The Power of Side Projects

We always get so many (great) ideas, the ideas which we really want to see to come to life. Some of us take one step further and start working towards that goal. We start dreaming about what the success would look like. But then the reality strikes and we get to know that execution is not at all easy. Most of the projects never really take off. The great enthusiasm fades away. We start procrastinating. Why? I believe because of the fear of failure. But this post is not about procrastination and fear of failure. It’s about what a stupid idea or a side project can do - “The Power of Side Projects”.

I entered the college in August 2012 to pursue Computer Science and Engineering. Back then, there was a nationwide program run by Microsoft India known as Microsoft Student Partner program or MSP in short. I thought the program had a lot of potential as one could volunteer to make their class/schoolmates aware of latest Microsoft Products, Technologies, Services and be a part of Windows Phone Student Developers community. I wanted to be a part of that program. In order to qualify for selection, one had to create a video talking about one of the latest Microsoft technologies and also submit an app. This was the first time I was recording myself so it was not easy at all. After completing the afore mentioned things, I received an email saying “Thanks for applying, why don’t you apply for I Unlock Joy 2”. I Unlock Joy 2 was a contest run by Microsoft India to promote Windows Phone App development. The minimum age criteria to apply for MSP program was 17 which I qualified. But the same for I Unlock Joy 2 was 18 which I did not. So after receiving the mail, I said to myself - “They are asking me to apply, so why should I not?” I submitted the same app that I had developed for the MSP program. Months went by and I did not build any another app, though I tried my hands at Windows 8 apps development. After waiting for months I got selected for MSP program. And after a couple of days later the result of I Unlock Joy 2 was also declared. To my surprise, I got 47th position in the TOP 50 Quality Apps category in I Unlock Joy 2. The moment I checked the result I could not even believe that I have received 47th position because the app that I had developed was awful (at least I think so).

After waiting for around 50 days, I received a brand new Samsung Focus Flash. It was the first time I was using a Windows Phone (in fact it was my first smartphone) and I was in awe with it especially the tiles and the display. This was the time when I fell in love with the Metro Design.

Back when I started developing apps for WP, I had to use the simulator because of the lack of the real device to test. After receiving the device, I thought of updating my app. I wanted to develop a quality app this time based on my past experience. It took me couple of days to update the app, thanks to the device. Versions 2 was way better than V1. And V3 was way better than V2.

Gradually I could see myself improving day by day. In July 2013, I built my next app which was a simple photo editing app. I can’t recall why I picked up a Photo editing app. Anyway this was just a beginning. I wanted to keep on learning. I kept on developing various apps honing my skills. We (I, along with my brother) started selling the apps on Windows store. Around Aug 2013, I sold the Focus Flash as it was Windows Phone(WP) 7.8 and could not be updated to WP 8. Then I bought Lumia 520, the hottest Windows device at that time. After buying it I started updating my apps for Windows Phone 8. I was quite behind in making good use of the technologies that MS was providing. I started developing apps for WP8 when it was almost one year old and I was still developing apps in Silverlight when other developers were migrating to WinRT.

I believe that was the best time to create apps for Windows Phone. So many good devices were out there. The market share was expanding. WP was seeing so many official apps getting launched. WP was that platform where so many 3rd party apps were better than their official counterparts (with so many users even saying - better than official apps on iOS/Android). There was DVLUP, a program to promote quality app development by Nokia. Through this program developers could earn rewards by completing some preset challenges. We were having around 1~2 Million total app downloads and loads of revenue. Life was good.

It was April 2014 and I always found it cumbersome to browse Behance on my device. Behance is a website to showcase and discover creative work. There was (is) no official app in the Store nor there were any good third party alternatives. Browsing Behance on Internet Explorer was not a good way either. That’s when I decided to create an app to browse Behance. It was my most ambitious project then. I wanted to leave no stone unturned for this app. It took me around 4 months to finish and launch the app. And when I did it, the response was overwhelming. The app got featured on various internet media including Microsoft, Nokia, Gizmodo, WindowsCentral and others. It was also featured in the Windows Phone store for more than 100 times in more than 100 countries. At the end of the day I would be the most enthusiastic person when I would go through all the user reviews.

I also published the project of this app on Behance. It was my second project on Behance. And unexpectedly I started to get messages from recruiters. One such person was an HR in Snapdeal. The only difference was that the HR messaged me on FB which forwarded the message to my secondary email id. It was Nov 2014. I do not usually check my secondary email id. But luckily in that month, I did. It was already more than 15 days since HR had messaged me. I was really excited. I replied to that mail saying this is not my primary email id and I can’t take on this job opportunity as I was still a student. From there the HR emailed me on my primary email id. Since I was still a student, there was nothing that I could do.

After a couple of months passed, I thought why should not I ask the HR if there is any internship opportunity available. So in March 2015, I replied to same email thread asking for the same. HR enquired about the position internally and asked me if I could come for an interview. I did go for the interview. It was really smooth. In the interview I was asked if I would like to join the design team or the WP dev team. I said I can do both and will be happy with wherever you put me.

My internship duration was from June 2015 to August 2015. On my day of joining I had no idea that I would be put in the Design team. I was not surprised though. During my internship I learned a lot from my colleagues. I would participate in brainstorming sessions, discussions and meetings. All this was really exciting and gradually I started to realise how intriguing solving problems can be. I was working as a design intern and on the other hand reading design books in my spare time. From there only I decided that this is what I am going to do. I am going to make my career in Design.

After that internship, I got a chance to be a Visual Design intern at Uber, one of the few startups that I admire. But things did not work out there because of my college timings. I was still riding the wave of excitement. I headed to AngelList and created my profile. The response I got from AngelList was unexpected. In almost 15 months, around 40 startups has shown interest in my profile. Since I was actively looking for internship, I also applied to a few of them. Within a month, I had an internship in my hand. I have been working in the same startup since then but now as a full time employee. Thanks to AngelList. In these two years, I have also been rejected many times. But I do not regret my decision of making a career in Design.


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