The benefit of side projects (and why I built a Lorem Ipsum Generator for my favourite TV sitcom)

  • Thoughts
  • Netlify
  • Open Source

In December of 2019 (just 2 days before Christmas Day), I was looking for a lorem ipsum generator to help me add some dummy content to a project that I was working on. After searching for ‘Lorem Ipsum generators’, I found, a website that hosted a list of different Lorem Ipsum generators. I never knew there were so many choices! After scrolling through a few, I wondered “how difficult would it be to make my own?”. In this post, I want to explain why these small side-projects can seem menial but can be really beneficial and integral to learning new skills.

Only Fools and Ipsum homepage
Only Fools and Ipsum – a Lorem Ipsum Generator for fans of the British TV sitcom Only Fools and Horses.

Only Fools and Ipsum is the Lorem Ipsum Generator that I built before Christmas. Born from boredom and intrigue, it quickly became a labour of love as I connected with the subject matter immediately (Only Fools and Horses being one of my favourite TV sitcoms).

It started as a challenge to see how quickly I could throw my own Lorem Ipsum Generator together and then mutated into something that I would use to learn about a multitude of other technologies and practices. For those that are interested, I was pleased to get the first iteration complete within two days! The rest of the time was spent fixing CSS bugs.

The project initially required the use of some simple HTML markup, a bit of CSS magic and some Javascript to pull all the moving parts together. I opted to build the project in React as this was a framework that I was comfortable with and I felt it would make it quicker for me to build the project. All of these technologies were technologies that I had worked with before.

Once I had almost finished the project, I began to wonder what I would do with it. I didn’t want it to sit on my hard drive to be forgotten about – I had spent two days working on it! I didn’t want to lose the code so I thought I could upload the repository to GitHub. I felt then, that this would be a good opportunity to use Netlify – a product that allows you to deploy web projects from GitHub.

After completing the initial phase of the project, I learnt how to connect Netlify with my GitHub repository for this project so that whenever I pushed or merged into my project’s master branch, Netlify would automatically deploy my code to the project’s website domain I get all this for free, I only had to pay for my site’s domain name!

I then wanted to open up my GitHub repository so that it became open source (free for anyone to view, use and change for their own purposes). In the process of doing this, I learnt about the different types of licenses, how to write a strong README file, creating pull request templates and adding CONTRIBUTING documents.

The Only Fools and Ipsum GitHub project
The Only Fools and Ipsum project’s code is open source on GitHub.

By spending two days working on a small idea that I didn’t expect to be of much use – just a project to see me through to Christmas Day, I was able to learn about things that I hadn’t initially planned to learn about. Going forward, I have other areas that I would like to learn about that I know I am going to use this project as my playground for. I would recommend having a small side project to anyone if you don’t have one already.

If you want to learn something new, sometimes a tiny (almost meaningless) project can be a great way to start. It will keep you interested while making you explore lots of new areas that you didn’t think you would. What’s more, you create something that isn’t just another ’starter template’ or a ‘getting started project’, you can build something that may be of use to someone else – even if that use is just bringing a small amount of joy to their day.

If you are interested in finding out more about this project, you can view the GitHub page.

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