career projects

Published on May 13, 2020

“This project will help my career.” is not a good reason to explore an idea as a project.

I have been thinking a lot about what makes side projects successful. What is it that makes a particular application on Product Hunt popular? The answer is that those products are solving an issue that people have. The makers are building something that people want.

When you’re young, it can be tempting to work on projects for the purpose of career development. The idea being, of course, that the more projects you work on, the more impressive you can make yourself seem in your career.

If you want to build something, that is great. Go build that thing.

Don’t think about whether or not that project will help advance your career, because the best ideas you have may not fit into what you think is a good “resume builder” or “portfolio project.”

Lately I have been thinking about whether or not I should start a side project, and one thought came to mind as I was evaluating ideas: will this help me in my career?

The answer to that question is “yes” for every single idea that I had, because anything I build will be a net positive. Building is better than not building. But I let my mind talk me out of many great ideas, because they were not aligned with my longer-term thoughts on careers.

The best heuristic you can use to come up with project ideas is to make something that solves a problem you have. If you are encountering a problem, it’s likely that someone else, somewhere in the world, is facing that same problem. Most problems are not unique.

Building side projects is a good way to build career capital. Projects show that you are a doer, not a talker. Projects allow you to reinforce your knowledge. But if you want to make the most of your project, you should be thinking about ideas that you want to pursue, not ideas that look good on a resume.

Build what interests you, rather than what feels “right” for your career.

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