The meme that advises us to do what we love and pursue careers we’re passionate about contains a kernel of truth. It would be wonderful if we could get up every morning excited about the day’s work because we intend to spend the next few hours doing what we love. But however much we love to design or code or write, the bottom line looms large over our days. We work to earn money and to make our employers and clients happy. We can’t always do what we’re passionate about.
And so many web designers and developers embark on side projects, projects that hone the skills they use during the work day without the burdensome financial motivation or the need to conform to the technological constraints of their company or the aesthetic constraints of their clients. Side projects can be exploratory, challenging, playful, and educational.
Side projects can also make money, even if that isn’t their primary motivation. Some embark on side projects to fashion an escape hatch out of the daily grind, but if a side project isn’t a labor of love, its success is likely to return you to the life you just escaped. But for some of us, building a successful business is where the excitement lies, and a side project offers the first foothold on a climb to independence and entrepreneurial success.
Nevertheless, one of the attractions of a side project is the opportunity to play, and because we learn by playing, to develop new skills. You might choose to build your side project in a programming language or framework you don’t have the chance to explore during regular hours. You might traverse design possibilities beyond the narrow landscape your clients would endorse. Or you might migrate out of your comfort zone altogether and launch a podcast, write a book, or blog.
A well-chosen side project can expand your personal horizons, but your work life benefits too. Designers and developers are expected to present diverse portfolios that showcase their capabilities. Although you can create content just for your portfolio, a fully fledged application or well-trafficked blog is more impressive. Side projects provide the perfect opportunity to show what you can do while pushing the boundaries of your abilities.
A virtual private server makes an excellent foundation for any web-based side project. VPS hosting provides enough server resources and bandwidth to host moderately popular blogs and web applications. If your side project becomes more popular, it’s straightforward to increase the resources of your virtual private server or move to a more powerful dedicated server.