As I sit here this morning drinking coffee and playing with ideas for what to do with the Littlebits sitting on my desk it got me thinking back to all the side projects I’ve taken up over the years at various jobs, some for fun or learning and some for problem solving.
Months after starting a job as a quality tech reviewing PCB’s(Printed Circuit Boards) I noticed that even though the programmable micro’s(microprocessors) were failing the end report from the manufacturer was less than half had ESD damage. I had restarted an ESD handling program that was bringing the number of those failures down, so why were they failing. I decided to start a little side project, though management was interested in what I might find they said “don’t spend too much time on it”. So, with this in mind, I researched the way that the manufacturer tests the chips and ordered a test rig and software. After testing I not only confirmed that they weren’t failing from ESD but were in fact failing to program. This ended up leading to modifications, and eventually changing the entire programming and testing rig used in production.
In my current incarnation as a system admin I’ve come to embrace scripting(my strong suite is Powershell). Many of the scripts and shortcuts I use now in part or whole are from taking the time to learn Powershell and work on side projects writing scripts. One of my largest side projects was a script used to unlock users across multiple domain controllers in multiple offices in one shot. After poking away at the code for over a month I had a working utility to use and let people use, the one complaint was it took too long(longer than the current unlock utility which needed to right click and unlock each domain controller individually). So I set to working on fixing that issue and eventually came up with a way to cast each unlock request as a job and reduced the time from 2 minutes to less than 30 seconds. My most recent side project is a user creation tool that will automate batches of account creation to cut the time down drastically, and I’ll be using many of those techniques and code snippets I learned and developed during the unlock project.
When I start a side project thinking about things like, is this helping resolve a current problem, and is the investment worth the time involved. Sometimes I’ll find that the time wasn’t necessarily worth it in terms of the time saved, but it may have been valuable to me as a learning experience. Google has had an 80/20% time split for quite a while now, where 20% of your time can be spent on side projects. This is because sometimes those side projects find and fix issues, or create something new can create a whole new set of possibilities. Set your goal, start the side project, explore, learn, and have fun.
My set of scripts and shortcuts can be found here.