Tech

Software Engineering Side Project Ideas to Build Up Your Resume

Trying to apply for software engineering jobs? Keep reading to learn our side project tips on how you can make yourself a more competitive applicant

Michael Yan
Published: (Updated: ) - 5 min read

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions / Unsplash

It’s an age-old problem: to get the job you need work experience, but in order to gain the work experience, you need the job. If you’ve been stuck in that loop trying to get a job or internship as a software engineer, it’s time to start developing side projects (pun intended) that will boost your resume and make you stand out.

Recruiters want to see that you’re able to do the work you’re applying for. They also need to see that there’s a little more to you than just full-stack skills and a few programming languages. Here are some ways to show that!

Build Something (anything!)

One of the most important things for you to have as a software engineer is something to show for what you know. Having a website or an app that you can point to as evidence of your skills is a great way to do this.

This is also a great opportunity for those who may not have majored in computer science (and studied another engineering degree) to showcase your technical competence and ability to design develop full-scale projects.

Build a Personal Website

Building a website may seem obvious but it’s a useful way to brush up on basic software development and show recruiters that you’re motivated enough to build something end to end. If you can, make it a personal website that shows more about you and your work – a great supplement to your job application. That way it can act as your resume and the proof of the skills you’ve included in it – and a good refresher for your web development skills.

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Start simple! No need to build a crazy complex website off the bat – I (Michael) just built a simple site that showcased my background as a developer.

Build an App

An app is a slightly more unique choice for a software project but just like building a website, it shows your full-stack skills and is a chance to flex creativity. If you can think of an app that would actually be fun for friends to use, or would help you in everyday life, you can show recruiters that you have a vision beyond just basic software engineering skills.

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I (Michael) built a really basic Android app that showed the user what Bluetooth versions their device supported – my interviewers often found this project super interesting and it was a great talking point!

Contribute to the Open-Source Community

You can either create something original or simply contribute to existing open-source projects. Either way, it’s an opportunity to put your skills into practice and show that you’re passionate about development. Even a small contribution shows that you’re serious about taking what you know and applying it to the real world.

It’s important to remember that building side projects isn’t only about showing what you can do, but how you do it. You’re likely competing for jobs with people who are just as skilled, but if you can give what you do more value, you’ll stand out.

Getting stuck-in with OSS is a chance to make your skills more three-dimensional. Not only is it an opportunity to be associated with some great work, thereby giving you added legitimacy, but it also shows care for the software engineering world beyond a simple paycheck.

In short: it makes you look good and that’s really what you’re trying to do with all this, right?

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Many companies specifically look for candidates that have worked with certain open-source projects – particularly ones that the company uses internally!

Go to a Hackathon

A side project doesn’t only have to be about making things, it’s also worthwhile to build connections. Hackathons happen to be a great way to do both.

You can network with other software engineers and hopefully connect with people who could help in the job hunt or would even be willing to develop a side project with you. Hackathons tend to have useful workshops too where you can learn, have fun, and possibly even have more to put on your resume.

If you can get a team together and enter a competition at a hackathon, do it. It's a great way to get development and project management experience. Winning one would give you something to add to your resume and again, doesn’t just show what you can do but shows you have the guts to put yourself out there.

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Want to find a hackathon near you? Check out MLH's official website for a list of upcoming events!

Do a Kaggle Project

Kaggle has in many ways become the standard for anyone looking for data and machine learning roles. If that’s you, then it’s time to do a Kaggle project.

The exposure it can give you to data science and languages like Python and R is extremely useful. While some caution that Kaggle is not an entirely accurate representation of the full scope of data science, it’s a great place to start.

What you choose to do with Kaggle, be it modeling breast cancer prediction or wildfire probabilities in vulnerable ecosystems, is also a chance to share your perspective. How do you think data science can contribute to the world at large? Even if the answer to that question doesn’t directly relate to the job you’re applying for, showing that have your own perspective can help you stand out.

Solve a Problem

Much of what we’ve outlined here comes down to a simple point: find a problem, a need, or some kind of gap and solve it using your engineering skills. So much of what software engineers do day in and day out is about solving problems, whether that be with bits of faulty code or an entire software system.

When you’re working on your side project, find ways to illustrate your ability to problem solve in the real world. Having all the basic front end, back end, and data skills of the everyday engineer is all well and good but to be a competitive applicant, you need an edge.

You need to show that you’ve got soft skills too, like the ability to problem solve, the focus to follow an issue through, and the motivation to see a project to completion even when it challenges you. These are all the things that give your engineering added value and ultimately can boost your resume in the eyes of recruiters.

Don’t Stop Learning!

The reality is that however much you already know, there’s always more to be added. Most companies expect a level of flexibility from software engineers in their ability to upskill and learn new coding languages when necessary.

If you get a chance to learn something new or test what you already have, take it. A side project where you’ve chosen to grow your knowledge shows recruiters that you’re someone worth investing further training in if necessary. You can even get a professional certification for a language or framework! Often companies are happy for there to be a learning period if they can see that you’re someone who will use that opportunity wisely. Some companies (like Palantir) even have an interview dedicated to assessing your ability to learn a new language or framework!

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Being a great developer is one thing but being one with a strong sense of curiosity and motivation makes those basic skills even more valuable. Software engineering side projects such as building your own site or app, participating in a hackathon, creating something with Kaggle, or contributing to an open-source project are all great ways to boost your resume.

It may seem unfair that there is so much work to do before you even get the job but hey, if you’re trying to stand out, it may take a bit of hustling. In this case, a side hustle.

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Looking for resume templates or cover letter templates? Check out our blog post on resume formatting and cover letter tips!