Time and time again, people ask me the best way to get into programming, or the best way to learn a new language, or the best way to understand a framework, and time and time again, my answer is to start a project.

Over the years, I’ve worked on countless projects, ranging from stupid ideas that got featured on tech blogs, to stupid ideas with vulgar names, to a few useful open source works. Each of these projects have taught me a great deal about one concept or another. From learning how to scale a site, to learning how to effectively deal with times, I learned and was able to show off my learning with a product.

Projects can be one of the most efficient ways to learn as they force you to apply the skills while learning them. This, in fact, aids in retention and increases the usefulness of the skills learned:

According to research on “situated cognition,” learning is maximized if the context for learning resembles the real-life context in which the to-be-learned material will be used; learning is minimized if the context in which learning occurs is dissimilar to the context in which the learning will be used (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989).

– John W. Thomas, Ph. D A Review Of Research On Project-Based Learning

Beyond simply helping you to learn skills projects allow you to produce something. This thing can be a useful open source project, or something silly to tell people if its snowing. Not only do they allow you to make something cool, but they allow you to showcase your skills in such a way that people who might want to work with you or hire you.

Countless startups have been created on the premise that people’s projects are key ways to find resources. Several of my close friends have been hired for jobs based on their open source work or side projects.

Your projects are important. They allow you to learn and gain recognition for yourself. They are one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal of things to do with your time. So as you look to the week ahead, perhaps consider creating or working on a side project.

Not sure where to start? Think of things that bother you in your day-to-day life. Consider small solutions that might alleviate those problems. Still not enough? Perhaps consider attending a hackathon (or if you’re less technical or more startup-minded, maybe a Startup Weekend). Here you can develop projects quickly and think on your feet.

Have fun, and I can’t wait to see what you build.


*Light Bulb designed by Blake Thomas from the Noun Project.

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