Reason #1? Users. Specifically, interacting with them.
Releasing software to the world is scary and wonderful at the same time - especially the very first time. The difference between privately used software and public software that anyone can use is huge!
I’m fortunate to work with customers directly every day at my job, but many developers do not. Working on a side project helps build up your customer service/people skills, which are necessary for successful career advancement. Once your software has been released, it’s no longer yours! You share it with potentially millions of strangers. Strangers that, whether you want it or not, will give you honest feedback. Love, hate, and everything in between. Handling it and developing a tough skin is part of the learning experience.
Creating something in your own name, instead of behind a company, really ups the emotional investment you’ll feel. This is currently my “favorite” bad review:
This is for a Google Chrome extension I created a year ago that adds functionality to Amazon Wish Lists. Obviously this user encountered bugs - criticism for those is valid. What makes this particularly funny though, is that this is completely free, open source software (hosted on GitHub) - meaning that anyone can verify that it’s not “spamware”! When this is said about the company you work for, the impact is lessened. However, individually this can feel like a personal attack! The key, of course, is to not take it personally, respond politely, and move on.
On the flip side, I’ve received amazing feedback thus far for Fitwatchr, my Fitbit calorie tracking app:
This underlines the best reason to ship a side project: making a real difference in other people’s lives. That is the ultimate end goal to strive towards, from which you’ll gain the most rewards. So, what are you waiting for? Start releasing those side projects - you won’t regret it!