Why your side-projects suck
I have been doing some hiring lately and the cringe moment I get when I look at some people’s side projects on their CV is enough for me to put their CV in the trash. Some side projects are so bad that they can move the average man or woman to tears. In this article, I will tell you why your side projects suck and how you can make better and serious side projects. For disclaimer, this does not apply to those people who are just doing side projects to pass time and have fun. Just make sure those shitty side projects do not make it to your CV, otherwise I will black-list your name from applying to my company, LOL. Show me something different. I’m tired of seeing Netflix clone, Covid tracker app, web scraper, WhatsApp clone, on your CV. Just show me something different, unique and creative. It’s like walking up to Rihanna and saying, “Hello Beautiful, I really like you, let’s go on a date.” yeah right! you are probably the 7-millionth guy to say that.
Why the standards have changed
Do not be fooled by the name, “side project” especially when you are trying to stand out. You see, 10 years ago, there weren’t shit-ton of tutorials on YouTube that were spoon-feeding you on how to basically make your favourite app. The standards were low at that time. If you showed potential employers your WhatsApp clone project or maybe your facebook clone MVP, that could have gotten you hired. We live in a time where multiple videos on how to build Netflix clone, Twitter clone, Uber clone, etc are all over YouTube. The creators of these contents do not even ask for money in return, all they ask for is to like their videos. These videos get millions of views and are completed by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. Putting a Netflix clone project on your CV does not say anything about your skillset or commitment. You simply followed a tutorial that was watched by millions of people. Maybe you even copied the source code from the creator’s GitHub page and just browsed through the entire free course without writing much code.
Types of software project (From a business perspective)
I will break down software projects into two different types: “products apps” and “service apps” . The vast majority of web apps are “service apps”, not “products apps”, let me explain. Amazon.com website is not the product, but rather a service to facilitate stores online as well as process orders. The website on its own is useless without anyone selling on it. Netflix is useless without new movies and TV shows constantly coming in. Twitter and Facebook are useless if everyone you know leave the platforms. Uber is useless if there are no live drivers. These service apps depend on having real world users for them to be useful. The second kind of software projects are product apps. Think of apps like Photoshop, Ableton, Unreal Engine, After Effect, Tableau, Power BI, VLC player, iMovie, etc. These software are the products themselves. A Photoshop with a million users does not work better than one with a thousand users. Of course more people using it helps because of the amount of free tutorials you might get or perhaps the jobs prospects. However, the product itself is not entirely valued based on its users. These types of products are much more difficult to build and finding tutorials on how to build them will be nearly impossible. In most cases, you can learn how to build a mini Twitter clone, Uber clone, Amazon clone, etc. Good luck finding a tutorial on how to build a clone of “After Effect” or a Digital Audio Workstations like “Ableton”. You would not even find a clone of the most minimalistic features. You will have to read Academic papers to get any serious knowledge on how the most basic features of product apps work.
How to build a proper side project like a pro
I mentioned the 2 types of software products above, for a reason. When you want to build a side project, especially a “service application” like Amazon.com, etc. You have to build a project that has users for it to stand out. Rather than build another Netflix clone from a tutorial you followed, why not build a video streaming app to stream short indie movies? In fact, you can be more specific; Let’s say you live in India, you can build a movie app like Netflix where people can login and watch low budget Indian drama movies. You will approach these film-makers, discuss your pricing with them, look at different ways to monetise that platform, get different kinds of data from real world users of your app and analyse that data. Even if you end up not making profit from this project, this would be a real world experience rather than just making some clone of some app that millions of people all over the world are making and then dumping the code on GitHub. Now you want me to hire you when your code on GitHub has so much similarity with the person who made the tutorial? SMH.
If you are building a product based application, then you need to find few users who are using it for their work and who are also paying for it. For example, you have decided to build your own video editing application for mobile devices. Find few professionals that are not only willing to use your software, but also to pay for them. While using your app for their work, they would find weakness in your application workflow/pipeline and it would be left to you to improve on that. Also have a show-case of videos that were made using your app. You could go crazy and add some VFX features to your product. See if that is something your users would want. Carry out analysis, do market research, get feedback from users and have a road map for your project. I would want to see all of these in your CV, if you are going to include a side project.
For me, I like to see one very complex project you have worked on. That means more to me than a million garbage clone apps from YouTube tutorials. I am not impressed if you can finish 30 tutorials and copy the code the instructor asked you to copy. The industry is saturated with sub-par beginners, lots of them. For you to stand out and get a job or even or even turning your side project into a startup, you must do something different. When reading CVs, I will probably only check one or 2 of your projects. If they are both simplistic garbage, then I will assume the others are just like that. and…… Bingo! your CV has now been swallowed by my recycle bin.