, why not?

After going back-and-forth with him, I realized that it was going to take a lot more than just HTML/CSS to build this website. He wanted every single feature that any other user-driven website had: forums, private messaging, article comments, Google ads, and a content management system for him to write articles without digging into the code. We set a deadline for mid-August, so I had only three months to not only design, but to build an entire website from scratch.

By the August deadline, I was able to flesh out a fully-functional web application, where we both wrote reviews and guides for video games like Saint’s Row IV and Final Fantasy XIV.

While working on this web application, I was able to:

  1. Evolve into a knowledgable full stack web developer
  2. Discover my passion in programming
  3. Teach myself how to develop in PHP/JavaScript/jQuery
  4. Teach myself basic SQL and how to use databases
  5. Hone my skills in HTML/CSS, and coding overall
  6. Practice reading other code and modifying them to suit my website’s needs
  7. Research search engine optimization techniques
  8. Research techniques and statistics on social media marketing
  9. Practice project management skills
  10. Learn how to manage my time and priorities
  11. Add a significant project to my resume and LinkedIn profile

As you can see, there’s definitely a lot to learn and improve on when working on side projects. Although our website stopped being maintained because of school priorities (and thus, eventually vanished off the face of the earth), I’m proud to say that I built a large-scale project and learned various skills that helped me land interviews with countless start-ups, and finally a full-time job offer as a software developer. If you have any side projects in mind, I encourage you to invest some free time in figuring out how you can make them happen, especially if you are a young and inexperienced.

Any general advice or stories that you’d like to share with fellow developers? Any questions about the work I did while building my web app?

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