What have you developed in your spare time?

Throughout the years, I’ve interviewed quite a few developers and I’ve recently been reflecting on what single question can give me the most information about the ability and passion someone has for programming.

I’ve concluded that this one gives me the best ammo to work with:

What have you developed in your spare time?

I love this question because it touches a few areas at once.  Spare time is a valuable resource which you usually dedicate to what you enjoy most.  Dedicating that to development is a huge indicator of where your passions lie. On the other hand, getting a “Huh?” or “In my SPARE time?” in return is probably a good indicator that this person isn’t what i’m looking for.

What they’ve been working on is also an interesting indicator.  Did they contribute to an open source project? Port a popular tool to a new language? Build some nifty tool to try out some new tech? Reading into the type of development they did and why can really give some insight into what motivates or challenges them.

It also touches on is their ability to stay up to date and be self-taught.  So much new tech and ideas are being made available and it’s hard to keep up.  It’s almost impossible to do so at your “day job”.

That’s why I like that question and use it as often as i can when interviewing candidates.

What is your favorite one?

Update:

I very much appreciate all the reactions and opinions regarding this specific topic.  In no way does it try to pigeon hole people one way or the other and is my humble opinion on my personal experiences.  The main point I want to stress is that I like to know where someone’s passions lie. If someone says “After working at my job all day, why should I work more at home?”  I totally agree!  It shouldn’t be considered “work”.

It also can (or should) be an occasional thing.  I try to spend 2-3 hours a week on average working on some idea, or testing out some new technology, or just reading a good book.  That’s hardly overwhelming.

I’d also argue that over time it becomes more important.  When you build a deep body of knowledge and experience in one field, it becomes your prism to view new problems.  Expanding your horizon can create some interesting (and sometimes surprising) ideas for new projects, ideas to solve stubborn problem from the past, or just some personal enjoyment.

The point is to have an itch regarding programming and feel the need to scratch it.

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74 Responses to What have you developed in your spare time?

  1. KevinUK says:

    I started http://www.getmecooking.com from the technical side as a way to play around with the latest technologies and then when I started consulting as a topic of conversation for interviews (well yes I have used the technologies you are after, just look at my site for examples..).

    I also started it from the cooking side as I wanted to start cooking and didn’t like any of the sites out there so I figured I would do my own.

    Now I’m at the stage where I’m looking at how I can work on it full time!

  2. Matthew says:

    Is that really a good indicator for how a candidate will perform at your company? The best developers at mine do not program in their spare time.

    • matan says:

      good question. My personal experience is: yes. I am seeing a direct relationship between this ongoing curiosity and passion for coding and their performance as developers over time. Obviously specific environments might not want or require this :) You can fit a square in a round hole if you’re good enough (and have a big enough hammer), but these types of people are much more successful at using the right shape for the right hole.

    • dude says:

      you only employ B’s or less

      • Jesse says:

        Agreed. Nobody can be truly great at something if they can’t enjoy doing it without immediate incentive.

    • I think it’s one indicator – and one that I look at very seriously when I interview people.

      If I have 2 candidates and one of them says that they have an interest in programming (or even another are of computing) – and even better, if they can demonstrate that, then I am far more inclined to hire them over the one who sees IT as just a way to make a living.

  3. cachichas says:

    making babies

  4. Navin says:

    Some of them are here
    http://twitterex.com
    http://reduce.li
    http://twitexplode.com

    And am building a facebook application:
    http://namesucker.com

    One pattern in all these, I lose interest and they fizzle out :-( how do you keep yourself motivated?

    • matan says:

      Just the fact that you do this stuff is already head and shoulders above most. Follow though is tough for most people. I think it’s a skill that has to be learned and practiced. It’s easier when you can focus on one thing . For me, any feedback (good and bad) is a big motivator so i try to provide that avenue for anyone using stuff i make. It shows you people are out there and actually cared enough to tell you what they think. Take advantage of it.

  5. Scott says:

    I’ve been working on http://www.sliqq.com which I’m getting read to “hopefully” launch in the coming weeks.

