I love side projects. I keep track of what I'd like to work on in a GitHub repo.
Most side projects don't need much oversight. That's kind of the idea: you spend a few hours building something fun, blog about it, and move onto something else.
But I think there's space for another kind of project: one that spans years. The formula's simple:
- Build a site/app/whatever
- Let it sit on a shelf for a year
- Dust off the cobwebs and make some enhancement, switch frameworks, whatever
The Codebase of Theseus
I built my first version of the app back in 2011 as a fresh-faced front-end dev, with nothing but spaghetti jQuery.
Over the years, I've migrated and rebuilt the app numerous times:
- Original jQuery version (2011)
- Added a build toolchain with Webpack and npm (2014)
- Rewrote using AngularJS 1.x (2015)
- Migrated to Angular 2 beta (2016)
- Rebuilt with TypeScript and the Angular CLI (2018)
Inheriting Your Legacy
A long-lived side project gives you the chance to confront your old habits and see how far you've progressed. I started with jQuery because that's all I knew. I can still see parts of me in the old codebase, but I also see how my coding style has evolved.
A long-lived side project also gives you breathing room to ask how much stock to put into trends. My original jQuery app still loads faster, has 60% less code, and (to my mind) is more understandable than my latest version built atop Angular 5. Have I actually made things better? Have we as an industry?
I didn't get to all the updates I wanted to make to the app this year; I wanted to add some Redux-style state management with ngrx. But it's okay, I know what I'll be working on next year.