Savvy Side Projects

Polish My Skills

A.K.A. Refine, Refine, Refine

Keeping ourselves challenged - and our skills sharp - can often be a struggle at our day jobs. We’re creating for clients and not ourselves; our position may not utilize our entire skill set; or we need to improve our skills to prepare for the next step in our career.

Whatever the case, we often look to side projects as a way to fill the gap. Here are some tips and ideas when it comes to creating projects that further your mad skills!

Man dressed in 1940s suit on vintage telephone

Work With A Partner

Just because you want to sharpen your own skills doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone. Teaming up with a partner can offer some positive benefits. The key is to involve someone you work well with. This helps to ensure the project runs smoothly and efficiently. (Otherwise, your side project might become a nightmare project.)

So what are the benefits of having a partner? One, you have someone to support and encourage you. (And kick your butt when needed!) If you’re diving into an entirely new skill set, it can be especially helpful to have someone there to pull you up if you get discouraged or disheartened.

Two, complimentary skill sets can make the project go faster. If you’re a developer yearning to polish your JavaScript skills, and involve a friend who wants to showcase her snazzy layout and typography abilities, the project will come together quicker. You can focus on your JavaScript while your pal creates the design.

Having a partner might not always be feasible - or make sense given the project. But it does have its benefits when it can happen.

Choose Realistically

We all admire other areas of expertise. Maybe you’re a front-end coder who is floored by the designer you work with. He or she always produces such stunning work!

While it’s always a positive thing to expand our horizons, we need to do so in a healthy and practical way. If you’re a coder that’s blessed with inherent artistic talent, then stretching your muscles in that regard makes total sense. But if you know, deep down, you just don’t have the ability to do that kind of work - though you desperately wish you did! - be honest with yourself. Because if you attempt to polish a skill that doesn’t really exist, you’ll just end up frustrated and down on yourself. (Which is crazy, because you’re awesome in so many other areas!) So choose wisely.

Avoid Going Overboard

If your goal is to learn or practice a skill, keep the project at a manageable size. This will keep your stress levels low and allow you to focus on those specific areas of improvement.

Also, think quality (i.e. “I’m going to implement this skill in an amazing way!”) versus quantity (i.e. “I have to make this site large and ridiculously artsy, too!”). In other words, don’t feel as if you have to hide - or add onto - the skills you’re focusing on. In fact, if the point is to showcase certain skills, it makes more sense to create the project in a way that highlights them.

Showcase One Skill in Several Ways

Depending on the skill you're polishing, consider implementing it in your project in more than one way. Not only will this further hone your skill, but it will show employers and clients that you really know your stuff!

This can be as straightforward as blatantly having a page for each implementation. Or, you can get creative and integrate the variations a little more cohesively. Totally up to you!

Showcase Several Skills in One Project

If you’re more focused on skill-sharpening than padding your portfolio, there’s nothing wrong with tackling more than one skill in a single project. In fact, sometimes that might make the most sense. For example, you can certainly work on your typography and Bootstrap abilities simultaneously.

Just be sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. For instance, only work on one completely new skill set in a project. Otherwise, you might end up frustrated and overwhelmed.