Why your side projects suck. I’ve done a few hires lately… | by Leo Liou | Jul 2022
I’ve been hiring lately and the moment of cringe when I look at some people’s side projects on their resume is enough for me to trash their resume. Some side projects are so bad 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 the disclaimer, this does not apply to people who are just doing side projects to pass the time and have fun. Just make sure those shitty side projects don’t end up on your resume, or I’ll blacklist your name from applying to my company, LOL. Show me something different. I’m sick of seeing Netflix clone, Covid tracking app, web scraper, WhatsApp clone, on your resume. Just show me something different, unique and creative. It’s like walking up to Rihanna and saying, “Hello babe, I really like you, let’s go on a date.” Yes indeed! you’re probably the 7 millionth guy to say that.
Why the standards have changed
Don’t be fooled by the name, “side project”, especially when trying to stand out. See, 10 years ago there weren’t a ton of tutorials on YouTube that spoon-fed how to build your favorite app. Standards were low at that time. If you showed potential employers your WhatsApp clone project or maybe your Facebook clone MVP, that might have gotten you hired. We live in a time where several videos on how to make 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 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 resume says nothing about your skills or commitment. You have simply followed a tutorial which has been watched by millions of people. Maybe you even copied the source code from the creator’s GitHub page and went through the whole free course without writing much code.
Types of Software Projects (From a Business Perspective)
I will break down software projects into two different types: “product applications” and “service applications”. The vast majority of web apps are “service apps”, not “product apps”, let me explain. The Amazon.com website is not the product, but rather a service to facilitate online shopping as well as to process orders. The website itself is useless without anyone selling it. Netflix is useless without new movies and TV shows constantly arriving. Twitter and Facebook are useless if everyone you know leaves the platforms. Uber is useless if there are no live drivers. These service applications depend on the presence of users in the real world for them to be useful. The second type of software projects are product applications. Think 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 performs no better than one with a thousand users. Of course, more people are using it because of the amount of free tutorials you could get or maybe job prospects. However, the product itself is not fully valued according to its users. These types of products are much more difficult to build and finding tutorials on how to build them will be next to impossible. In most cases, you can learn how to create a mini Twitter clone, Uber clone, Amazon clone, etc. Good luck finding a tutorial on how to create an “After Effect” clone or a digital audio workstation like “Ableton”. You wouldn’t even find a clone of the most minimalist features. You will need to read academic papers to gain serious knowledge about how the most basic features of product applications 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 create a side project, especially a “service application” like Amazon.com, etc., you need to create a project that has users for it to stand out. Rather than creating another Netflix clone from a tutorial you followed, why not create a video streaming app to stream short indie movies? In fact, you can be more specific; Say you live in India, you can create a movie app like Netflix where people can login and watch low budget Indian drama movies. You’ll approach these filmmakers, discuss your rates with them, look at different ways to monetize this platform, get different types of data from real users of your app, and analyze that data. Even if you end up not profiting from this project, it would be a real-world experience rather than just creating a clone of an app that millions of people around the world are building and then dumping the code on GitHub. Now you want me to hire you when your code on GitHub looks so much like the person who made the tutorial? SMH.
If you create an application based on a product, you must find few users who use it for their work and also pay for it. For example, you have decided to create your own video editing application for mobile devices. Find a few professionals who are not only willing to use your software, but also pay for it. While using your application for their work, they would find a weakness in your application workflow/pipeline and it would be up to you to improve that. Also have a showcase of videos made using your app. You could go crazy and add VFX functionality to your product. See if this is something your users would want. Perform analysis, do market research, get user feedback and have a roadmap for your project. I would like to see all of this on your CV, if you plan to include a side project.
For me, I like to see a very complex project that you have worked on. That means more to me than a million junk clone apps from YouTube tutorials. I’m not impressed if you can complete 30 tutorials and copy the code the instructor asked you to copy. The industry is saturated with low quality newbies, lots of them. To stand out and get a job or even turn your side project into a startup, you have to do something different. When reading CVs, I will probably only check 1 or 2 of your projects. If they’re both simplistic garbage, then I’ll assume the others are like that. and…… Bingo! your CV has now been swallowed by my trash.