Software development and entrepreneurship are made for each other. Our craft enables us to work from anywhere, often asynchronously from team members or clients. We are capable of creating long-lived assets (that’s right, assets can be created, not just purchased). Our skills are in high demand, both in the professional world and the world of education. And we have an independent attitude that craves freedom.
So what’s a good fit for different stages of a developer’s career? What are good goals to aim for? I think the below guide may be a useful path for anyone with a burning desire for financial freedom and a willingness to put in the hustle effort.
I’ll look at the following career stages and side hustles and provide a timeline of when they match up most effectively. Of course, in software development you can make whatever rules you want.
- Newbie (0-1 years of experience)
- Junior Dev (1-3 years)
- Senior Dev (3-10 years)
- Veteran Dev (10+ years)
Take these titles with a grain of salt. I have met many devs with only a few years of experience that are pro level, and a few veteran devs that shouldn’t be trusted near a keyboard. These career stages are more about life stage and also the credibility conveyed by the coveted “years of experience”.
- Creating Digital Assets
- Consulting Business
- Speaking Engagements
Some of these blur the line between side hustle and full time business. In fact, plenty of devs have made the transition to self employed or business owner through what started as a side hustles (i.e. John Sonmez from Simple Programmer, Dan Wahlin from codewithdan.com, and so on).
I’ll define each side hustle in the context of a career stage and explain why the opportunity is accessible and lucrative. By the way, I have personally engaged in all the side hustles above except 7 and 8. I am seven years into a dev career.
Side Hustles for New Software Developers (0-1 year)
In the first year of your development career, you are probably putting in extra hours just to keep up. On top of that, you may have student debt to manage plus the new and bittersweet responsibility of bills and a paycheck.
The best way to lay a good foundation for your career and side hustles is to have synergy between them right now. Focus your side hustles on activities that also make you better at your job. Also, get your financial house in order so that money is a thing of joy, not stress. The following are excellent options to consider:
- Creating Digital Assets
- Personal Finance/Budgeting
Writing – This side hustle can be both enjoyable and lucrative. I’m strictly speaking about writing technical articles on topics you enjoy. For example, if you are a React dev who also wants to be able to carry a conversation about Angular, write a tutorial where you build the same small app with both and compare/contrast.
Writing is low risk, builds your reputation, and enhances your knowledge. Medium is a great place to start creating a technical portfolio, plus you can make some money doing it. Writing can be transformed into a digital asset later on, or can be used as a marketing funnel for a brand. There are no barriers to entry, no costs other than your time. If you are interested in writing, I strongly suggest you start on a highly SEO optimized platform like Medium. Once you learn how to get consistent organic search traffic, consider starting your own programming blog and migrate your Medium articles to it. A website is ultimately a business that you can sell for 30X to 45X multiple of monthly net income.
Alternatively, you could write technical articles as a freelance writer. You get paid a one time fee but don’t own the article. However, you still gain the knowledge and experience.
Creating Digital Assets – So many people focus on purchasing assets (stocks, real estate, etc) to build wealth that they forget assets can be created. This is especially important for anyone fresh from school or otherwise low on disposable income.
A digital asset is a website, eBook, pdf, iOS app, or anything else that is purely digital and generates cash or business leads. Real examples include niche websites monetized with affiliate links or ads, or this iOS puzzle game my friend created (ask him about the incredible algorithm to generate the maps).
Building an asset is of course a longer proposition than simply writing blog posts or freelance articles. However, it can be an bedrock revenue stream in your side hustle portfolio. You can create an asset once and push its growth exponentially through different channels. Creating free content that links to the asset is a great place to start. For example, writing on Medium can be a revenue stream in and of itself, plus if you link to a digital asset you own you can grow your sales of your product. Throw in affiliate links and you can generate three revenue streams at once.
