When I was in school and starting my professional career in software development, I got advice from many people. Several of them suggested the same thing: "Build something!"
That piece of advice was not really needed: I was so excited about programming that I grabbed any opportunity to build and create new things with both hands. Websites, small applications, web apps for mobile... you name it.
It was something that I was (am) passionate about, and a great way not only to practice what I learned, but also to learn new technologies and languages that were not taught at school.
Later in interviews, I was able to talk about these projects to compensate for a lack of professional experience.
Fast forward 15 years.
Even though I have considerably slowed down (life happens), I still create new things and talk about these projects (past and present) in interviews if the opportunity arises. I still see the "Build something!" piece of advice everywhere... But something has changed.
I have been performing some interviews for technical positions lately, and one thing that has shocked me is how most interviewees didn't have any side/personal projects. Present or past.
Considering my past experience, the everlasting "Build something!" recommendation, and that many companies ask for a GitHub/code/portfolio sites as part of the application, it puzzled me that the candidates didn't have anything to talk about on this topic.
Notice that this lack of personal/side projects is not a disqualifying point in the hiring process. In addition, its concept goes beyond software development: woodworking, cross-stitching, even salsa dancing... almost any hobby that would require some learning/practice.
Wondering how others perceive a lack of side projects in interviews, I turned to Twitter:
The Twitter poll will close in a few hours, but the results so far are quite interesting: a majority of the answers (60%) consider that not having side/personal projects should not raise any type of flags when interviewing.
The listed for not having side projects range from different priorities (family first) to lack of time or ideas, to companies shouldn't own what developers do in their spare time...
Johnbo(y)@johnbojaen@alvaro_montoro Family time is precious. People can be ambitious, but if they lack of time they will probably prefer not to start new side projects.13:24 PM - 20 Jun 2019
Carlos Muñoz@cmunozrodriguez@alvaro_montoro That would be discrimination against something useless. Jobs don't own employee's free time. They should spend it as they want.16:01 PM - 20 Jun 2019
Ronald Diemicke@ronalddiemicke@alvaro_montoro People deserve to have lives that aren’t working. But I like people to have opinions on current goings on in the industry and around certain languages and technologies.04:41 AM - 21 Jun 2019
Others defended personal projects as something normal, even basic and important (especially at certain levels):
Cecelia Martinez@alvaro_montoro @StackRaftHQ I think it depends on the level. Junior dev with no experience should probably have projects outside of what was explicitly required in school/boot camp. If they've been working in the field though then it wouldn't be an issue at all.20:43 PM - 20 Jun 2019
Daniel 📎@alvaro_montoro @StackRaftHQ Regarding on the value towards the interview: I think it's valuable nonetheless, these projects outside of work (even if non-code related) build up ones' character. They can highlight what is important to us beyond delivering. Whether that's other people, or craft, or learning :)19:01 PM - 20 Jun 2019
Mike Kiser@_mikekiser@alvaro_montoro I’ve always had *something* that I’ve messed with that wasn’t my day job. Didn’t have to be on GitHub to be a real thing....14:41 PM - 20 Jun 2019
Both sides have valid points. So, why this big difference? Is there a disconnect between what the companies ask/expect and the candidates in this topic? Is time to move away from the old "Build something!" advice? Do different generations of developers have different expectations? What are your thoughts?