I will soon have my masters degree in Computer Science and will start applying for jobs.

Recently I read an answer to a question about what companies expect from a fresh graduate, where someone said they expect the graduates to work on private projects to show the future employer you have a lot of passion in the field.

As a hiring manager myself, who has recently changed jobs that has me dealing with new graduates more than ever, I have found a few things that I expect.

  • I expect the new grad to have some experience. This doesn't necessarily mean that it has to be corporate or professional experience. I want to see that the grad has personal side projects of his own, that aren't related to school either. Ideally I would like to see code samples on something like GitHub as well.

During my studies at university we mostly worked on projects and I also did some internships, so I have enough projects to show on my CV.

Often, I would like to start my own projects, but the projects in University take a lot away from my free time so when I have a free evening or weekend I tend to do something completely unrelated to programming.

To sum it all up:

Do I need to have side projects or work related hobbies in order to show how much passion I have in the field when seeking an IT job as a new graduate?

  • @jmort253 Thanks for the idea. I started a Chatroom at chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/info/16295/gender-equality-in-it
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 7:21
  • 1
    Related question on Programmers.SE : Importance of hobby projects. I'm also a female 9-5 programmer with no hobby projects, so asked myself the same question a while back. Having any kind of relevant work or class experience is usually enough to give you a base for talking about during an interview, and I have no problem at all getting good job offers. :)
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 13:02
  • Hey @Rachel and Chris, as a courtesy I copy/pasted Rachel's latest comments to the chat room. I don't think you'll get any @username chat pings unless you post a message in the room. Hope this helps!
    – jmort253
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 14:58
  • 2
    Hi @Chris I've made an edit to your question which I hope will be enough to get it reopened. It seems like you had two questions mixed together here, so I removed the stuff related to the gender question and made it focus more on what appears to be the main question. The second question regarding if gender makes it harder probably deserves its own post, and I'm still not sure if it would be on-topic here. If I've changed your question too much, please feel free to rollback the changes or edit it further.
    – Rachel
    Commented Aug 8, 2014 at 16:43

10 Answers 10


Let me answer your question Do I need side projects? from the point of view of a development manager:

Be yourself! If you have the time to develop a github project or two, or write a tech blog, certainly do that. If you like reading tech books, subscribe to Safari Books and read some. If you like playing music or bicycle racing, do that! And don't hesitate to brag about it on your resume, whatever it is.

From my perspective as a supervisor, I look for people whose work shows thoughtfulness and integrity.

Think about these questions:

  • What was your most interesting project during your time in grad school?
  • Why was it interesting to you?
  • What did you learn from that project?
  • If you could do it again, what would you do differently?

Your answers to those questions will show that you care about your craft.

Take some time and care to work out your answers to those sorts of questions. Then your positive attitude toward your craft will show up on your resume and in your conversations. It will also show up in your work and your dreams, both of which are good things.

  • I'd like to flag this answer for deletion because the question has been edited pretty much beyond recognition.
    – O. Jones
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 15:09
  • 1
    @OllieJones I hope you'll reconsider. The majority of this answer addresses "do I need side projects", which is still there; it's just the gender part of the question that was removed. You've got some good advice here on the first and I'd hate to lose that. (BTW, normally an edit that affects existing answers wouldn't be allowed, but in the case of closed questions, if the only way to redeem the question is with such an edit we're more open to that.) Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 15:28
  • I've edited this answer to address the changes in the question. If you feel that further edits are needed, please feel free to make them. Sorry for the inconvenience. Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 19:42

Employers by and large understand that you don't have that much free time, a:) as a student and b:) as a CS student.

Don't get intimidated that others were coding before they were studying or that they were contributing to Open Source projects. Someone who taught themselves how to code early in life may have acquired some bad habits. And not all contributions to Open Source projects are substantial - a presenter told me about about an individual whose contribution amounted to editing spelling mistake in comments. It is quality that matters not quantity.

If you can show well architected, well written code from your school projects and your internships and you are able to explain exactly what this code does, then you are in good shape. If you are able to discuss knowledgeably how you tested it, then you are in better shape. And the more familiar and comfortable with github operations you are, then the better shape you are in.

Having participated in 42 hackathons since Jan 2013,I can spot a poseur pretty quickly. If you can convince an interviewer that you are for real within 30 seconds of opening your mouth, you don't have much to worry about.

As for having to show passion, I am skeptical about that. That's because I have cleaned up so many times after people who have lost their passion and I finished from where they left off and they walked away :)

Cautionary note:

Be extremely careful about starting side projects for the wrong reasons. And starting a side project simply because you want to show some recruiter or some hiring manager you don't know and don't care about - I'll definitely classify as starting a side project for the wrong reason.

It's not good or right to bust weekends and evenings working on something you don't care about. Your work will be neither satisfying nor satisfactory nor will you have much respect for it. And the quality of the work will send a poor message about you.

