The 30-Minute Project is a technique that helps developers to become better at their craft consistently, to stretch themselves and learn new things. The technique combines these four pillars that work together to help encourage daily progress:
- Don’t break the chain — Work on your side project every single day. “Don’t break the chain” of success.
- The Pomodoro Technique— Keep focused on one task for 1 Pomodoro.
- Development Journal— Keep a journal to track progress and have your goals top of mind.
- Goal Setting — Be specific and realistic about what you're trying to accomplish and learn.
In future blog posts, I’ll go over each of these key pieces in more detail and how they can be used together. You can also sign up for my newsletter to keep up to date on my writings, courses and tips (and there’s a free ebook on side projects as well).
I’ve always been fascinated by learning new technologies and seeing how they could be used in my day-to-day job. Throughout the span of my career, that’s always been constant — the desire to learn new things, whether they’re new technology stacks, new languages, new frameworks, new build or deployment techniques — you name it.
Throughout the course of my career, I’ve also moved up (and down) the leadership chain. Going from a junior developer to mid-level and senior developer, lead developer, team lead, engineering manager and finally director of engineering. Each role has come with its own set of challenges, but two things have remained true — I like to help those around me succeed, to get better, and I like to build software that people will use.
The pieces for 30-Minute Project started to come together around 2012. I had been doing professional web development for about 14 years, and I was having to face some personal harsh truths about myself. First, I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t 100% sure why. Second, I was shutting down the startup that I had been working on part-time for about 3 years again, partially, because I was unhappy doing it. Finally, I felt like I had no idea what I was supposed to do next.
For many years, I had bought into the whole mantra of “Follow Your Passion.” My passion at that time was Alternate Reality Games. It blended everything together that I loved — storytelling, software development and working for myself. Also, prior to this, I hadn’t actually finished or shipped anything. Now, I actually had two major products I had built and shipped. But I was still unhappy. Why?
I had just started reading “So Good They Can’t Ignore You," by Cal Newport. This book was eye opening to me; it railed against everything I had held true. Don’t follow your passion, it argued. Follow your craft instead. Well, I thought, it can’t hurt. I’m already unhappy with what I’m doing, so I might as well try something else that had worked for a lot of other people, especially those who had decided to “follow their passion” and gotten burned before. Newport argued that one needed to be deliberate in their craft in order to find true happiness, to be in charge of their own destiny, their career.
This was the true beginning of me trying to become a better software developer. Now, prior to this, I had taught myself everything I knew (Cold Fusion, Java, PHP, some when I didn’t even have a computer at home). But now I had a slightly different purpose. It wasn’t to just teach myself a specific technology, it was to get better at my chosen profession deliberately. How do you become a deliberate learner? What does that even mean?
In short, it means the following: you develop a clear vision for where you want to be in your career in, say 5 years, and then you work your way back to today. What is your plan, however general, to get from where you are now to where you want to be in 5 years? Now, this plan will likely change as time goes on, but the key thing here is trying to identify what you are aiming for first. Without a clear goal or vision, you don’t have any chance in figuring out what to do RIGHT NOW.
Once you have that plan in place, then you can start to move forward on it, make adjustments where needed, explore alternate paths, hit dead-ends, learn from your mistakes and get better.
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"The 30-Minute Project: How to improve Your Side Project Game to Become a Better Developer"
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