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Lions, and Tigers, and a side project? Oh my!

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I have a lot of software product ideas - games, business applications, everyday utilities, etc. - and I seem to come up with a new one almost every day. Some are absolute trash, but fun concepts, and some are considered by my colleagues as potential killer apps. Of course, I have had a mounting frustration, particularly in 2005, at having these ideas but never acting on them. So, it's a new year. It's time for new pursuits.

On top of all my other responsibilities and everything else I like to do, I'm going to add one more thing this year: spending time working on my side projects / ideas. Saying that I feel like I've just repeated the GameDev.net member New Year's resolution, but I have more reasons other than "I just want to".

One such reason is related to my day job. I work for a simulation training company (i.e. real-life games that teach humans how to do things) as a senior software engineer working as the lead for our core simulation technologies. Translated to games, I work on what would be dubbed a 'game engine'. I spent most of 2005 honing my management and executive type skills at work (no, I'm not an executive, just an aspiring one) to become an even better team lead morphing into a product lead.

The problem with focusing on an area like that is that your other skills start deteriorating. I recognized that beforehand, anyway, but I did it with the idea that I would work on my software skills away from work. Well, that didn't quite work out. My time required by GDNet increased, the girlfriend time increased, I went through a house sale, purchase and move, and burnout was taking over at work so I didn't want to do much else at home (in 3.5 years I had never taken more than 3 days at a time off work and that was only once).

Fast forward to present, and now I have a few more people on my team to where we can refocus our strategies on improvement and expansion of our core software, effectively an opportunity to re-architect the whole shebang. I have one problem though: besides me, each individual on my team has less than 1 year of software real-world experience as of today. Granted, they are good at what they do, but they're missing some key areas of experience where I could say "ok, go off and do such-and-such by February 1", and they would come back January 30 and say they were done and it would all work.

Instead, I need to mentor and grow these engineers, and I have to lay out more planning and architectural design details well ahead of time than I may typically do. The corner that puts me in, however, is that I haven't been exposing myself to as many other technologies or designs as I was over a year ago, so my design ideas are a little stale and narrowed into the ways we've been doing things for years.

Now when I mean stale and narrowed, I mean that my first design reaction is to do things similar to our current approaches. I believe a design reaction should keep in mind current approaches while looking for open alternatives for improvement. I've realized that I haven't been keeping open alternatives as my first reaction, and I need to get back to that as that is what has helped separate me from the rest of the field in skill (I suppose there's a hidden tip in there for a lot of aspiring engineers).

Not that I'm falling way behind or anything, but I'm not up to my standard. And so, with that renewed vigor every New Year brings, I finally sat down and worked on my own project last night.

If you're like me you have a lot of logins and passwords, and you'd rather not use the same password for every account you create. I'm rather tired of keeping handwritten lists everywhere because whenever I clean they seem to mysteriously disappear. One of my simple ideas has been to create a small utility that stores all my logins and passwords securely and allows me to access them with a single password and/or security questions.

Last night I started on that project, finally - I've had the idea for years and years. My main goal was to just get something I can use, and sure enough after about an hour and a half with a little refresher in some MFC classes I had my little utility all setup for my own personal use. Next I'll start adding some of the features I know people would want, and maybe in a few months if I keep at it for a few hours a week I'll have something I can throw online for download.

That is, of course, unless I find another project to work on - and I have oh so many ideas floating around.
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MFC, eh? You are behind the times! [wink]

Good luck with the projects. I too have millions of ideas and this year, I've decided to focus my time into 3 main areas. The first of that is GDNet (dev and writing), the second is around bringing some education to others (along with using the tool to write stuff of my own) and the third is to sit back and appreciate the time that I have and do something for myself away from technology. The third often gets neglected these days....

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