Have a side project about something that you really care about. I feel extremely strongly about human trafficking and I care very much about the availability of affordable housing in my beloved City of New York. The projects I work on are moonshots. If I succeed, I will be terrifically happy. If I fail, I fail and I couldn't care less if others think less of me for having failed and I hope that others can build on my failure. Our team was not a finalist at NYC BigApps 2014 Hackathon. But IBM was taken enough with our moonshot and the lengths we were going to to make that moonshot happen that they decided to give us post-hackathon backing.


It's well known that in any profession other than IT people won't even come near what they are doing professionally. Just ask the wives of professional plasterers how hard it is to get their husband doing any plastering in their own home, even when it's urgently needed. If a HR person asks you about side projects, ask them if they do any human resourcing in their free time, and they'll think you must be mad.

Remember that an interview is two-sided. The employer tries to figure out who they are going to employ, but you also try to figure out who you are working for. Do they really want to employ someone who thinks about nothing but computers? Do you really want to work for someone who thinks it is wrong to let's say invite your friends for dinner and spend six hours cooking (instead of sitting six hours in front of your computer and getting dinner from MacDonald's), or spend all weekend in your garden making sure you've got the prettiest roses in the street, or go to a concert or a football match, or heaven forbid spend some quality with your husband or wife and your kids, just because you work in IT?

  • Right. The attitude you describe is exploitative, and in some ways counter-productive.
    – Marcin
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 14:06
  • Please see edits to the question, which might affect your answer. (Please flag this comment as obsolete once you've seen it.) Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 22:11

Side projects are a great way to demonstrate to a potential employer that you actually know your stuff.

Don't think of them as side projects - think of it as a portfolio.

I'm sure you have classmates who have somehow managed to pass their degree without any discernible talent. As a hiring manager, how do I differentiate your CV from theirs?

Showing off side projects gives me the following assurances.

  • You know how to use Git / SVN. Sure, you may have done a module on it in class, but I want to know I'm not going to have to spend a week training you on that. A good GitHub history is a way to prove you know what you're doing.
  • How good a designer are you? Ok, you scored top marks at university for design, but is your homepage bright green comic sans - or something beautiful?
  • What is the quality of your code like? Is it a heap of spaghetti with no comments - or is it well structured?
  • Are you going to be a fun person to work with? This is contentious - but I'd rather see you've built a small project about your love of progressive metal than a weather widget written in COBOL!

I appreciate that you don't have much free time. I wouldn't suggest that you go all out and start building new projects just to get a foot in the door. I would suggest that you open-source the code that you've built in university.

Get a simple WordPress blog and write a few articles about what you've done, how you would re-design the Google Homepage, what you think about Swift etc.

I hire new graduates. I don't look to see whether a woman is more passionate than a man - but I do want to see some evidence of work more than just a degree.

Good luck with your job hunt :-)

  • 4
    "Think of it as a portfolio". The thing is, it's not a portfolio. A portfolio is a collection of paid work you show to employers, from previous jobs you've done. The IT industry doesn't allow its workers to show the code they've worked on for money, but instead demands that potential employees build up a hobby portfolio in their spare time. The crazy thing about this is that by definition it means people have to spend some coding time not working for their employers if they ever want another job.
    – Marcin
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 14:41
  • Sorry Marcin, you're wrong. I have a portfolio of work that I've been paid for. And I've interviewed several people who do the same. You can, of course, mix in what you do for fun as well. Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 14:47
  • 3
    You do, do you? Then you're highly atypical. You might like to give details of how you persuade employers to let you keep and share the source for projects you've worked on.
    – Marcin
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 14:59
  • A lot of my work is open source or public facing. I appreciate that if you only work on classified or internal projects, you may not have that freedom. Commented Aug 9, 2014 at 7:18
  • Unless you're a UI designer, merely being public facing doesn't count for much.
    – Marcin
    Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 14:01

Developer culture, especially the one that would be most commonly associated with Silicon Valley, is not existent for large parts of the industry in general. The demographic of this culture is predominantly young, bright and male which influences it. The cliquish nature of these groups and the long hours and high competition are not family friendly primarily because young males are not typically passionate about having a family at this point in their lives. While testosterone is not necessarily corellated with aggression in humans, there is a correlation with high testosterone and status seeking. This might be a reason why these men proudly proclaim their involvement in open source projects, achievements, boasting about long hours at the office, all to try and achieve higher status in a "game" that they play with their friends. Acheiving status just happens to be highly competetive.

Like it or not discrimination both consciously and unconsciously exists in these cultures. It is not so much that you are a woman but that you are different. You value different things and you might be discriminated against because you hold different values than the majority of your peers, and you appear to not be interested in status seeking games. This doesn't mean that you aren't just as if not more capable of being an excellent developer.

The good news is that because you are a woman developer, if you are competent and have passion while at work then you are also more highly sought after by big companies like Google who are realizing that teams are much stronger not by teams that are similar and like minded but by teams that are diverse. Diverse teams are more agile to tackle problems and provide innovative solutions. You actually are in a much better position to land a prestigious job than your male colleauges. Turn your problems into opportunities.

Even better still, there is a large part of the industry that is more practical and doesn't have this culture at all. It may seem like that this is the minority but remember that the blog articles and press releases are done by people and organizations that surprise, have a passion for workplaces with such a culture. They appear to be more common than they are in reality.

