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I am not sure if it's a good idea or not to mention commercial software projects. Right now, I have one desktop software site selling (not enough to support myself yet) and I am not sure what is a good way to use it as a way to convey my skills and experience?

Speaking of experience, I've never had a developer job. I've worked by myself developing applications with intention to sell, and one one hand I feel like if I mention this, I might come across as someone who is not serious about getting a developer job, which is not true, my mind is set on getting a developer job.

Should I say I gave up the project to look for a job? Or does this appear weak? I just don't know how to tie up my involvement in self started software projects in an interview situation in a relevant manner.

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You'd have to bring it up anyway if you're hired, because you want to clearly establish that you (and not they) own the IP rights to your existing products and services. –  MSalters Jan 9 '12 at 13:01

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Totally!

An interview is about to show that you are experienced. What else then a commercial project shows that you have this experience?

You were motivated enough to do a commercial product. Hundreds of other candidates would be happy to have at least one small commercial product to show.

I would hesitate presenting a project which was a total commercial failure. For example, just looking at the summary, the person understands that you expected the product to be sold to thousands of people, and he sees that this is one of the worst selling projects on the marketplace.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong about showing that you learn on your failures.

This project... em... I don't know what happened... well... I had an idea... you see... and finally I couldn't sell any copy... I don't know why, maybe those buyers are just stupid to see how great it is...

is not something you would like to say in an interview.

Instead:

I know, it failed. In fact, when I started this project, I didn't expect to sell it at all. It was just a small project of mine, a simple app which was intended to help me in my daily work. Then I've shown it to a few friends, they found it great, and I decided to sell it.

But then... I learnt that you can't just sell something which works on your machine. There are chances that it will just crash on a machine with a different configuration. Then people started to bombard me with e-mails about the bugs they encounter.

I learnt that when you have a commercial-scale product, you also must have a bug tracking system, a version control is a must-have, you must have a relation between bugs and releases, then you must find how to update or, better, auto-update the software.

Moreover, the original architecture of the piece of software was not solid enough to accommodate all those changes, making it difficult to fix bugs and add features without rewriting everything from scratch; even constant refactoring wasn't enough.

And finally, I didn't have time to deal with commercial aspect of the app and the support, so I stopped selling it.

rather shows that you received a damn good experience making this product. Yes, commercially, it failed. But for you as a developer and for your career, it was a huge success.

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+1 I love your example interview answer. Fantastic example of how to sell a negative experience as a positive for a new employer. –  Trevor Powell Jan 7 '12 at 2:14
    
memorized the "script" lol. I will remember to turn negative into positive. great answer. –  javastudent Jan 8 '12 at 12:10

There are a couple important points to cover here.

  • Making and releasing commercial software projects on your own tells an interviewer a lot about your skill set and your perseverance in the face of difficulty. As an interviewer, this is a big, big plus in my book, so don't leave this out. I especially want to hear about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them. I always want self-reliant people I can count on to get the job done on my team.
  • As an interviewer, I'm nervous that you've only been working by yourself, and not in a team. I worry that you might not get along well socially with my team of programmers and designers, even if you're awesome technically. If you can, I'd really want to hear about something -- anything -- where you've collaborated with other people. (Have you hired contractors or anything like that, to help you out? Have you worked in other non-development-related jobs where you were on a team? Team projects in university? University is a real stretch, but it'd still be better than nothing from my point of view). I'll definitely be watching you very closely at the interview, to try to judge whether you'll get along with my people (I'd be doing that anyway). But I'd feel a lot better about it if you had some demonstrated history working in teams, even outside of the software development field.
  • Do not give up your current project to look for a job. But if you're offered a job, that job must come before your home project in your list of priorities. If your home project is a competitor to your new employer, then ethically (though not necessarily legally) you need to stop work on that current project, as it's a conflict of interest. But if it's not a competitor, then you can continue developing it in your spare time, as long as your work for your new employer doesn't suffer. As your interviewer, it's really none of my business about whether or not you'll give up that project, as long as it doesn't interfere with your work.
  • If you do get the job, I strongly recommend that you take a short (1-2 months) hiatus from any development work on it, just to learn how much spare time and energy you'll have, so you can make an informed decision about what you'll be able to do with that project while working a day job, without burning yourself out. I will be justifiably upset if you burn yourself out on your home project in a way that hurts your ability to do the job that I'm paying you to do. (And yes, I've seen this happen many times in the past)
  • Now, while it's none of my business as your interviewer, if I do ask you about your plans RE: the project "if I offer you a job" (many interviewers will ask, due to fears about that last point), then you probably do need to tell me one way or the other -- either that you're going to drop it, or that you're going to take a hiatus to decide, as mentioned in the point above. Evading this question or appearing in any way reluctant to talk about it -- even though it's really none of my business as the interviewer -- will be seen as a black mark against you, and may well harm your chances at being offered the job. Similarly, telling them that you're going to continue is probably also a bit of a black mark. Either the "I'll drop the project" or the "I'll be taking a hiatus" answer completely defuses the peril of this question.
  • Note that it's far more likely that the interviewer will simply ask you what your plans are RE: the project. If they don't actually say "if I offer you this job" as part of the question, then they're not asking that awkward question above, and you should just tell them about your long-term plans for the project.
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