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In Praise of Side Projects

In Praise of Side Projects

Presented at the London IA event in January 2012


Alexander Baxevanis

January 19, 2012

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  1. SID EPR OJE CTS WORK I’m addicted to side projects.

    A couple of days ago I tried to make a list, so here’s the major ones I could remember - let’s start from the unfinished ones:
  2. I’m trying to finish an iPad app - can’t say

    much more about what it’s all about I’m afraid, except that it’s something to do with UX work
  3. I’m trying to use an Arduino and some LED displays

    to build some kind of network- connected dashboard for the office.
  4. + I’m trying to figure out a way to put

    an Arduino inside my bicycle - no idea what to do with it yet, but it sounds interesting!
  5. http://www.flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/3122790831/ I’m trying to come up with a way to

    create a network of urban sensors where people can measure things like noise and air pollution in their neighbourhood
  6. I’m trying to edit a film I shot over the

    holidays - well actually that’s an excuse for learning Final Cut Pro
  7. Last week I went to a short film festival and

    picked up a challenge to make another film, with a team of people I’d never met before that day.
  8. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ilike/3707503212/ It’s not all half-done projects, however. There’s been at

    least 2 projects in the last couple of years that I managed to take from start to finish.
  9. I managed to build myself a bicycle almost from scratch

    - taking an old bike that was meant to go to the skip, stripping it down, having it resprayed and fitting in brand new components.
  10. Anyway, like people with an addiction are supposed to do,

    I went to talk to my therapist. And my therapist told me that it might help if I talk about my addiction to other people.
  11. Unfortunately, there were no results, but since Google knows what

    we all want, it had a good suggestion for me. So here I am to talk about side projects.
  12. Photo: Wikipedia Before I came here, I thought I’d do

    some research, and find out what other side projects people had.
  13. This little chip, called the 6502, sparked the home computer

    revolution. It was used in all sorts of computers including the now famous Apple computers, the BBC Micro, the Atari 2600 and the Commodore 64. Yet it started as a side project who thought they could produce a better and cheaper design than what their company was planning to.
  14. “... I designed two computers and cassette tape interfaces and

    printer interfaces and serial ports and I wrote a Basic and all this application software, I wrote demos, and I did all this moonlighting, all in a year ...” Steve Wozniak, interviewed for the “Founders at Work” book by Jessica Livingston Speaking of Apple Computer ... the co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, was working for HP at the time and saw this as a side project - in fact he was so proud that he could keep doing it as a side project that it took a while to convince him to quit his job and work exclusively with Apple. Fast forward a few years - the world wide web itself was the result of a side project that probably went much further than the original aspirations of its creator. Here’s what Tim Berners-Lee said in an interview when asked about his work on the WWW while he was at CERN.
  15. “... It was definitely done on the side. I was

    building a vacuum control system or a vacuum control state visualization program or something. So yes. Enquire [a predecessor system to the WWW] was a side project, done out of fun, to play a little bit with being able to store random associations ...” Sir Timothy Berners-Lee I can’t guarantee that your side project will get you all rich and famous - but it’s worth a try. In any case - my only claim to fame is a mention of my name in the Evening Standard.
  16. So obviously, I don’t really do this for the fame.

    So why do I get my fingers in all these side projects?
  17. Learning becomes more meaningful when the lessons are applied to

    real-life situations. People learn best when they participate in activities that are perceived to be useful in real life and are culturally relevant. Learning How children learn - Stella Vosniadou (UNESCO International Bureau of Education) My main motivation is very simple: Learning There’s plenty of evidence out there that you learn best when you’ve got something to apply your learning to.
  18. So please, if you want to learn something please don’t

    rush and buy a book like that. Find a project you want to work on instead, try to start working on it, and decide what you need to learn as you go along. I can guarantee you’ll learn much more than just following along the examples in a book, because you’ll have a personal interest in the outcome. But what if you really don’t know where to start?
  19. http://www.flickr.com/photos/folkbird/203675759/ One answer is to find somebody else to help

    you with your side project. There’s the old image of people spending lonely hours in their garden shed tinkering along in their side projects. I think this is doesn’t have to be the case. I’ve found that turning your side project into a team endeavour makes it much more likely that you’ll end up completing it.
  20. http://www.flickr.com/photos/maistora/3237164755/ People are sometimes reluctant to share their side projects

