4 frequent objections to side projects and my answer

I’ve programmed computers ever since I was a child. When I tell people about my side projects, I very often hear 4 objections. A reply:


(1) “But doesn’t such a thing already exist?”

Clone sheep — image from sciencealert.com

Somehow, people think an idea has to be brand new to be worth pursuing. Wrong! The truth is: Very few ideas are really new!

This project might exist. But it is not mine. Saying “that thing exists” does not give us any XP!

I sometimes imagine the “But that thing already exists” grumbler at a party or job interview:

Other person: So you are a software developer. What have you developed?
Grumbler: Nothing. Everything already existed.

How disappointing is that?! ;-)

If you do it on your own…

  • you solve the problems.
  • you grow from the challenges.
  • you experience the joy of making.
  • you are in control.
  • you decide.
  • chances are, your solution is more simple, more flexible, more fit to your needs — just yours — and by that, something different.

Let me say it with my friend Martin’s words:

I reinvent the wheel, because mine is rounder.

If you want more reasons, you can read Reinvent the Wheel Often by Jason P Sage from the great book 97 things every programmer should know.


(2) “But what is this good for?”

Some side projects are general-purpose or abstract. In that case people often question their purpose.

The same problem applies to research… e.g. in the field of theoretical computer science. If you are nasty, you can say that those projects lack reality respect.

But who says that everything has do be useful? Some software is more like art or a flower. Not useful. Just beautiful.

And don’t forget that a thing in development serves other purposes than a finished product. More on that later…


(3) “But can you earn money with that?”

Image from foreverjobless.com

My wife and I have day jobs that pay the bills. I do not need any of my side projects to earn a single cent!

It’s sometimes entertaining how everybody dreams to invent that next cash cow and earn a golden nose.

When you don’t have to earn money with your products, suddenly you can follow interesting ideas that would never pay for themselves.


(4) “But when will that be finished?”

http://www.commitstrip.com/en/2014/02/18/side-project-cycles/

Completing things is a topic on it’s own! (More on that in another story…)

What many people don’t understand: Very often, side projects are not about finishing things!

Some exceptions: When I developed my app Kanban Bubbles, the main goal was to learn how to publish an app. So I reduced the scope and went for a minimal thing. When I developed my website Take-Home-Message.de, I wanted to share my favorite quotes with the world. These projects were about completion and delivering.

But the vast majority of projects is not like that. We want to…

  1. have fun.
  2. challenge our brain.
  3. be creative.
  4. learn something new.
  5. experiment and play around.
  6. have a nice evening.
  7. just do it.

We are developers. Our stuff is in development.

As soon as these projects have served their purpose, they land in the garbage. And I am not ashamed to admit that! ;-)

I like the website of Sacha Greif, because it has a project graveyard section. I’ve never seen that before. That’s the true spirit! Projects come. Projects go. Accept that and embrace transience.


That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Don’t let anyone stop you and your side projects, have fun and keep up the good work!

If you liked this post, you will also like that one:

Update: I just found this reply in the referrer list and want to share it.