Need side project ideas? Be curious

Many developers recognize the value of working on a side project but struggle to come up with an idea for one. It’s easy to look at people pumping out project after project, like Mubashar Iqbal, and think they have some gift. While some certainly have an innate talent, most have cultivated two critical skills; taking notice and being curious.

Ideas are everywhere if you’re willing to pay attention. In your daily life, what’s something that annoys the heck out of you? Maybe it’s your awful commute, a frustrating search for lunch, or poorly-designed software you’re forced to use. Start there. It’s a cliché, but it’s true; the best projects are born from scratching your own itch.

But you needn’t focus solely on yourself. Get outside the tech bubble and learn about the struggles of others. Can you create an app to improve the experience of taking transit in your city? What if your elderly neighbors could automatically receive a reminder about trash day on your street? Don’t worry about coming up with something groundbreaking or original. Build something useful for other people. Technology can improve almost everything we encounter, in some way.

Cultivate friendships and hobbies outside your usual circles. Strike up a conversation with the cashier at your grocery store. Chat up your cab driver. People will often share ideas without realizing it if you listen to them, instead of just waiting for your turn to speak. When you do open your mouth, ask questions. What are their aspirations? What challenges do they face at work? How does technology help or hinder them? Think about how you can apply your skill set to problems in a different space.

Carry a notebook with you, or start a new list on your phone. Every time you have even an inkling of an idea, write it down. Cultivate a curiosity about the people, places, and processes around you and, with a bit of persistence, that list will be full in no time.