July 19, 2016

Pride, Work and Necessity of Side Projects: Writing and Teaching by Tracy Osborn on How to Build A Web App

What are you working on—on the side?

My main side project has been my book series, “Hello Web App!” I taught myself how to code Python quite a few years ago to launch a startup, and over the years of learning more and more about programming, I kept thinking about things I wish were taught better once I actually understood them. I realized that I couldn’t just wait for someone else to do it—I needed to write the resource I wish existed.

“Hello Web App!” teaches web app development using Python and Django. I am a huge fan of Django and how easy it is to create a working web app with it—without feeling like you’re a “programmer.” My goal is to help people launch web apps, not learn how to be an engineer (but that’s cool if you use “Hello Web App!” as a starting point!). The original book is a step-by-step tutorial to build a “collection of things,” a project rubric that can be updated to a lot of different project ideas. The second book, “Intermediate Concepts,” has individual chapters teaching skills and features to improve your web app, like adding payments with Stripe, an API, tactics for working with multiple models, database design and more.

It’s been a seriously amazingly fulfilling side project—I’ve been able to help thousands of people so far learn how to build web apps, and it’s actually been a successful side-project in terms of revenue as well.

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

When I’m in the process of writing a book (spoiler, I’m currently writing a third book titled “Hello Web Design!”), a lot of my mental energy needs to be devoted on the project, so it’s best if I can take a sabbatical from my full-time work while I’m writing. Though it’s totally doable to work on writing during evenings and weekends, it’s just what I prefer! I also sometimes will head to a place without WiFi and cell-reception (like a cabin in the mountains) so I have dedicated time to spend on writing on weekends.

It takes a bit of juggling, but the best thing about writing books is that they can continue to bring in revenue and career opportunities after the bulk of the work and pain is over.

Why have a side project?

“Hello Web App!” has been the best thing I’ve ever done for my career. It landed me my current job (I gave my books to my interviewers and I got a call that night with an offer), I’ve received multiple speaking engagement opportunities after someone has seen the book, it’s brought me extra cash (meaning I can work on projects that don’t make revenue), and I’m helping people learn how to code, which brings me so much joy. I encourage everyone to have side projects because they can have a huge positive impact on your career long-term.

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Diptych courtesy of Tracy Osborn.

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Read more about the joy of side projects.

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