Why I do Side Projects

I sometimes get approached from people around me who want to know why I’m doing several side projects at a time. Most of them assume then that I’m not happy with my day job or that it doesn’t fulfill me. But it’s quite the opposite.
So I wanted to use my blog (also kind of a side project) to set something about my side project activities right. Of course I can only assume it, but I’m quite confident that these reasons are also valid for most other people from our industry that have started side projects despite having a great full- or part-time day job.

But first, it’s kind of important to know a litte bit of background about my day job to understand the following paragraphs.
Thankfully, XING became a pretty big and successful company over the years which led automatically to more divided business units with their own specialists. So, beside having the privilege to work with a lot of experts in their regarding areas, one of the »downsides« is that I can’t get my hands on every discipline that interests me in an operative way (which mostly is for compelling reasons).

So let me give you some examples for what drives me and led to the respective side projects:

→ I’m interested in frontend web development, but will probably never commit any line of code into the XING master branch. That’s why I try to hack together most of my needed websites on my own and took courses for that on Treehouse.

→ Mobile apps fascinate me and I want to get a way deeper understanding of them beyond management and usage. But the main XING apps are probably a rather bad place to make all-time first code experiences.
So I taught myself Photoshop and Sketch and took other Treehouse courses to develop an own iOS app and contribute to another one.

→ I wanted to know how newsletter products work, but rather leave this up to the true experts at XING for the big scale we operate at. So I set up MailChimp newsletters for most of my products and code templates on my own.

→ Consumption of written content is a huge part of my daily digital life but I also wanted to know more about the processes behind the creation and distribution of it.
As I can’t keep up with fully fleshed journalists on that, I set out to write this blog, a small guide for product managers and wrapped my head around making this content more accessible on Google and distribute it on social media, looking for some kind of viral effect.

I’m in love with podcasts and consume a ton of them. But the best way to get closer to this topic and understand the efforts behind a show was easy to find: Do one on my own.

→ Search and social advertising are booming businesses which become more and more complex over time. Market a complex product like XING shouldn’t be in my responsibility considering my lack of experience on that and the time I already put into product development.
Nevertheless, I can’t break much on a smaller scale and constantly try out Facebook or AdWords ads for my apps or content I create.

You could probably argue now that this broadening of skills prevents me from becoming a true expert and that I’m rather a jack of many instead of being a king of one.
I on the other hand am convinced that every discipline that I at least touch a little and start to have fun while playing around with it also improves my main responsibility: Being a good product manager. That’s what my aspiration is for myself and what keeps me curious and hungry for more disciplines to try out.

btw: Some of the best thoughts I’ve read so far on side projects came from Tobias van Schneider and Mikael Cho.