This week I had the pleasure of sitting on a General Assembly panel discussing side projects and how to use them for professional development. When I describe my business, gruntmonkey, I often described it as a business of side projects. When I established it I set up a 3 legged business model that would feed into each other and create a cycle of projects that would keep business generating for a long time.

  1. Focus on client services, design production and offer consultation for clients that I would retain.
  2. Focus on personal projects and explorations that would allow me to make my own products and services that would be retained by gruntmonkey.
  3. Focus on community projects. At the time I didn’t know what that meant but I knew I wanted to support the design community in some way.

As I was describing this to the audience I started to think through the number of personal projects that have come out of this model since I established gruntmonkey 8 years ago. So for a record of reflection here is a “mostly” comprehensive list of those side projects that I’ve developed.

Getting Hired - A book I’m currently writing.
Mentoring and Coaching - Working with students and independent creative professionals who want to get into the design industry and generate more business for themselves.
Eames Style Furniture - an online furniture store focusing on mid-century and modern furniture.
JARVIS - a voice-activated digital assistant that lives on my laptop.
Res.Preview- a design tool for testing responsive designs across breakpoints.
Small but Mighty Coffee - a small batch coffee roastery focusing on freshness and exploration of coffee sources.
Jason Early x Threadless - Making t-shirts available through .
Unnamed Slackbot - A slackbot for instructors to field questions and queue up students to assist. (Made while at General Assembly)
UX resources - an ongoing list of resources for UX students (Made while at General Assembly)
Society6 x gruntmonkey - An exploration of product design.
Viewport - A progressive web app framework for displaying portfolios on tablets.
The Poster Works - An online poster store of screen prints.
gruntmonkey LLC. - The original experiment.

It’s a diverse list of topics and tools that stem from learning and exploring. If I want to learn how to do something, I’ll build a project around it so there are some constraints aside from learning the concept. This is how I learn. I read, then apply, then reflect.

Showing your past work opens future opportunities.

This approach stemmed from my background in design, or it’s why I’m a designer. Either way, it works for me. It also shows motivation, ability to try things out, and areas of interest which are great things to show when you are applying for new professional opportunities. Showing your past work opens future opportunities. If you want a job as a developer you have to show you are familiar with the technical architecture and can build software. If you want to be a designer you have to show you can use the design process to address a challenge. If you narrow in and say you want to design or develop a specific type of experience or technology you’ll need to show past experience of doing so. It’s part of the job. And showing the side projects you create can be a great way to build out a portfolio of work and give you more applications of your skill set in a way that you own and can discuss.