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I am going to graduate from college with a diploma in May & I will be completing my last internship in April. I plan to start applying to full time jobs in a few weeks and I really want to stand out. Moreover, I know I will not get a job right away but I do want to utilize that time to make myself stand out by working on some side projects.

How do side projects influence a hiring manager or interviewers decision? And if so, are there any specific kinds of side projects that have a bigger impact than others? Are there ways to leverage side project work in my favor during an interview?

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Are you asking what specifically you should do? Or more how to present information? It seems this question is pretty close to what you are asking right now. –  enderland Feb 27 at 14:17
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@enderland: That seems really close to what I am asking, thanks for the suggestion! :) –  user99244 Feb 27 at 14:29
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I'm not going to put this in an answer because it's just my opinion: The more industry related projects you can work on the better. Depending on where in the software industry you apply personal projects may count more or less, (smaller companies may be more receptive to personal projects and contributions to open source, from my experience anyways.). If you think you might not get a job right away, I'd also recommend looking into any other internships you can get, they can go a long way. –  user16070 Feb 27 at 23:14

5 Answers 5

In my personal experience, I've see resumes tossed because, while they said they had the skills, they didn't mention any projects or work experience that were related. I think the real value, from what I've seen, is when the skills can be linked to a project (on the cover letter or resume).

  • I know SQL. = uninterested manager and likely rejection.
  • I built a web based foobar. = uninterested manager and likely rejection.
  • I learned SQL through implementing the database behind a web based foobar = interested manager who will take the time to call you.

This is a side effect of having dozens if not hundreds of resumes per position left even after removing the ones that don't have the requested skills.

Of course, work experience (internships, previous jobs) is often as treated as worth more than a personal side project. Given that, side projects that strengthen skills you can't easily tie to work experience are probably more in your favor. Beyond this, side projects you see through to the end are rare and more valued than incomplete/abandoned projects (especially if you can demo them somehow).

So, to simplify, the answer is that they do have an impact when they are tied to the skills you claim to have, at least when the supply of developers is quite high and is in need of being cut down before even first round calls are done.

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Choose a project which you find interesting, and which you feel has a depth or complexity that you can explore. Finding it interesting is important because your passion is what will drive you to get it done, and it also means that you won't mind discussing it in detail in interviews. Depth and/or complexity is important because it gives you talking points on what decisions you made, why you made them, and what alternatives you considered. I would advise not doing your project in a largely known field unless you feel you really have something to contribute. You don't want the summary of your project to be "I dropped 3rd party libraries X, Y, and Z in and it worked well enough that I got bored".

Of course, if you know what field you plan to go into, target your project in that field. If you plan to go into speech research, try implementing a program to analyze incoming speech samples and categorize them before feeding them into a predictive algorithm to determine what the most likely possibility is. Probably goes without saying, but if you plan to head into the game development field, you really need a portfolio of work in game development. That said, anything which shows your ability to take on a goal and explore it intelligently will work for your situation.

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I am currently in web development and I plan to stay in this field only, I just want to brush up my skills and stand out by doing these side projects. You're right though. I would really think about some more complex side projects. –  user99244 Feb 27 at 14:02
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I will also point out that most business programming involves heavy database use. A personal project that shows you know how to deal with databases will make you stand out there since schools tend to do a lousy job of teaching databases. And if you have something that involves Big Data, that really makes you a standout. –  HLGEM Feb 27 at 14:30
    
HLGEM, I do have some experience with databases like MySQL but not Big Data but I surely try my hands on that. –  user99244 Feb 27 at 15:23

Side projects do influence the hiring process positively. The reason is that they show the developer in question does what they do because they enjoy it rather than do it just to get paid. If it doesn't show enthusiasm for work it at least shows drive and ability to contribute.

And in regards to how to choose a project and how each influences hiring managers; there are two routes to go down here. If you have the time you can even do both.

Open Source

Universities/colleges tend not prepare you for larger scale projects and things like version control so a great way to develop personally as a developer is to involve yourself in some open source project, either through SourceForge or GitHub for example.
This will do two things, it will teach you what most people learn on their first months in a job straight out of study, that's the two are nothing alike. As well as that it will show an employer that you can

  • work in a team as a developer & collaborate
  • deal with large scale projects (in terms of code base and contributors)
  • it will also go a bit further in showing that have capable development skills as they will be able to view your code independent of the interview

Personal Projects

Smaller personal projects are useful in showing you have drive and design skills. More importantly they will help you develop better design skills. If you plan to bring this code along to an interview bring design docs (UML for example).

Also for completeness of answer, for non web developers; if you want to improve your skills as a developer with personal projects attempt a simple compiler, there's mountains to be learned there about not only development but also your platform or if you are very adventurous a very simple OS. Both of these projects never need to be completed to learn a great deal from.

In addition

Do smaller exercises all the time, so as not to make the mistake many graduates do, if you can't think of any ideas Project Euler has plenty.

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Not sure why this was downvoted. Seems petty. +1 from me. Actually the best one here. Not how I would have worded it, but I find it helpful enough. –  haylem Feb 27 at 17:17
    
suggestions? Also down vote explanation please? –  Ross Drew Feb 27 at 22:07

Yes I think side projects can influence a hiring manager, especially if you don't have any other related experience on your resume.

In most cases, side projects are a good way to demonstrate your skills and what you're capable of. It also provides some talking points during the interview, where you can show that you really do know your stuff.

The actual type of side project probably doesn't matter. The key points you'll want to focus on is that its done well, ideally using whatever technology that the company is using, and that it demonstrates best practices and good design.

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I would also add that side projects can often be your only real source of "sample code" to show a potential employer. –  James Adam Feb 27 at 21:22

You should continue to intern and / or build real experience. Side projects and other small-time engagements count for very little on the resume. Of course, you do learn a lot from these side projects, and the actual results you get from your development improve, but employers are uninterested in such ephermia. (Employer's typical perspective: "You're better than you were before? That means I've been paying you too much all this time."

However, internships or small, paying gigs do seem to count for quite a bit. I owe my first real job to my first internship, and all my latter jobs to that job.

So my advice is not to work on side projects to advance your career, but to advance your skillset. In order to advance your career or, as you put it, really "stand out," you must have superior work experience to your competition.

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I actually have two internship experiences in addition to the present one. –  user99244 Feb 27 at 14:54
    
Start applying now, then. –  itcouldevenbeaboat Feb 27 at 15:03
    
I will. Gotta start some side projects as well. –  user99244 Feb 27 at 15:25
    
Well, that's the spirit! :) –  itcouldevenbeaboat Feb 27 at 16:01
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What big time project did you work on during your internship? –  JeffO Feb 28 at 0:54

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