Why Everyone Should Be Working on Side Projects

I’ve been talking with several people lately, and something that seems to keep coming up is side projects (I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that I’m currently working on a few myself). However, the gist of the conversation revolves around the fact that I think that anyone worth hiring should be working on their own side projects. While, I recognize not everyone has the entrepreneurial spirit, and not everyone needs/wants to be part of a startup, people should still be working on something. The problem is, many employers get frustrated when they find out their staff is honeymooning as a startup.

First off, let’s examine the “industry professional” aspect. If I, or anyone else, is really as good at this stuff as we say; charging clients thousands of dollars for our time while we build them something slick, shouldn’t we be able to build ourselves something even more slick? Shouldn’t we be realizing that if we hold the keys to the marketing decisions and goals of global brands, how can we say with a straight face that we don’t have anything to offer on our own?

Second, I would never hire an “internet/web/tech/developer professional” who isn’t working on something himself. Right now the entire global landscape is still wide open. What each one of us is capable of producing is un-fathomable. But if someone doesn’t have the drive, the gutzpa to get off their butt and do some personal exploring, I don’t want them on my team. Now, that may sound harsh, but I want someone who spends their evenings and weekends completely enamored with what is possible right now in the online arena, and constantly pushing their own boundaries of what’s possible. Those are the types of people who will return after an assignment has been given to them with solutions that are new and groundbreaking. You don’t get there just solving problems at work, you get there spending your evenings exploring and learning and trying things for yourself.

Third, I want someone who loves the internet enough to put their ass on the line for it. I really don’t care if they’re doing it for fame, money, or the altruistic goals of an open-source developer. Really, even someone who edits Wikipedia every night is enough. I just want someone who lives, eats, breathes the web. They’ll be clued into what’s going on, and know what hasn’t already worked.

I really could go on forever. And I’d probably repeat myself more than I already have. But the essence is, this whole internet thing is still so young, so open, so untame. If we’re not part of the Wild West, excited and running out to claim our stake in this, we’re really not worth hiring.

One last point: I’m also not afraid of losing employees to startups. If they turn out to be the kind of person who is clever enough to build a successful business, than they were probably clever enough to help my business while they were here. And with that, there will be lots of other motivated, excited, and young workers behind them, just looking for a place to pay their bills while they build what may become the next million dollar acquisition.