Pet projects: why you want your dev candidate to have some

a cat wearing eyeglasses

A simple yet reliable way to evaluate a developer

When you are looking for a new developer, at some point all resumes start looking more or less the same. Pretty often, it all boils down to what technologies a developer is familiar with, and what projects they’ve had experience with before. 

There is nothing wrong with this approach. We don’t have the stats, but it’s probably the main way to hire in-house or freelance developers. 

A good professional who can follow instructions is a great asset. But what if you want to hire someone special? Like, a developer craving more knowledge, new skills, technologies, and tasks? Someone, for whom coding is not just bread and butter, but a calling? 

We say there are people like this. We also say we know how to find them. 

Our little advice is, “You want devs with pet projects.” 

Why pet projects are important

What’s the deal?

In a nutshell, a pet project is something a developer works outside of their regular scope of tasks. 

Like, at work they’ve been moving the “Buy now!” button around the home page for the whole day. But when they get home they put on their special pajamas, order Chinese food, and continue tinkering that self-educating AI they started building three years ago. 

In other words, a pet project is something a developer is willing to invest their time and effort in. Even if it means more work, for free. 

Our premise is that pet projects show a developer’s dedication. If they are ready to write code outside of their jobs, they must be truly interested in programming. 

If this is not enough for you to go search for a developer with pet projects, here are some additional arguments for you.

Pet projects are good for staying tuned in

New programming languages, frameworks, and technologies appear every day. Today your dev codes in the newest and most advanced language. Tomorrow, they’re a king without a kingdom because no one is using that language anymore. 

Devs working for companies rarely get to test-drive something new at work. Like, if your job is to write web pages in PHP, chances are you don’t need anything else to get paid. 

But pet projects are a whole different thing. Let’s be honest: many people put more passion into their hobbies than work. That new app a developer is building at home in their free time may require communication with other devs, learning new technologies and languages, obtaining new skills. Sounds like involvement to us. 

Pet projects help to develop problem-solving skills

Personal interest is the best motivator. When you hit a roadblock at work, you can ask your team mate for help. When you face a problem working alone, there is no one around to help you out, which forces you to seek ways to solve the problem on your own.  

Besides, devs working in-house often have to comply with their company’s “proper way to do things.” Policies and regulations can guide through the quagmire, but only pet projects encourage developers to seek for the new and creative ways of problem solving.

Pet projects help devs know their strengths and limits better

In-house developers rarely get to choose what to work on. Regardless of what tasks they’ve been working on, their paycheck remains the same. 

This can obstruct a developer’s ability to evaluate (and value!) their work. “Why bother if I get paid the same anyway?” is a rather popular attitude.

Developers engaged in one or several pet projects know exactly how much time and effort they spend on each task. They know what they can or cannot do, and what they need to learn, and use their hobby experience onto their work tasks.

Pet projects help devs get a better idea about marketing

If a developer is building a pet project, chances are they want to somehow make money out of it. Or perhaps, they’ve already published an app or launched a website before and gathered some feedback. Either way, they had to learn about the marketing basics in the process.

For you, it means that a developer does not exist in the vacuum. They know it’s important to track the needs of the target audience, nurture usability and user experience, keep an eye on your competitors’ solutions.

But no, you still don’t want to delegate marketing tasks to them.  

Pet projects can give you a clear idea of what a dev is capable of

And not just that. It’s a window into their mindset, way of thinking, and level of commitment. Pet projects often involve all of the developer’s knowledge and skills. No one writes “Hello, world!” programs for pet projects. Usually, it’s a complex and durable endeavor that forces a dev to get out of their comfort zone.

Also, devs with pet projects are organized time managers – just because they have to constantly juggle with their work, hobby, and other interests.  

You want an employee like that.    

Conclusion

If a developer has a pet project, it is not yet a guarantee that they will work miracles when you hire them. But, we believe it is a good sign that the dev is a dedicated problem-solver motivated to grow as a professional, not afraid of the challenges, and able to efficiently use their time.

Out of the 350+ freelance developers we accommodate on Lemon, roughly 50% have at least one brainchild they spend their free time with. This is not the main criteria by which we select our devs, but it definitely helps us paint a better portrait of a person we’re hiring. 

Come test our devs, they’re fantastic!