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How to pick a side project for coding interviews

Having impressive side projects lets a recruiter know you are self motivated

Tldr; Building something in public, using modern technologies, that solves a real problem, will help you land more interviews

I’ve interviewed over 150 software engineers that are actively looking for jobs and only 34% of them were working on a side project. You should be working on a side project, especially if you are targeting intern, entry, or mid-level positions.

Big Disclaimer: I know not everyone has the bandwidth to work on side projects. This article is here to answer the most frequently asked questions for those of you that want to.

Why build a side project?

Show off your ability to be self-sufficient

Working on a project outside of work is a clear indicator that someone is capable of being self-directed. The last thing anyone wants is to hire someone that needs constant hand holding. To create a side project, you need to identify, plan and execute on an idea. These are all import skills to have at a job. Seeing a side project on your profile implies to a hiring manager that you’ll be self-sufficient after you are hired.

Indicate your are passionate about solving problems

You want to give off the energy that you love to code, even if you don’t. When someone spends their free time working on side projects, it implies that you enjoy doing it because you aren’t being paid. Hiring managers know that passionate people are a joy to work with and these people tend to go above and beyond the job requirements.

Boosts the resume

Ambitious side projects belong on your resume, especially if you don’t have professional software engineering experience yet. If you are just graduating a bootcamp or college, you should definitely have interesting side projects on your resume to help you standout from your classmates.

Helps with the behavioral

When I interviewed at FB, the majority of my behavioral interview was focused around one of my side projects. When speaking about a project you designed and executed on, you come off very confident and competent. Be sure to practice ahead of the actual interview

Helps you standout

As I stated above, most people don’t work on side projects. From my interviews, only 34% of people that are actively searching for jobs are working on side projects. Yet when I talk to hiring managers, they almost always mention that they look for side projects specifically.

If you are seriously looking for a new job and you have the time to spare, you should be working on a side project to increase the amount of interviews you get.

How to pick a great side project?

Solve a real problem

There is nothing impressive about building a website that tells you whether you should wear shorts based on the weather outside. (Sorry Bob). While that would be a great first side project, you should aim to have something more relevant when you are seriously looking for a job. You should be working on something that solves a problem in your or someone you knows life. It doesn’t have to actually be very valuable, but you should be able to tell a clear story around who this project will be helping.

Has a big vision

Whatever you decide to work on should have a big vision. The projects that excite others the most are those that solve a concrete problem today, with a simple story of how they can evolve into something huge down the road. This vision never needs to come to fruition, but you should sound convincing when you talk about where you want to take the project.

How to make your project exciting

Your project needs to look really nice at a birds eye view. A recruiter will click in, check out the read me and a few other stats, if they aren’t excited at that point, you missed your opportunity to impress them. Luckily, a little bit of effort will go a long way when it comes to marketing your project. Some simple things you can do to help your project standout:

Github Stars

Stars are a great indicator that other people find your project interesting. To get stars, reach out to your friends and communities and ask them to star it. Feel free to toss your project in the discord thread and people will star it. After that, share the project on places like Reddit to see if you can get some interest. The more stars the better, but you only really need around 10 for the project to be interesting.

Readme

Spend time on the readme, chances are this is where the recruiter will look first.

For an excellent readme example, checkout wasp!

Wasp’s Readme Header:

https://cdn.substack.com/image/fetch/w_1456,c_limit,f_auto,q_auto:good,fl_progressive:steep/https%3A%2F%2Fbucketeer-e05bbc84-baa3-437e-9518-adb32be77984.s3.amazonaws.com%2Fpublic%2Fimages%2Fc1719690-2131-44fb-83b1-d993cef786ba_1900x636.png

Here is a simple checklist of things you should do to improve your readme:

  1. Get a logo (Websites like Parade are free)
  2. Write a clear description
  3. Add badges (License, language, tests, etc)
  4. Have a CONTRIBUTING.md
  5. Talk about the problem being solved and the Big Vision in the readme

Build in public and commit daily

You should be building in public and committing daily. Committing daily will improve your Github activity section. For more on why and how to improve your Github, checkout this article.

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