My First "Real" Side Project

Greetings, old friend, and well met, new acquaintance! You have stumbled across my dev blog at a fortuitous moment in my career. You can think of this as a reboot in many ways.

And I promise, if you read (or skip to the bottom of) this characteristically long-winded post, you'll find that it does, matter of fact, have a purpose.

At the most shallow level, I'm rebooting my blog. The old posts, I'm leaving them up for posterity. Some seem to have helped people, and I'm glad for that, despite a level of quality I'm not, in retrospect, happy with. Oh, well, as they say; oh, well.

At a deeper dive, I'm finding that I have rebooted myself. What manner of melodrama is this? Part of my self-improvement effort being a closer attention to a need for conciseness, I'll describe it thusly: I recently finished my Master's in Comp Sci. I'm psyched about it, in spite of myself, it's been a very trying road. I also recently landed my first real full time job as a software developer, with a fantastic company that I plan to talk about later, pending a discussion with leadership on the propriety of divulging various levels of trade secrets. In short, during the respite I gave myself between graduation and the first day of work, I realized that a day without career development, in some form or another, be it software development, reading, practicing, ideating, etc, was a day that felt in some sense hollow.

Note to self: 'in short'? Who am I kidding? Concision will never feature in this blog. I'm just going to accept that that is 'okay,' and that this is a place not only for sharing knowledge, but also for free expression. So I'll try and just enjoy myself a little writing these up, and hopefully the flavor of my style will stick on the back of your throat in a not wholly unpleasant way.

I digress. Point is, in my spare time, I've come to feel some kind of learning toward a better career as a software developer is not only fulfilling and rewarding professionally (and hopefully financially), but also personally. I find that I enjoy writing software. I prefer fun software, such as a near-complete, but technically in-progress web tool that I started on, and which I shall shamelessly plug posthaste: How Many Drinks In That Drink? I put this little static web app together to help beer snobs track how much alcohol they're really drinking.

This was an incredibly rewarding project for me. Not only because the end result was useful to me personally as a craft beer fan. Not only because others will hopefully find it helpful, possibly in deeply meaningful ways. Not only because it is taking shape better than expected. But also more importantly because I learned a ton about a new software domain and new technologies in building it. This last point was, I have found in-spite-of-myself, probably the most rewarding part of building the tool and the part that has stuck with me the most.

To place this narrative in temporal context, How Many Drinks was made over winter break, basically January of 2016, so yeah, fair to say it's been a while since I worked on a side project; but the experience and the feeling it gave me stuck, and it's been gnawing at me ever since, however gently. Grad school resumed that spring term, delaying my ability to spend time on personal projects, then my month off between school and work was packed, I say packed with travel, and then I fell into this new job, and I fell hard.

Alright, now what manner of melodrama is this? Well, I won't name names because I haven't run the idea of connecting my employer to myself in this blog past my boss just yet; but I will say it's a software consultancy firm with a highly unusual, enthusiastic, and very genuine focus on growing talent internally, rather than burning it out and tossing it on the midden to make space for the next unfortunate soul. I won't get into too many details, but the basic idea is that they take care o' ya in a big way, protecting you from overwork, and making opportunities for you to grow both personally and professionally without taking your life away. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, I'm not exaggerating in the least when I tell you with honest, genuinely unsarcastic, dead-straight, and seriously intense eye contact that I made it to the final level of on-site interviews at Google, and the interview at my current employer was equally challenging, yet more grueling. Rewards are earned, sometimes, I guess.

That felt a little tangential, but it has a point to it in the emphasis on career development without employee burnout. The basic policy is to keep client work to a sensible level, close to or even occasionally below 40 hours a week, to make space over the span of a reasonable work week schedule to spend on career development. Meaning, you get to work on building technical, business, networking, and other skills on the clock; and it's not only allowed, it's encouraged. I'm trying to think of a more melodramatically eloquent way to put this last, most salient point, but what it basically comes down to is that I'm absolutely psyched to fall into such an opportunity just at the same time I'm learning to really, truly love learning and career development in what I unfortunately have to refer to as a synergistic way. (I know, we all hate the word synergy because it has been so badly misused by middle management for so many years, but this particular synergy is both real, and startlingly pleasant.)

You will soon realize that all of the above has been an elaborate way of leading you to an announcement that I am starting a new project; not only a side project, but a project of passion. I will be blogging about it regularly, discussing what I've learned, what I've achieved, and any pitfalls I've encountered; I set this explicitly for myself as a task. I'll be posting weekly, as the plan has it, both to motivate myself to get work done on it more quickly and also to practice blogging more quickly, frequently, and effectively (and yes, even concisely ... starting next post, as always).

The project itself, which I'll describe in next week's post, is already under way, and it's quite exciting and fun to be making progress on it already (in a sense you may not agree with calling 'progress,' but we'll get to that). In any case, hope to have you along for the ride, and even if you don't care to read up on my trials and tribulations, I hope you'll enjoy the result when it's done!

Thanks for reading!
- Steven Kitzes

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