  • Please see edits to the question, which might affect your answer. (Please flag this comment as obsolete once you've seen it.) Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 22:11

Do I need to have work related hobbies in order to show how much passion I have in the field and raise the same expectations in regards to qualifications as my male colleagues?

There are a lot of people who aren't passionate about their work, or choose not to express their passion for their work outside their work. So don't set up false expectations for yourself.

It's nice for an employer to find someone who so enjoys their field that they pursue it for personal projects.

However this is something that is natural for those so designated as "passionate" for their craft. They aren't doing it because they want to be seen as more valuable to some employers - they are doing it because they enjoy their field so much that work alone doesn't satisfy their need to explore it.

Forcing yourself to pursue your field outside your work will likely have the opposite effect for you - you'll want to do it less - if it doesn't come naturally.

But here's the key:

Some employers don't want passionate employees.

I joined a company years ago that was owned and run by an engineer, and the company culture was very friendly to those who got easily caught up in their work. They gave away product to employees for personal use (hardware) and we didn't work on company projects at home, we used it for fun, interesting projects that only occasionally came to benefit the company directly.

This company was sold to another company, and at the introduction meeting I asked, "Is there a discount on company products for personal use?" and the response from the VP of engineering was, "We prefer that you devote your design energies to work projects rather than personal projects."

That company was no longer a good fit for me, but that doesn't mean it's a bad company - they just had a different culture, and the employees who work there are happy to work at work, and leave it behind when they leave work.

So if you don't have a natural need to explore your field 24/7, you will find work environments that fit your needs and level of passion without having to fake or force it.

Focus on being able to demonstrate your expertise. If you have side projects relevant to your interview, bring them up. If not, don't sweat it - you're looking for a company that fits you as much as you fit them.

  • 7
    Personally I don;t think side projects shows a passion for your work at all. Some of the least committed programmers I ever worked with were the ones with side projects. They often couldn't wait to leave work to get to their hobby.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 19:45
  • 1
    @HLGEM Correct. Side projects in your field show a passion for your field - not necessarily for your work. Some companies value that, others don't.
    – Adam Davis
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 19:46

First of all congratulations on your degree, from a fellow (almost) CS'er!

Do I need to have work related hobbies in order to show how much passion I have in the field

I would say not really. If you can speak to the passion about your hobbies, whatever they are, effectively a potential employer will be able to see that you have passion for what you're doing. Writing code, travel, golf, whatever. I think having other hobbies is a positive to being social too. Especially when you have to work with non developer business units. The best gauge of your technical acumen is of course going to be your work.


Do I need to have work related hobbies in order to show how much passion I have in the field

Kind of. Passion is okay (and very important to some people), but side projects are important because they provide you with practice. The sad fact is that programming jobs usually involve very little, well... programming. Side projects allow you to get better at doing the actual work that matters. In my experience hiring programmers, having personal projects is the first, best indicator a candidate doesn't suck.

raise the same expectations in regards to qualifications as my male colleagues?

I would hope not, but I don't know.

The problem I have seen with the (fantastic) female coders I've worked with isn't on the technical side. A lot of programming culture is around arguments. Either pushing back against business because they want a gold plated rhinoceros tomorrow, or with your boss because having two monitors really is important, or with other programmers who have terrible, terrible designs. The (few) female coders I've known (and a good portion of the male ones) have not dealt well with this dynamic.

  • 1
    Please see edits to the question, which might affect your answer. (Please flag this comment as obsolete once you've seen it.) Commented Aug 10, 2014 at 22:11

Companies are mostly looking to see that you have written a lot of code (many weeks to produce one program, not a few hrs like most university course work.), ideally working in a team with other people on a real problem.

Failing that contributing to open source projects is a 2nd best. Your internships should put you in good standing if you wrote a lot of code on them.

To rise above male colleagues, you can stand out by showing basic social skills like looking people in the eye when talking to them, provided you are good as the technical side. I believe the real issue is that women tend to underrate their own skills, when men tend to overrate them and other people tent to rate you as you rate yourself.

  • + for "I believe the real issue is that women tend to underrate their own skills, when men tend to overrate them and other people tent to rate you as you rate yourself." I know I'm guilty of doing that a lot.
    – Chris
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 15:06
  • @Chris, Another issues is do you wish to get promoted when you only just about have the minimal skills for the next level, or do you wish to wait until you believe that you can comfortably fulfil 100% of the job at the next level up?
    – Ian
    Commented Aug 7, 2014 at 17:30

I would not say it is needed in my experience, but it is certainly a bonus to be able to show examples of your work. I didn't have anything much to show my first 2 employers but I was able to demonstrate my knowledge and enthusiasm in the interviews and through the coding tests afterwards. (I'm in Belgium so I don't know how different it might be for you being in a neighbouring country.)

As someone else has mentioned, if you haven't done a huge amount in your spare time it's a good idea to demonstrate that you have other interests. In fact, in some ways it is better to show that you do things other than programming in your free time as some employers may make negative assumptions about people who only do programming in their spare time (anything from lack of dedication to their work to poor social skills).


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