2009: Year of the Side Project

Photo by Hugo90 on Flickr used under Creative Commons

Photo by Hugo90 on Flickr used under Creative Commons

I started this post before the New Year, and it sat in drafts for a long time.

It was never meant to be a prediction post, so the title makes it feel a bit funny. Still, I kept it because this year, the side project seems more common than ever.

Maybe it’s a function of Portland or maybe a function of the geeky crowd with which I associate, but it seems like everyone has so many side projects, that you wonder about their front one (or ones).

As an example, Shizzow started out as a side project for a handful of good people I know here in Portland. They all had full-time gigs (some still do), and Shizzow was a pet project they hoped would take shape. It has (and is awesome), and having at least one side project seems to be the norm, not the exception.

Take my pal Rick, who has about 8,000 different ventures going at any given time, including the Silicon Florist, in addition to his family and his front project that pays the bills.

Rich, Paul and Matt are the same way. So am I.

Every time I go to a meetup (like BarCamp Portland last weekend), I chat with people about their side projects. We even had a meetup about how to bump your side project to a full-blown startup, aptly named From Side Project to Startup, and there are places like TechShop (now in Portland and Menlo Park) where you can work on those projects.

We all give 12+ hours to real work each day, then split the remaining hours between family and our side projects, with a sprinkling of recreation depending on the week. Oh, and sleep sometimes.

Didn’t used to be so common, from what I remember, or maybe I just didn’t notice.

I’ve seen this pay off for projects like Shizzow, but many really great ideas never get off the ground because of time constraints. Makes you wonder.

Used to be you had to sign an NDA before speaking in hushed tones about side projects, or maybe that was just in the Bay Area. Now, people don’t seem as guarded.

Is this a function of our geekiness, i.e. we like to create stuff and push boundaries and have technical savvy to do so? Does it matter where you live or what you do for a living? Are your side projects technical, or do you dabble in other pursuits for a change? Or both?

I’m guessing they’ve always been there, you know that thing you’d really like to do if you only had the time/money/both, but is it easier to make them reality now?

Interested to hear your thoughts, including your side projects, if you have any and want to share.




  1. Cool stuff. Located in Oregon?

    I don't know the official HR policy in so many words 🙂 My side projects aren't for pay either, just for personal edification, which makes them a bit different.

  2. Most of the team is in Portland (my home town, but I'm contracting at Oracle Japan now), so I was excited to see all your links to events and people in Portland, makes me want to go back… 🙂

    There is some entrepreneurial spirit in Japan, but it's a bit harder to find than in the US.

  3. Most companies I've worked for make you sign your intellectual property life away, don't know about Oracle, but it usually refers to whatever business the company is in. When I've been indie, I got much work where other people had kept ownership of modifications of third-party apps, and customers would prefer hiring me to do work that they could own over paying someone slimy to install something they had written for someone else. I never wanted to do a software side project 'cause I always had too many projects going as it was. Sometimes did fun stuff if a company supported it (like “where to go for lunch?” generators) but that kind of support was always rare. I don't consider usenet/oracle forums a side project, since it is so close to my vocation, but probably should. My rationalization is showing 🙂

    My side projects have tended to be explicitly non-software, usually automotive or real estate related. The latter has been a similar magnitude to 401K and similar investments, with about an order of magnitude better return (varying with the obvious economic vicissitudes, but % diff quite stable over 30 years). Cars are old depreciable things, do those only for love, not money, though some thought can save a lot of money, especially when someone else's love doesn't.

    Yes, I was a Corvette expert, though I've started to forget things since kids took priority. I have a big box of pix from my 35mm days I haven't scanned in yet. But I lost the one video of me racing, dammit, I noticed because that was the first thing I got off my butt to digitize. Prolly got put in a Barney box on “clean everything up the maids are coming” day and given to charity…

    (Haven't been to Michigan, though, so I probably don't know the car in your pic, though I have met a number of Corvette Engineers from there, who may. Corvetteomania is a fun obsession.)

  4. Yeah, I keep my side projects to stuff that I enjoy and won't conflict. Easier that way.

    I've always wanted to tinker with cars, not sure why. Probably the same thing about me that wants to solve problems with software. The same urge drives me to tinker around the house.

    I'm not a Corvette enthusiast, just really like the 50s models. Share those pics when you get them digitized.

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