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10 Ways Tech Leaders Can Support Their Developers’ Side Projects

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As tech professionals advance in their careers, they can bring more new skills and interests to the table at your company — if they have an opportunity to develop them. Additionally, encouraging your tech team members to pursue their passions in the form of side projects is a great way to show you care about them as holistic professionals, not just as your employees.

As tech industry leaders, many Forbes Technology Council members encourage their developers to have side projects and have found the practice to be a positive addition to their company culture. Below, 13 of them share specific things they do to support their team members ’professional growth and exploration.

1. Remind them they may soon be using the new tech they’re exploring

Yes, my team must be curious and willing to try and explore new technologies. This is crucial because what we do and what we use is continually going out of date or is on the cusp of being replaced by something else. Side projects help build awareness and capacity for something new that we can use on the road. – Dan Maycock, Loftus Ranches

2. Host hackathons

At least once a quarter, we have design sprint-like events where our engineers collaborate intensively on pet projects voted on by team members. These projects include things that could significantly enhance work in the long run but that developers usually do not have time to do. Developers always look forward to coding with a passion for projects meaningful to them. – Bob Fabien Zinga, Directly, Inc./U.S. Navy Reserve

3. Invest in resources to facilitate side projects

Lack of creative opportunities often leads to burnout. Giving development teams time to work on side projects or activities, especially those that are not within their capabilities, brings diversity to everyday experiences. We found that engineers often take on projects to solve their own technical challenges, adding value to our business. – Kris Beevers, NS1

4. Allow them to set aside time for side projects during the workweek

I love seeing developers deepen their skills and develop their understanding of systems with side projects. I encourage this with “Space-Time,” a program that allows developers to allocate a block of time to focus on a special project outside of their specific function. And with the ever-evolving technology landscape, I also encourage the pursuit of training and certifications. – Kim Huffman, Elastic

5. Use the new systems developed internally

Side projects are a great way to keep team members ’motivation high and give room for experiments. We allow our developers to work on their own ideas and side projects every Friday, and this leads to some of our most used internal systems:— the latest being our own “Secret Santa” tool. Recently, we started dedicating one day each month for an internal conference in which our teammates share knowledge. – Ivailo Nikolov, SiteGround

6. Consider side projects when hiring

From a hiring perspective, developers lacking side projects can be a red flag. It’s not a hard requirement, but those who are passionate about what they do typically have something that they are working on or contributing to. Having a team that not only has individual side projects but also team side projects allows you to give back to the community while making it more secure and accessible. – Cody Cornell, Swimlane

The Forbes Technology Council is an inviting community only for world-class CIOs, CTOs, and technology executives. Do I qualify?

7. Let them talk about their side projects with team members

We always encourage everyone on our team to spend some time working on side projects. We have an area in our Slack channel where people are free to talk about and share their projects with the rest of the team. I’ve found that this is an excellent opportunity to get to know the people we work with and give helpful feedback for growing side projects. – Thomas Griffin, OptinMonster

8. Offer ‘extracurricular’ activities

I’m always in favor of my employees ’expanding their horizons. Exploration and experimentation are two of the best ways to grow in life. Any time a team member is interested in learning new skillsets, we try to invest in them through extracurricular activities such as conferences, workshops, or classes. – Marc Fischer, Dogtown Media LLC

9. Incorporate side projects into their regular projects when possible

Humans have an innate capacity to create things. We encourage our engineers to have side projects, whether it’s to create an experience on our platform or even just an administrative tool for the rest of the organization. We frequently include those side projects in current work projects because it often contributes to the success of both. – Brandon Dewitt, MX

10. Encourage participation in open-source projects

I encourage my builders to spend 10% of their time working on open source projects that have a real and positive impact on society. Some of my developers contribute projects through Wikimedia; Others are working on open source projects related to Covid-19. Side projects like this are win-win for everyone. Developers stay fresh and develop new skills while contributing to the greater good. – Ruchi Goyal, Accenture

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