Side projects at work
or: how managers should learn to stop worrying and love those pets
We are not there yet, but my co-founder and I agree that if we ever get to the point of having employees in Saasform, not only we have nothing against having pet projects, but we’d encourage them. As developers we are naturally pushed towards regularly have side projects; it shows curiosity for the world around us.
I really think that side projects bring a lot of value to companies. Employees feel freer. There are times when, as an employee, you might lose interest in what your company does. It’s normal; your company goals might not align with your personal development wishes; the technology that one client wants to use is not your favorite one; or you just might prefer to do something that is not currently possible in your company; sometimes your role in the company does not allow you to develop much anymore. In this case, a pet project is perfect: it allows you to work at your own pace, on something that you like, and with a technology you love.
But it doesn’t end there. You learn a lot of things when you have a side project; it allows you to experiment with new techniques, test new technologies, get used to part of the stack you normally don’t use. It gives you a window into the alien world of project management and forces you to exit your comfort zone and to try to really understand user needs.
Of course, most of the side projects will never succeed, even if some will do particularly well. Many will never even be finished. It’s part of their nature. People lose interest in that particular topic, want to explore something else, experience a lack of time. It’s part of the curiosity that pushed us to start the side project, to move us towards something else. It’s perfectly normal, and it’s perfectly fine. The goal of a side project is not always to start a new job, but just to breathe fresh air. If you want to turn your side project into something more concrete, you need to put in a lot of extra work, not related to development. And the main point why you started a side project was to develop more.
Not allowing them is just so silly, not only because they don’t do any harm. Nor just because they bring a lot of value. But especially because it shows a control-freak attitude by the managers, which is super toxic. Preventing employees from having side projects is the perfect recipe for unhappy people in the company and, eventually, for people that leave the company.