  6. I recently launched http://www.reviewmysoftwaredesign.com , which allows developers to share software designs and get them peer reviewed. It was a final project for grad school, but I worked on it weekends while maintaining a day job. That counts, right? The project was a great excuse to learn Rails and was a lot of fun to build.

  7. Adam Fields says:

    I find that the most valuable interview questions are of the ilk “show me how you’d investigate and fix this real-world problem we had last week”. I also like to ask plumbing questions to determine if people really understand what they’re doing or just following examples – i.e.: for a web developer, it would be something like “explain to me how cookies work”. Many people who can set a cookie have no idea what that actually does in the client/server interaction. But the absolute most important thing – I won’t hire new developers without a 3 month contracting gig first. The _only_ reliable way to tell if someone is a good developer and a good personality fit is to work with them for a while.

  8. Roderick K says:

    I wrote http://www.solar-system-explorer.com, which shows the planets in WebGL. I guess the interest is that it is to do with space and astronomy, which I don’t normally get to explore in office hours. If there’s some kind of business angle to it I’d take it further, but not really clear so far. It also taught me JavaScript, which is my new favourite language!

  9. Bill Deys says:

    My podcast partner, and kinda “boss,” has done 100% of the development of CastRoller in his “spare” time. Kinda a little proud!

  10. I developed and launched http://organimal.com . It was a great way for me to learn and try new technologies to use at my day job.

  11. David Chen says:

    http://chat.io a fun chat experiment using node.js and adobe cirrus.

  12. kiwidev says:

    I developed http://www.snowboardfinder.com – I wanted to join my love of coding and snowboarding. It helped me get a greater understanding of ASP.Net MVC too.

  13. luis peralta says:

    A twitter aggregator for organizations or groups of people: http://twittandco.com

    Design not my best ability though.

  14. I developed peoplegraph, a facebook application for iPad. It helped me learn iOS which I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.

    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/peoplegraph/id437250547?mt=8

  15. navinpoeran says:

    I developed a job board for freelancers, with WordPress, see:
    http://www.freelance.sr

  16. My favorite reverse interview question is — “What do you love, and what do you hate about working at X?”.

    I developed ‘i inspire us’ in my free time. It is the Kickstarter for skills:

    http://www.iinspireus.com

  17. Pidr says:

    Nothing, I have life! ZING

  18. JB says:

    I’m still looking for that killer app to write. Meanwhile, I rolled up the sleeves and wrote an iPhone app called Jaunt, a travel-based app

    http://jmbowles.github.com/jaunt/index.html

  19. Jeffrey Paul says:

    I built a realtime monitor app for the largest Bitcoin exchange this week as an excuse to finally use ZeroMQ for something and as an experiment in PyObjC for rapid development on the mac. It came out pretty well:

    http://sneak.datavibe.net/projects/mtgoxwatcher/

    Feedback encouraged.

    Best,
    Jeffrey Paul

  20. I built Auto Swatch, though I’m hoping it turns into more of a full-time venture someday: http://autoswatch.com

  21. Leon says:

    Way too many things. Take a look at my github account: https://github.com/jsz

    Either I have too much spare time or I’m obsessed with programming :]

  22. Adnan says:

    just recently started out iphone apps. My recently approved iphone app is “SNAPMARKS”, a simple offline bookmarking tool to save stuff you are reading.

    http://sm.sidlabs.com

  23. After I started in my current job, I quickly realized that had to create a small app that would store URLs of interest as I browsed in my free time. IT policies prevented me from installing a browser like Chrome that would sync my bookmarks to the cloud and restricted my access to sites like Delicious. Emailing them to myself was going to become a nuisance and bloat my inbox, so I decided the best solution was to create my own system.

    http://dd0t.com/bookmarks was born as a simple way to manage bookmarks. I took the opportunity to teach myself some new things, learning Python and Django along the way. I even built a URL shortener into it so I could share saved URLs on Twitter. So far it’s been massively useful to me and was a great way to spend a weekend learning a few neat new things.

