I’m a big fan of side projects. In addition to being an engineer at Jellyvision from 9-5, I have a variety of personal open source projects that I maintain. My GitHub projects are just a hobby; I’ve never made any money from them, and I don’t intend to do so in the future. That’s not the point for me—I see them as art projects disguised as software. They serve as a test bed for ideas that I want to try without the constraints of product requirements or deadlines. Incidentally, I often get to apply what I’ve learned from them to the work I do at Jellyvision. Added bonus: Since these projects are shared freely on GitHub, they’re open to being accidentally useful to random people on the internet. And as you can see from some of my projects’ stars and issue history, they have been!

One side project that I’m really excited about is Stylie, a graphical animation tool. It’s different from any type of project I’ve worked on in a day job setting, and it’s allowed me to both scratch a creative itch (empowering animators) and hone my JavaScript and CSS skills. I’ve learned a lot from my technical experimentation with Stylie, and that’s allowed me to come up with effective solutions to problems at Jellyvision faster than I would have otherwise.

At Jellyvision, we don’t require engineers or potential hires to have side projects or contribute to open source. Not everyone has the time or resources for it, or they just don’t have the interest. Contributing to open source isn’t what makes an engineer great — being a great engineer is what makes an engineer great. With that said, open source projects are often a good way to practice and get better at being an engineer. (They’re also nice to have on your résumé, of course, but they’re not a replacement for things like good testing habits, solid communication skills, and the ability to solve hard problems.)

I love working on open source projects, and so do a lot of other developers. But it’s not for everyone. Find whatever hobby helps you explore your creative ideas, whether it involves computers or not. Having a healthy balance between shipping and experimenting makes for the best engineers, no matter what form the creative exploration takes!

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