Engineering Q&A: Managing Side Projects and Finding Inspiration

By: Ryan Miller

Ryan Rishi is a Software Engineer at Jelli. He’s been working at Jelli for a few years now and has a passion for innovation and trying new things. Recently we shared a recap of our Side Projects panel at Hackfort, but we wanted to dive in a little deeper. Ryan shared a few of his favorite ways to stay up-to-date on new tech, his tricks for balancing side projects, and more. 

Read through his interview to learn how he finds inspiration and ultimately builds really cool tech.

1. How do you balance learning and playing on top of the normal day-to-day work?

Fortunately, Jelli makes this easy! Now that we are part of iHeartMedia, we have the resources to work on even more innovative projects — some that we’ve been wanting to work on for a while. We’re also able to decide which technologies are appropriate for different projects, and for projects that don’t necessarily fall under Jelli’s umbrella, there’s still enough time to work on those too.

2. How do you stay up-to-date on new tech?

Earlier this spring, I was in Portland attending EmberConf. Attending conferences like EmberConf is a great way to learn about a framework’s new capabilities, as well as seeing how others are approaching problems you may be having too.

Email lists are another great way to stay up-to-date. There’s one called Stackshare that sends a weekly email of new tools broken down by category (editors, testing frameworks, analytics, etc.).

Another way to stay current is to read other people’s code. Websites like Github, StackOverflow, and Medium have tons of resources for that.

And finally, blogs. Reading through tech blogs helps me improve my own engineering and stay up-to-date on what’s new. A couple of favorites are the Uber Engineering Blog and the LinkedIn Engineering Blog

3. What specific skills, as an engineer, help you succeed in staying creative and maintaining a fresh perspective day-to-day?

For side projects, because you’re in full control, it’s easy to get lost in the idealist/perfectionist mentality. This is something that previously plagued me. In the process of rebuilding a website, I switched from Jekyll to Rails to Rails API + Ember to Node API + Ember and back to Jekyll (with React). In hindsight I’m glad I got exposure to all of those technologies, but it also taught me that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Perfection is the enemy of good work.

The flip side to that is to not get too caught up in the technology. The tech world moves at light speed (see: React/Angular/Angular.js/Vue/Ember), so anchoring yourself to one tech stack is a good way to become pigeonholed. Above all else, this is about building a product that someone can use — even if that someone is yourself. While exposure to the bleeding edge technologies is exciting and a worthy venture, it’s also healthy to take a step back and making sure you’re focusing on whatever your goal is for that project.

4. Do you have any side project rituals? Is there a specific genre/artist you listen to when working on side projects?

I don’t really have any rituals, but I definitely have playlists:

  • Lil Ry Writes Code
  • The Mellow Night Goes On
  • Bonobo
  • Caribou
  • Toro y Moi

5. What is one of your favorite new techs out there right now?

My favorite right now is Mapbox. They strike a great combination of delivering a great user experience, a wide toolset, and it’s a joy to work with. For example, they have Mapbox Studio, which allows you to upload your own tilesets, we did this with the LaunchPad map on jelli.com. They also co-released a spatial analysis tool, which allows you to throw huge geospatial datasets at it to quickly visualize data.

If you want to learn more about Ryan’s experience with developing new tech and working on side projects, check out Side Projects: Creative Outlets Inspire Innovation.