I started writing an eBook my first year on the job. I chose to write an eBook simply because I wanted to pass the Oracle Java Programmer I exam. Writing a bunch of practice exams helped me prepare. I also saw an opportunity in the kindle eBook market. There was a $9.99 eBook…and not really anything else (this was 2013). I wrote the same amount of content but priced my book at $2.99. I was doing the work anyway, and I picked up the knowledge of self-publishing and some cash just by having my eyes open. I recently wrote a Docker Certified Associate eBook simply because I wanted to practice for the exam.
Tutoring – A straight forward, time-for-money side hustle. Tutoring students in college CS classes or coding bootcamps can really pay off, plus it reinforces the basics of coding. Rates can be far higher than your day job ($90/hour?) and tutoring is in high demand with low barriers to entry if you are already in the IT field.
Personal Finance – I’ll mention this with a different angle in every career stage. Fresh out of college or coding bootcamp, you’re financial house may not be in great shape. Roughly 70% of college students graduate with student debt according to this CNBC article. On top of that, you may be managing your money on your own for the first time.
At this stage, a great plan is to budget and work on paying down debt. It may not sound like a side hustle, but if it increases your net worth you should treat it like one. Besides, the trends for debt in the U.S. are alarming…you want to free yourself from being a statistic.
Here’s a few of my favorite personal finance sites to get you started. Educate yourself on what’s possible.
- https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/ – Mr. Money Mustache. Funny name, cult following
- https://www.financialsamurai.com/ – All kinds of thing personal finance related, lots of statistics to back it up
- https://theconservativeincomeinvestor.com/ – conservative investing, not politics
Side Hustles for Junior Software Developers (1-3 years)
You’ve got your feet under you at this point. Not everything is scary and your nightmares about going to work without pants on didn’t happen. If you haven’t started a side gig yet, no worries, there’s plenty of time. Consider the following:
- Creating Digital Assets
- Investing (Stock Market, real estate, whatever your money engine is)
- Honorable Mention – Tutoring
Writing – Same thing as before, but this time you know more. Consume tons of audio or books, this will give you knowledge from which you can synthesis something new and original that the world needs.
Creating Digital Assets – Same as before, but now you probably know several languages/tools/frameworks. You also are likely capable of creating courses on Udemy, hosting courses on your own blog, or something else where you can go a lot higher than the typical $9.99 eBook (because you’re creating incredible content, right?). You’re potential has skyrocketed from just a few years of experience.
Investing – It’s time to find your money engine. You may still be working on paying off debt, but I highly recommend you figure out what your investing passion is. For some it’s stocks, for others its real estate (my favorite real estate podcast here). Cryptos, buying websites, whatever. Simply put, your money engine multiplies your money while you are doing other things.
Freelancing – If you like wearing all the hats, freelancing may be for you. Take the technical skill set you have, add sales, marketing, and customer service to the mix, and then charge a high hourly rate. Simple and unlimited in its potential.
Freelancing will also boost your technical skills by taking you out of the safe bubble of corporate life. I always seemed to get used to how a company managed their tech stack. Then when I changed jobs, it was like the same tech was alien again. This meant I knew only one vertical of a tech stack and I needed a broader understanding. Freelancing will force you to get that broader knowledge.
Tutoring – Speaking of high hourly rates, I’ll mention tutoring one more time. If you need cash quick, keep this in your toolbox. You are still fresh enough from school that students will relate to you. However, unless you plan on making tutoring a business, I recommend “graduating” from it at some point. It won’t push your technical skills after the first year on the job.
Side Hustles for Senior Software Developers (3-10 years)
At this time in your career, you become a leader at your company. Hopefully you are also living a double life of side hustler extraordinaire. The cycle of success at work and growing side gigs creates a positive feedback loop of excellence. Consider the following side hustles at this point in your career:
- Start a Consulting Business
- Maintaining Digital Assets (should be a strong brand by now)
Investing – By this point you’ve read extensively and found your money engine. It’s time to amplify your money engine, truly treating it as a side hustle. Do you invest in the stock market? Consider options trading as well. Do you own rental houses? Consider wholesaling. Take existing investment knowledge and multiply it.
