Since starting my career in tech, I've seen and heard many people emphasize the importance of working on projects outside of work, either personal projects or contributing to open source software. At first I bought into that idea - I tried to start personal projects or find places to contribute to open-source - but eventually I realized that it wasn't right for me. I've learned that am at my best when I don't work on personal projects (or anything else coding-related) outside of work.

The main reason why I don't work on personal projects is because when I "leave" work for the day, I want to do just that - leave my work behind me. I enjoy writing code to solve problems, but I don't want it to be my entire life. I have other interests, and I'd rather spend my time after work pursuing those interests. I don't want to go straight from writing code for work to writing code for a personal project - I want a break from writing code and using code to solve problems. My brain (or at least that part of my brain) needs a chance to turn off. I need a chance to focus on something else and do something that doesn't involve staring at a screen and typing.

It took me a while to get to the point where I didn't see personal projects as essential. Early in my career I felt that the best way for me to learn how to be a developer and to learn things that I might not be heavily exposed to at work was to work on personal projects. But I often ended up starting a project and not finishing it, or not really learning as much as I expected. What I've started doing over the last few months (and my manager has encouraged this, which I very much appreciate) is setting aside 30 minutes during the work day to learn something new, generally by reading documentation or watching videos (and taking notes on those videos). If I come across something that I think I will learn better by coding (and I have a few things in mind where that will be the case), I am okay with starting a project and writing some code - but I plan to do most of it during that 30 minute period I set aside. I want to learn new things and still preserve a work-life balance.

Another reason why I had originally planned to do personal projects was to keep my a certain level of activity on my GitHub profile. At my last company, I used my regular GitHub account, so while all of our repositories were private, the contributions still showed on my GitHub profile. My current company uses Enterprise GitHub, which means that my contributions don't show up on my personal GitHub profile. At first I was afraid of how having a not-so-busy GitHub profile would make me look in future job searches, but after some reflection, I realized that any future employer that I wanted to work for would understand that my GitHub profile does not reflect my abilities and would find another way to test my coding skill.

While I choose not to do personal projects, I don't see choosing to spend time on personal projects as any sort of problem. Some people love writing code so much that they want to do it as a hobby and a job, and I truly admire those people. But that's not me. If I'm in a situation where whipping up a quick personal project or contributing to an open source repository feels like my best option to solve a problem, then I'm happy to do it, but in most situations, coding outside of work is just not something I'm interested in doing. And that's okay.

In the tech industry, there can sometimes be an expectation that you continue to code even after the work day is done. Personal projects, resume boosters, and even just learning experiences can be an expected part of your time off. I know that some people love working on personal projects in their free time, and that's awesome, but it's just not for me. I prefer to separate what I do at work from what I do after work - and part of that is putting away the coding and focusing on other interests when I'm not on the clock.