  24. Gautam says:

    I developed an eclipse plug-in: http://fast-code.sourceforge.net/. what I should really delve into mobile.

  25. I made Try Arc, an in-browser REPL for the Arc programming language.

  26. Peter Lyons says:

    https://linkzie.com simple all-on-one-big-page bookmark manager

  27. briandeweese says:

    I developed & designed Memory Fu a story-driven memory puzzle game. http://itunes.apple.com/app/memory-fu/id424426473.

  28. boneheadmed says:

    I developed an HTML5 space shooter game called YOSS:
    http://yoss.tapjs.com/

    It has been a lot of fun and am now working on a second also in my spare time. I’ve also created several plugins for the Impact javascript game engine while doing so:
    https://github.com/boneheadmed/

  29. John Vaccaro says:

    Built a script to collect time-lapse images from a webcam, either local or on the Internet, convert each image to a GIF file; then stich them all together into an animated loop and post to my Twitpic account.

    I’ve also scripted twitterbots to post a “quote of the day”, today in History, and my local weather conditions (with twitpic link to a current home webcam image).

  30. I started a blog (http://codebazaar.blogspot.com/) almost a year ago. I used it to share my small experiments, learn new technologies and practice my written english (I am not a native english speaker).

    I have a list of ideas for future blog posts. It keeps growing. I think it directly boost my creativity. On the long term, I believe I will be able to reuse in my day job the knowledge I gained while working on these small projects.

    On the other side, here are some good questions to ask to the interviewer: http://www.talentzoo.com/news.php/Questions-You-Absolutely-Must-Ask-Your-Interviewer/?articleID=9159

  31. Rob Eastham says:

    I am currently working on my first startup/app Mighty CV in my spare time. It’s a résumé builder that I hope will make the process of creating, managing and sharing your résumé easier.

    My Mighty CV can be found at http://robeastham.mightycv.com

    It’s currently in private beta and you can sign up for an invite at:

    http://www.mightycv.com/

    The service will initially be aimed at developers and the sort of people who hang out at hacker news and such like. If I get traction I’ll most likely open up the service a little more broadly. It also integrates with github, hn and stackoverflow and will auto-generate your resume as PDF on demand. Any feedback you have on how it’s shaping up would be most appreciated.

    Now I’ve just gotta find a spare month to add some of the feature requests my existing beta users have been asking for.

  32. Mike says:

    Another good indicator is whether or not someone participates in tech groups.

    And because I got frustrated trying to find all of the tech groups in my area, I created GroupsFinder:

    http://groupsfinder.net/tech

  33. Ryan says:

    A drinking habit!

  34. datt says:

    This is true.If we do any work with passion then we can definitely succeed. Yeah spare time is more valuable in every one life but it’s matter of how we utilize that time. Some time it has to told by some one b’coz we are not aware of those things.In my child wood my father used to say to do maths in my summer vacation at that time i don’t know the value of time but later i realized.

  35. Raivo says:

    I’ll through in my latest achievement that I worked on at nights/weekends.
    http://www.exercisesatwork.com/ – will send you an email with an exercise that you can do at your desk.

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  45. Corrinla says:

    How i want to develop an interest for my spare time. Now after work, i just watch tv, cooking, sometimes, read some books, listen to musics, see a movie or watch a film on computer. On weekends, I just buy some goods in supermarket, sometimes, washing, and visit some places of interest. I almost have no interests on somethings or no hobbies. i want to form an interest on certain thing, having an insane on it and very, very crazy about. How I want to be crazy on one thing. I feel that my spare time is quite boring, Sometimes, i quite envy those person who have their interests, or hobbies. They can do it every week no matter what occasion. They keep it for a long time. And for getting it, , they can do anything. Sometimes, i hate myself. Every day, I just do the same thing. So boring. work, work, and work. Except work, what can I do. How can I enjoy the life? I want to make every day valuable, wonderful, how can I?

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