Side-projects

Chatting with my brother yesterday he expressed some disbelief when I mentioned yet another friend who has a website related to some topic we were discussing:

Does everyone you know run a website?

Yes, yes, they do.

It hadn’t really occurred to me until I was reading a write up of a co-workers weekend hack. The majority of nerdy people I know run websites, create iPhone/android apps or have other side projects in various states of completion. It’s just How Things Work®

I guess it is mostly a cultural issue, one which is quite strong behind the engineering side of the curtain in my workplace. Sure, there are some “5:01” types who are out of the door as soon as the bell rings, but there are an awful lot who extend their tech creations in to a downtime hobby or side business.

To relate this to my brother I think of a family party we attended this past weekend. When people asked me what my brother does I proudly say he works in logistics, and I like to tell people how well he’s done for himself. When talking to the extended family that often seemed to end up being about material possessions or such. However, I’ve noticed in the past when I’m talking to people I’d call friends it often quickly digresses in to strange discussions about box packing, routing, the curse of travelling salesmen or bridges in some foreign land. Because of the math and technology implications many of my friends have written tools to explore some of the practical and theoretical issues faced in logistics… for fun.

It is all about me

I’m not working on any public facing websites right now [1], but I do play with a few public facing projects from time to time that should head towards proving my point. I’m picking a few semi-randomly to illustrate a little diversity.

Note

To save myself some researching effort I’ll only link to things from my GitHub profile or links from my browser’s bookmarks, but that should be descriptive enough to get the point across.

Gentoo

Over the past decade I’ve spent a lot of time hacking on things related to Gentoo. Some of that for work projects and some of it for personal projects. I’ve also experienced my fair share of troubles, and have reported a few bugs.

At one time I even hoped to become a developer, but that didn’t work out for a bunch of reasons.

github2

For a year I maintained a relatively popular API wrapper to GitHub. I did this because I found it fun. It provided no economic benefit to me, and I never expected it to. I know a lot of people used it when building their own toy projects and websites, because many were kind enough to link to it.

pyisbn

For seven years I’ve maintained a small library for validating ISBNs. Yes, that is absolutely as boring as it sounds.

It was never meant to be used by others, I just needed something to validate entries in my e-book database. Other people started using it, many for their own weird side projects including a number of book retail websites. It has amassed literally tens of thousands of downloads from PyPI, but you really shouldn’t trust the dubious statistics from PyPI ;)

rdial

rdial is a time tracking tool, and a perfect example for me. I played with it for over a year before anyone else saw it, just because it scratched an itch I had. I never imagined it would be useful to others. Turns out it was, and there is now a small yet faithful band of users.

I even received the great honour of a few summer evening beers for releasing it. A beer being second only to a patch in the table of project endorsements that I subscribe to.

upoints

upoints is a strange one. It started as a stupid hack to figure out some silly travel planning drama, it proceeded to take on a life of its own. Over the years it attracted a fair amount of users, and I still receive email about it now.

It did have some tangible benefit though, the sadly now defunct website it eventually spawned opened some nice doors for me. I didn’t know it would or could at the time, so it didn’t affect how I spent my time when playing with it.

Cut from the pattern

This isn’t specific to me, or even to the particularly nerdy among my co-workers. If you dig around on GitHub, or even makezine, you’ll see people creating purely because they can. This isn’t a new phenomenon either. If you were around pre-GitHub you’d see people making things on Sourceforge. If you were around before Sourceforge, you’ll remember the good old days when life was simpler and people held doors open for you.

The point is simple. Yes, I may know someone who is working on project/website related to some topic, but that is only because many of the people I know are spitting out new projects on what often appears to be a weekly basis.

Footnotes

[1]I really don’t count this site, as it is just a jumbled content dump with no real purpose.