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I'm sure a lot of software developers have pet projects and hobbies that they do outside professional tasks. I have my own, and I'm struggling with how to include them on a resume. These are not necessarily hot open source projects that everyone's life depends on, just some tinkering with fun languages like Haskell or Lisp that I do to learn new concepts. Maybe some experimenting with a web framework that I was curious about. I have a couple reasons for wanting to include these on a resume:

  • I have a handful of languages and technologies listed where I would consider myself "experienced." I would have no trouble being grilled on these at an interview. But if I put Haskell on that line of technologies, I would fold if asked an advanced question about it.

  • When I help interview job candidates (I'm not a hiring manager, but we have engineers participate in the technical side of interviews), I always ask them about their programming hobbies, if any. It opens them up about stuff not on their resume, maybe leads to something interesting that I wouldn't have learned just from asking about past jobs.

  • I really am passionate and curious about software, and I want to show potential employers that I am expanding my knowledge outside job duties. But I want to be honest about not being an expert when I'm not an expert.

What's a good threshold for including a programming hobby on a programming resume - read a book or two, wrote working programs, used it to solve a problem of X magnitude, etc.?

How segregated should it be from professional experience - included with other skills (but with some sort of "just a hobby" qualifier, in its own section of "personal interests", or pushed off to the second page everyone throws away?

Or, leave it off entirely and let the interviewer ask, if they care?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Include them! If anything it will show prospective employers that you are interested in your craft and willing to take things on yourself.

State facts, not opinions.

This "mantra" will help you in a lot of situations where you do not want to qualify the work you have done yourself. It will:

let the reader decide whether they care and whether they think it makes you an expert, a beginner or somewhere in between.

Call the section "pet projects" (well-known term) or "personal projects" (if you want to avoid the connotations that come with "pet"). Simply state what you have worked on and what technologies, skills, etc. you have used. Exactly like you would describe an employment. Perhaps somehwat shorter if you have done many smaller projects rather than a couple of larger ones.

You may want to leave out the time you spent on the projects though. "Three months" doesn't say very much when it is about spare time: how many hours were spent in those three months? And you do not want to give the impression that you care more about your personal projects than about doing a good job for your employer. In other words: personal projects is good, too much time on personal projects is a red flag.

Don't ask how much is too much. That is a matter of opinion. If you want figures: studying is generally accepted as "extra load" so look at what universities and colleges state as workload for evening courses. It might be a good idea not to top those figures.

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Thanks for the advice. I added a "Related Interests" section. I found more useless, non-information cruft that I could trim out of the rest of the resume, which gave me room to add real information. –  John May 10 '11 at 3:35

Include a section like "Pet Projects," "Related Hobbies," or something along those lines. Like you said, things you don't feel you could list as main skills, but items you have at least a passing familiarization and awareness of.

For code projects you wrote in your spare time consider putting them on gitHub or some other webserver where you can include links to. If there's no code to show still mention it, it provides a talking point in the interview.

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A lot of this will depend on how you have your resume formatted, but an "Interested in" tag/section/sentence would do. For example:

Interested in: Lean software development, functional programming, model-driven design.

I think "interested in" invites questions about the topics listed without giving the impression that you necessarily have a lot of experience or knowledge around them.

You could also do "Likes" and "Dislikes" a la SO Careers.

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