At community college you will get a flat fee for teaching one course (48 hours of classroom instructional time plus outside grading, planning, etc.). I expect most community colleges will pay at least $2k per class taught. On the other hand, my bootcamp pay was a higher hourly rate than my day job salary (converted to an hourly rate).
Consulting – Take your freelancing to a new level with a formal consulting business. At this point you are transitioning from personal reputation building to brand building. This is the kind of side hustle that can become your ticket to self employment (if you want).
A consulting business can take advantage of your writing and digital assets. The platforms you previously built are now funnels driving clients to your business. You are perceived as an expert in the field because…you are.
If you do reach the point where you consider taking the leap to self employment, read the eBook How to Engineer Your Layoff first. It is entirely possible to get paid to leave your job. Don’t knock it ’till you try it, right?
Creating Digital Assets – Just keep doing what you’ve been doing here. More assets means more cash flow and a more robust brand.
Side Hustles for Veteran Software Developers (10+ years)
You are a legend. If you are at the same company that you started at 10+ years ago, you are more than legend. You are part of the DNA of the company (hopefully you are there because it has been wonderful, not because you are too scared to leave ?).
If you are interested in a side hustle at this point and you’ve never had an independent gig before, you probably have specific goals like kids’ college or a retirement savings boost. However, if you’ve been hustling all along then you are likely already financial independent and are considered a SWAMI.
At this point, consider the following:
- Maintaining Digital Assets (should be a strong brand by now)
- Maintaining the consulting business (leverage the brand)
- Speaking Engagements (leverage the brand)
There’s not much to expound on from the list above, so I’ll skip to the new item.
Speaking Engagements – Leverage your brand to land speaking engagements. You could simply enjoy local name recognition in your community. Or you could use speaking engagements to get paid to take vacations around the country (or world).
In the U.S. in particular, there are interesting tax deductions once you own your own business. You possibly can write off significant amounts of the travel cost as business expense. You may be able to rent part of your house to your business and write it off. I recommend hiring an accountant for help with the taxes.
Why Have a Side Hustle as a Software Developer?
Peace of mind, freedom, funding expensive hobbies, being great at your job…whatever your reason to start a side gig is, I believe you will experience numerous unexpected benefits along the way: fun, confidence, opportunity, giving back to the community, and so on.
Regardless of your financial goals, it’s important to remember how big a role multiple income streams can play in your financial security. Income streams that are independent of your 401(k) or other retirement accounts can significantly reduce the amount of money you need invested to reach retirement or financial independence.
Side income streams can also significantly reduce the amount of time OR the required savings rate to reach financial independence. This chart shows the amount of years of working a typical job are required in order to reach financial independence based on historic stock market returns. Creating income streams that are independent of your investment portfolio is like a hack of this chart.
Remember, if you get to the point where you no longer need to work for someone else, you can still choose to. Side hustles close no doors, they only open new ones. If you do decide to leave a great day job, remember to try to negotiate your layoff to receive a severance package. It can’t hurt to ask.
I’ll wrap up with three of my favorite side hustle quotes:
“Build equity every day.”Nick Loper, Side Hustle Nation
Nick Loper is talking about creating an asset from nothing. An asset is anything that can be capitalized (sold for a multiple of its earnings). You build equity (net worth) when you create a cash flow producing asset that can be sold.
“Quadruple down on what’s working.”James Altucher, jamealtucher.com
If you have several side hustles and only one is getting traction, consider pausing the others and doing 4X more of the gig that’s working. You will get results.
“I have ways of making money that you know nothing of.”John D. Rockefeller, source
I simply like this one. Niche sites, smartphone apps, blogging…these are all very “New Economy” ways of making money that some people simply won’t understand. Add in investing, options trading, wholesaling, etc and the circle of people who can understand all your lines of business is small indeed.