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Photography of Alvaro Montoro being a doofus
Alvaro Montoro

Lucas's Sidekick

Should a lack of side projects raise flags in an interview?

career discussion interview watercooler

When I was in school and starting my professional career in software development, I got advice from many people. Several of them suggested the same thing: "Build something!"

That piece of advice was not really needed: I was so excited about programming that I grabbed any opportunity to build and create new things with both hands. Websites, small applications, web apps for mobile... you name it.

It was something that I was (am) passionate about, and a great way not only to practice what I learned, but also to learn new technologies and languages that were not taught at school.

Later in interviews, I was able to talk about these projects to compensate for a lack of professional experience.

Fast forward 15 years.

Even though I have considerably slowed down (life happens), I still create new things and talk about these projects (past and present) in interviews if the opportunity arises. I still see the "Build something!" piece of advice everywhere... But something has changed.

I have been performing some interviews for technical positions lately, and one thing that has shocked me is how most interviewees didn't have any side/personal projects. Present or past.

Considering my past experience, the everlasting "Build something!" recommendation, and that many companies ask for a GitHub/code/portfolio sites as part of the application, it puzzled me that the candidates didn't have anything to talk about on this topic.

Notice that this lack of personal/side projects is not a disqualifying point in the hiring process. In addition, its concept goes beyond software development: woodworking, cross-stitching, even salsa dancing... almost any hobby that would require some learning/practice.

Wondering how others perceive a lack of side projects in interviews, I turned to Twitter:

The Twitter poll will close in a few hours, but the results so far are quite interesting: a majority of the answers (60%) consider that not having side/personal projects should not raise any type of flags when interviewing.

The listed for not having side projects range from different priorities (family first) to lack of time or ideas, to companies shouldn't own what developers do in their spare time...

Others defended personal projects as something normal, even basic and important (especially at certain levels):

Both sides have valid points. So, why this big difference? Is there a disconnect between what the companies ask/expect and the candidates in this topic? Is time to move away from the old "Build something!" advice? Do different generations of developers have different expectations? What are your thoughts?

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