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The secret art of coming up with side project ideas - Brock's Bytes Issue #13

Brock Herion
Brock Herion
Hey there! In this issue, I’m going to be discussing how to come up with side project ideas and how to execute them. Side projects are a great way to learn new technologies, build products, solve problems, and so much more!
So sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy!

What is your goal? 🤔
When you want to build a side project, the thing you need to figure out is why want to create a side project in the first place. Are you trying to learn a new technology? Are you solving a problem in your workflow? Do you want to build a product that you think would be cool? Your overall goal for the project will help dictate what you should build.
Your goal will help give you some kind of direction when you start generating ideas.
Generating ideas 💡
This is the hard part. How do you go about creating ideas for things to build? When I’m generating ideas, I like to use pen and paper to quickly write things down that pop into my head. I can then later refactor those ideas into a list in some kind of digital tool. I like using Notion as a way to manage and organize all of my ideas for projects.
When it comes to actual project ideas, there are a number of things ways ideas can come to you. It might seem slow at first, especially when you’re just starting out. That’s absolutely okay!
Some of the big areas I like to look for ideas at are
  1. Things I like or am interested in. For example, I used to play a lot of Rainbow Six Seige. To help me with deciding on what operator to play, I built a Discord bot that would choose for me. It was never production-ready by any means, but I learned a lot from building that project. I also did a project for Dark Souls, where I scraped their wikis for weapon and spell information.
  2. Within communities that you’re in. There’s a good chance you have expertise or knowledge in some kind of group or community. There’s also a good chance that there is some issue within that community looking to be solved. For example, I’m very active on Twitter and hate the way it handles bookmarks. I know others are also frustrated with how their system works. This gave me the idea for Chirpmark, which will give users far more control over how they manage their bookmarks.
  3. Looking at other projects. There are so many cool things on GitHub that you can look through if you need inspiration. From personal websites to npm packages to Minecraft mods, GitHub is full of amazing projects you can look through if you’re struggling to find ideas.
Again, brainstorming will seem slow to start but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. I used to really struggle with project ideas and now I’m struggling to keep up with all the little prototypes and PoCs I’ve started building!
Validating and building your ideas ✅
Once you have some ideas, you have to go back to your goal. Are you trying to learn a new programming language or technology? Maybe you want to go with a side project around something you’re super into! My Rainbow Six Seige bot was a chance for me to learn and do a project in C# and learn more about how Discord bots work. And my Dark Souls scrapper was a chance to learn how to use Python and go deeper into scraping websites. These don’t need much validation, as you are doing these to learn and better yourself.
On the flip side, if you’re goal is to solve a problem or start a business, picking a new tool or technology is probably not the best idea. You want to use something you’re more familiar with so you can get something out faster. With these projects, you want to make sure the issue is actually an issue. With Chirpmark, I talked to a few creators through direct message and interacted with others who had the same gripes. While my target audience may be small for this project, I know there is an audience who would use the product. There’s no worse feeling than building a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist.
I do wanna point out that you can do both. You can build a project that both helps you learn and solves a problem. This was how I started when I first began building web apps. I will caution you though that this can be a bit overwhelming. Trying to learn a new technology while also trying to build a product is not easy. It’s doable, but not easy. If you want to learn something, start small and build something that you find fun or interesting.
You got this 🚀
When you sit down to build a side project, your goal should drive what you do. Start writing all of your ideas out and get them on paper. You can always go back through and refine later. See which ones would be the best for helping you achieve your goal. Then, just start building it. It doesn’t need to be perfect or revolutionary so long as you are fulfilling your goal with it. And the more you do this process, the faster you will be at finding problems to solve!
Side projects really are a positive feedback loop. The more you do of this, the better you’ll get at software development. You also get better at identifying opportunities for building different projects. These two things go together unbelievably well. The faster you can build projects, the more value you create, either in learning for yourself or in a tool for others. And the faster you can come up with project ideas, the faster you can iterate on them.
It takes time and it takes practice. You’ll feel slow for a while and will get frustrated. Be patient with yourself. Slow and steady progress will pay off in dividends for you. Keep practicing and keep moving forward.
Happy coding everybody
- Brock
Thanks for reading!
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brockherion is Creating content around programming and software development
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Brock Herion
Brock Herion @brockherion

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