Before I joined the team at Professional Geek Podcast, I started The Assignment Notebook podcast back in 2014, a project that got stuck in my head and couldn’t get it out until I finally pulled it off. I think the hardest part about starting my own podcast was the fact that there was a day where I would have to actually say “I’m a podcaster, this is my podcast name, and here’s a fully realized first episode, and there will be a new episode every week until I don't want to do this anymore.” It's really easy to brag about your podcast when it's just an idea in your head.. This was my first major personal project though. I remember telling people about the show, and insisting that it was a good idea and that I had the skills to do it. But I had to actually do it; no one would be able to see my show if it was just an idea in my head. Ultimately, I did it for half a year, and I have 36 published episodes and a handful of blogs. I learned a lot, and I can still point to it as something that I worked hard to produce. It definitely is one of the things I’m most proud of professionally, and I think it’s because I did it for myself.
Doing your own projects for yourself is one of the most important things you can do, whether you’re a creative person or not. This was a theme that kept coming up at C2E2, both on our panel and in casually talking to other professional geeks; everyone had a project that they were working on that they weren’t sure what they were going to end up using it for, and I think that even if it doesn’t come to anything in the end, the working for yourself is so valuable. On our panel at C2E2, Keidra Chaney put it this way,
“I think making things for no one is a really good idea. I wrote for years and years,
stuff that’s never seen an audience and I think that’s important....You don't get better
necessarily by always creating for somebody.
If you want to create something, then just keep doing it. That whole thing about
‘Dance like nobody's watching’ goes for a field too. If you are in a creative field create something
without the intent of people ever looking at it.
It could turn into something later but that’s how you get better.”
Panelist Keisha Howard agreed, saying,
“If it’s writing that’s your passion, have your own blog,
put time into your own passion….You've gotta put time effort and work into your passion
so other people can see that you’re passionate and hardworking.
So you’ve gotta start with yourself first.”
One of the benefits of doing your own projects is that you get to show the world that you have passion for something. I’ve had interviews where I simply talk about what qualifies me for the job I’m interviewing for, and I’ve had interviews where I talk about some project I’m passionate about that doesn’t strictly relate to the job I’m interviewing for but displays how excited I am about the project, and I can feel the space between me and the interviewer warming up whenever I’m talking about something I’m passionate about.
Learning is another benefit. Soren Bowie from Cracked.com said in my interview with him,
“Most writers say that, “you've gotta write;" they say you’ve gotta write every day.
I don’t know if you’ve got to write every day, but to just write something and not try and
write for the audience you think is going to receive it.
Write for someone that you respect and write what you think they’re gonna like,
and that’s it, and don’t worry about anybody else.”
I think that when there is no external expectation or requirement for a project, it’s a great opportunity to explore your own abilities and explore directions you wouldn’t get to explore otherwise. When you’re free to take your passion project literally wherever you want to take it, you learn a lot.
Of course, doing your own project can wind up being practical. While your projects, on a philosophical level, display your passion and ability to work hard, the projects that you show off can literally show your ability. I have a friend who got a job after college by showing off a Doom mod in his interview. Panelist Majdi Badri put it this way,
“Keep making the thing you like cause eventually,
you’ll have an opportunity where you’ll be like, ‘yeah i make mobile games,
here are 3 little things I’ve got.’”
At the end of the day, people want to work with other people who take pride in what they do. The ultimate display of the pride you take in what you do is to work on projects because YOU want to do them. A person who doesn’t have to be working, and yet continues to do so will be the perfect addition to a professional team. The benefits of having your own projects can last your entire career, even without people seeing them.