Pet projects: why are they needed, and is it worth spending time on it in 2020 + survey

Personal projects for developers and engineers are an important and interesting topic. There are many references on the Internet of how such projects lead to large-scale achievements – this was the case of the Nobel laureates in physics Andrei Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, whose experiment originally took place on Friday evening, when scientists traditionally tested various crazy ideas at first glance.

Many companies are also trying to incentivize employee engagement – Google had a 20% rule that led to birth Gmail, AdSense and Google News, and Twitter engineers received a week free from usual duties for experiments. Why go far – we recently did webinar with Android developer Dmitry Ryazantsev (here is his article about working at Toptal) – the Draw and Ride game he launched was downloaded 250,000 times, and it began as a pet project.

Sounds inspiring, but how relevant is the pet projects approach at the end of 2020? Do engineers still consider the existence of such projects important for themselves and professional development? What problems do those who deal with them face? In a new article, we decided to find answers to these questions.

Why pet projects are needed: the pros

There are a number of arguments that proponents of personal hobby projects always give. Here are the main ones.

Pet projects are fun and grow

London-based developer Channa Jayamuni in his article on LinkedIn describes the benefits of pet projects as follows:

Software development is by no means the most exciting profession until you are given the opportunity to work on your favorite tasks. Unless you work for Google or a similarly advanced company with interesting projects and low stress levels, then it is unlikely that your job consists entirely of such tasks. In most cases, a developer can expect to have a mixture of dull routine and relatively decent tasks. Not everyone is lucky enough to work with the latest technology in professional environments to stay on the cutting edge of the industry simply by performing job duties.

According to the engineer, it is the development of their own projects in their free time that helps to solve these problems in the best way.

Personal projects help you find the best job

Many managers explicitly state that having a portfolio of their own projects from an engineer is one of the key points when hiring.

For example, Ayende Rahien, director of the RAVENDB open source NoSQL database development company He speaks that when looking for developers looks at the presence of passion for work. According to the top manager, specialists who cannot find time to develop their own projects do not have such a passion, they are not going to go beyond their work responsibilities. Hiring these developers on a small team may not be the best idea.

Do you want to find a job where the skills gained during the launch of pet projects will be useful? Use our bot @g_jobbot… It is simple and quick to set up: you need to specify your area and technology stack, desired salary, location or “relocation”. The options that suit you will be sent to Telegram.


Companies benefit from stimulating employee experimentation

Mike Miller is Engineering Manager at Bloomberg LP and considersthat companies should formally allow top talent to develop their projects during business hours, and that such an approach can be a separate HR bonus for talented workers:

Your job is to make these top employees as happy as possible. You never know what will happen if you allow a talented person to develop their passion. This is likely to open up a new superstar. It is clear that the opportunity to officially develop their projects must be earned. If you can barely cope with your immediate responsibilities, then what kind of pet projects can we talk about?

What could go wrong

Despite the obvious advantages, there are a number of difficulties when working on additional projects outside of work. Somebody calls these difficulties are myths, like Twitter engineer Annelle De Jager. However, this is what the list looks like:

Lack of time

Writing code is a creative job that requires a significant amount of effort. Engineers just need to rest, plus no one canceled household chores, communication with friends and relatives. In such conditions, it is quite difficult to find time for pet projects.

Relationships with friends and family

The point partially follows from the previous one. If a person has family and friends, and at some moments he makes a choice not in their favor, but in favor of writing code – in addition to work! – but for which he will not even be paid with a high probability – it can look strange and even cause resentment.

Negative emotions in case of project failure

Like any start-up, a pet project may not “fly”, or a specialist may be carried away by another technology and want to try to do something using it. In this case, the current project will have to be abandoned or killed, it can be psychologically difficult. The situation is aggravated if the project has already attracted the first users, then the failure becomes public. Not everyone needs such a negative, in addition to difficulties in their main job.

The bottom line: some statistics and a survey

We decided to clarify the attitude of developers to pet projects in the current remote conditions and global pandemic. Therefore, we interviewed familiar engineers from companies such as Gett, Kaspersky Lab, Uber, Smartcat and others and asked them questions about whether they are developing pet projects and what difficulties they face in doing so. Here are the main findings from the survey:

  • Engineers love doing their projects… We interviewed a couple of dozen people, and only four of them said that they do not conduct any hobby projects from automating their own work tasks to telegram bots and robotics.
  • Studying new technologies is one of the main priorities… The most common answer to the question “Why?” is the study of new technologies and professional development.
  • Additional income is an important incentive… Half of the respondents said they are seriously considering or thinking about starting to make money on their pet projects.
  • The most important thing is pleasure… Engineers want to enjoy their work, and pet projects give them that.


Do you run pet projects? If so, why? Take part in our survey – we will collect the preferences of the Habr audience, update the statistics in the post and make graphs of the preferences of Russian-speaking engineers!

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