You Dont Need a Side Hustle

in  Opinion  

I’m a member of several popular software developer communities, mostly to stay current on the infinite deluge of Javascript frameworks and dank memes. Lately, I’ve noticed a concerning trend in all of these groups. There’s this idea that the only way to “Level Up” as a developer is to work on side projects.

It’s a story seen every day on Indie Hackers, Hacker News, or “How I bootstrapped my startup to earning an extra 200k/month by Making an API to Sell Blockchain Backed Widgets”. This might be a bit of a snarky example of a headline but I assure you many of the tropes used are found in success story headlines. These click-baity titles are peer pressuring developers into believing that it’s necessary to have a side hustle or a SaaS project. I’m here to tell you that this notion is 100% false! Let’s dig in.

You’re Not a Failure

Let’s not mince words, I believe that working on side projects can be massively beneficial to your life and your career. It’s undeniable that gaining experience or additional income (or possibly a new job for that matter) can improve the quality of life. I have a few side projects that I’m working on when I have the time and energy. However, they aren’t my top priority given little free time available to me. One might look at these incomplete side projects as a failure and me as an unmotivated dev, but I view them as a victory. I was able to look at my life and prioritize whats most important. An API to do spelling/grammar checking or the next Soundcloud might be alluring but focusing on family and loved ones, personal health, and music surfaced as more important to my life.

When I first decided to shelve these projects, I felt a sense of shame. As if my ego as a developer is measured solely by how much income I earn out of work or by how big my blogs email list is. Happily zero, by the way. This is a common misconception that I found myself returning to constantly during times of doubt. This is the exact shame that I hope to address here. I have many examples to the contrary and you do as well. Most of my current and former coworkers don’t do any extra coding beyond what they do for work. I consider them massively successful and exemplary for my own career path. How then can I feel guilty for not putting in extra hours beyond 9 to 5?

You don’t need to feel pressured

Many of the people reading this might not feel this pressure directly – especially if you’re an established developer years into your career. Those most at risk for harm from this false notion are those just getting started. When I was a fresh-faced recruit from college, I had no experience or self-worth in the field. Immediately after school, I hadn’t gotten a job offer and I didn’t have numerous Github contributions under my belt. Put simply, I was in the majority of the developers coming out of University or education.

Removing Barriers to Entry for Newcomers

Anything that acts as a barrier to entry or a rite of passage for entering the software field should be handled with extreme prejudice. The software industry is one plagued with diversity problems that won’t be discussed mo this particular post. More on that later, Promise! If you’re starting out, why make life harder than it needs to be? If you’re an ally to diversity or a senior hoping to mentor newbies, don’t expound or pontificate about your side hustle. They’ve got enough to worry about without having to also create a job in their free time.

You’re going to do it anyway…

My real hope from this was not to discourage those who feel compelled to delve into projects outside of work. Seriously, I love that I work in an industry with so many self-motivated individuals of many backgrounds. I’d hate to see Juniors, Interns, or newcomers feel ostracized or to deepen Imposter Syndrome. The same goes for all levels of experience or skill. There is much that can be gained from building in your off time, but this shouldn’t come at the cost of your sanity or health. It, by no means, should become the norm. We all put in our time each day, some more than others. That being said, if you’re going to work on side projects, do it for the right reasons.

tl;dr - You don’t need to hack on projects on the side to be a great developer.