    - and I’m no exception. Sometimes we think we have this fantastic idea, and by doing it all by ourselves we deserve more credit than if we were to share it with other people. However, ideas are nothing without execution. So rather than having your ideas fade behind closed doors - try to share them and see where they get to.
  21. Naturally, when it comes to finding a partner in crime,

    a lot of us might think of turning to people who have similar skills to us, somebody who we think might understand more about what we’re after. That’s fine if all you want is more firepower to help you with a specific task ...
  22. http://www.flickr.com/photos/horiavarlan/4273913228/ ... but what I think is even more useful

    is trying to find people that have skills complementary to yours. Where do you find such people?
  23. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jemimus/89321012/ You’re probably thinking, isn’t this what the Internet was

    made for? Sure, that’s definitely got a big role to play, but I think there’s still scope for having physical spaces for idea exchange and collaboration
  24. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dekstop/6147160500/ This is one of them, called the London Hackspace,

    and it’s part of a network of spaces where people come to tinker with stuff, share tools and ideas and, quite frequently, find other people to start side projects with. A lot of their projects tend to have a physical element to them, but I think there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a space and meet up with people to work projects that are purely online. Well, the only reason is that nobody seems to have invented such a space.
  25. http://www.flickr.com/photos/altemark/337248947/ Once you get out of the trap of keeping

    it secret, there’s usually an urge to start talking about your side project to everyone you know. That’s a good thing - it means when you’re on the brink of abandoning something, a friend will come back and say “Hey Alex, what happened with this app you said you were working on?” and that can help you keep you going. Or they might find out and forward to you something that’s of interest to your side project, which ends up being very helpful.
  26. http://www.flickr.com/photos/samhames/5033243104/ The other thing that can help you going, of

    which I’m also guilty of not doing very well, is documentation. By which I mean keeping a record of where you are with your project, what you’ve done so far, and what you’d like to do next. Actually the word ‘documentation’ sounds a bit onerous.
  27. http://www.flickr.com/photos/nomsaleena/2446396357/ How about we call it a project diary or

    a logbook instead? (maybe not so tiny like this one, but you get the point) What’s the benefit of all that? Most side projects tend to take a long time, with a lot of breaks in-between. And it’s much easier to come back after a break if you’ve documented where you’ve left your project. Or, it’s much easier for someone else to pick it up.
  28. You see, a lot of the side projects I’ve had

    have been somehow inspired or helped by other people’s side projects. So get your documentation out there, put it online, make a video, post some photos, whatever might help not just you but someone else to continue your side project.
  29. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jonasb/2751113526/ Does your project have to be complete or even

    successful in order to be published? Not at all. What you think might be an insignificant amount of progress might spark somebody else’s imagination. And publishing your failures might mean that other people can be steered away from failing in the same way.
  30. And what if you do start looking online, and find

    that somebody else has the same or similar side project to yours? That’s one of the things that often makes me wonder if it’s worth going ahead, when “it’s been done before”, when “somebody else has been there first”. Then I remember what led me to having all these side projects in the first place: LEARNING And I know that whatever I make won’t just be a copy of somebody else’s project, it will be my project. Oh well, I guess that explains how I ended up having so many side projects.
  31. ☑Present at London IA At least I’ve managed to tick

    off one of my side projects from my list, so thanks a lot for coming here and helping me do that.
  32. The Rules of Side Projects • Find something you want

    to learn • Find a partner in crime • Shout about your projects • Keep track of where you are • Don’t get disappointed easily • SUCCESS!* *Your project will either finish, get abandoned, or morph into something else I’ll leave you with my summary 5 rules for successful side projects
  33. Thank you! Alexander Baxevanis UX Designer at Webcredible @futureshape -

    http://futureshape.net/ Thanks a lot, and I’m happy to take any questions or any proposals for side projects, although I cannot be held responsible for any subsequent addiction.