Directly post graduation from University, I decided to build my own web app (Ease My Day) while waiting to get a job as a software Engineer.

The reasons to build this app:

  • Gain solid hands on software experience before hitting the job scene
  • Providing a solution to a common problem
  • Not sitting doing nothing while searching for jobs

The app is Not an entrepreneurial tryout nor a business to be sold. Still throughout interviews I noticed that at the rate of 4 of each 5 interviews I pass through the app is being confused with a business and I am asked the same questions:

Why did you build the business? Why do you want to stop the app? Do you want to sell the app?

Knowing that I didn't build a business nor make any income from this application.

Do candidates who take initiatives and like to craft their own apps on the side cause a red flag on the hiring manager's radar?


requested by @Kate Gregory

This is how I describe it on my resume:

Personal Project: Developer of "Ease My Day" SaaS application, Montreal, Qc.
Link: http://www.easemyday.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/EaseMyDay

"Ease My Day" BETA's main purpose is helping with daily nutrition/health monitoring.

A list of more than 6000 foods with their nutrition facts is available. Users can add their personal foods and grow the food database.
It allows users to specify their goal: lose weight, gain weight, no goal just staying healthy.
It allows users to calculate their daily needs (calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat etc..) using the app's built in calculator. Users can manually input those values if they already know their needs.
Users can monitor their food intakes by: meals, days and/or weeks.
It is deployed on Amazon AWS ( EC2 instance with RDS )

"Ease My Day" solved a daunting task; it is a speed efficient platform that turns daily health monitoring - a notably time consuming task in the past - to an enjoyable activity that can be finalized in just few seconds. It is currently used in several countries around the world.

Languages/technology: .... HERE I explain the languages/technologies/Software Engineering approaches used ....

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    So after seeing that you conceived an idea and successfully followed through until it was finished... they saw that as a problem? There is a word for hiring managers like that... but since we are in polite company I shall refrain from using it. – GrandmasterB Jun 7 '14 at 4:37
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    I guess those manager suffer from not knowing the iceberg secret, (see joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000356.html). They make the error of confusing a nice-looking UI with a full-blown, ready-to-use, commercial application. – Doc Brown Jun 7 '14 at 6:42
  • can you edit your question to show how you describe this app on your resume? I think your interviewers are responding to that more than to the existence of the app. – Kate Gregory Jun 7 '14 at 12:28
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    @GrandmasterB I feel relief now that I see experts in the software community actually understand me:P Not all managers are bad but since last year I have been job hunting and 4 of each 5 interview I got, they look at my app like if I committed a big sin. Am glad am getting support from the SO community! – ccot Jun 7 '14 at 18:18
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    @shadesco have you been talking to large(r) enterprises mostly? I'm asking because the feedback you describe would be a typical response from an environment like this as these organizations tend to undervalue inspiration and initiative (which you have shown), and overvalue conformity and risk avoidance (which in their eyes you don't match). You might get better responses from smaller companies, and maybe also by calling your project a "non-commercial pet project". – miraculixx Jun 7 '14 at 18:39

Every project is built in steps:

  • I have a concept or an idea. This is not very valuable: everyone has thousands of great ideas, and keeping the idea in your head without doing anything with it won't make the world better.

    Example: a chat for cats and dogs would be so great!

  • I draft the concept/idea on paper. This step is important, because something purely abstract and speculative becomes a bit more concrete. It doesn't mean that it is doable, but at least it is described.

    Example: a 20 pages draft explaining how cats and dogs can talk to each other online, while they are unable to use a keyboard or a mouse. It also contains my personal drawings of the thing which will be fixed on the head of the animal and plugged in the PC.

  • I do a prototype. Great, now, I know that it's also doable.

    Example: I put the experimental instrument I created on the heads of two cats, and they were able to communicate. Sadly, one cat was burned, and the other one became crazy. Don't really care; in front of my house, there are other cats to make experiments on.

  • I realize a semi-working version I can use. It's not a commercial product, but it can be used by a person who is fully aware of the constraints of the product.

    Example: the instrument is working fine, and it doesn't put cats on fire any longer. They can eventually become crazy if the instrument is installed incorrectly on their head. I explained the concept to my colleague. Our cats talked to each other for two hours, but then his cat jumped out of the window; don't know why, but I opened a bug and closed it as "Can't reproduce", since mine remains happy and fat.

  • I end up with a working product which is used by me and eventually a few other people.

    Example: cats and dogs are talking together for hours every evening for the last two weeks. We're ten colleagues using it, and everybody appreciate it. Jeff's cat don't even want to go out, and spend the whole day in front of her PC. Jeff thinks about buying her a dedicated PC. Sadly, Kate's dog started biting people and was euthanized. I hardly doubt this is related to my product.

  • I ship a stable product to a limited number of people.

    Example: we have over three hundred pets registered. The product was so successful that I finally created a company, Cat&Dog Chat Ltd. Thanks to the earnings, I even bought a new PC to Jeff's cat and hired two geeks. I may consider leaving my current job. I heard that there was a collective cat suicide in a building nearby. I hope it's not related to my product.

  • The product is a commercial success and achieved to become popular.

    Example: we have literally thousands of pets here, it's so exciting. I hired twenty other people. The software was ported on MacOS and also works on most popular smartphone platforms. The product is very stable, and there is practically no bug reports concerning major bugs. I also prepare a new version of the product, which will enable other pets, especially birds, to talk online as well. Sadly, an old woman filed a complaint after her six cats jumped out of the window one by one after spending ten hours in front of a PC; it's time to hire a lawyer.

Few projects achieve the latest step. Most remain at the first step. Many are between the first and the last. There is nothing wrong to target one of the intermediary steps.

Each step is more and more challenging, and also teaches you more and more things. For example, at the last step, you have to have a lawyer, an accountant, salesmen, marketing people, etc. You may have been an excellent technician, but you should also be able to sell, to market, to defend your interests in court and to pay taxes.

The fact that the interviewers ask you questions about the business side of your projects is understandable. If you were interested by the technical aspects only, that's perfectly fine (for a software engineer). On the other hand, if you had successfully built a full-grade commercial product which was actually sold, it's even better, because it shows that:

  • Your concept was commercially viable,

  • You were able to do it technically,

  • And you were able to convince other people to actually use it and pay for it.

Does it cause a red flag that you've done only the technical part? Not at all. If they need to hire a businessman but they tell that they search for a software engineer, they are doing it wrong. So no, it's not a bad thing; just be very clear about your motives: you don't sell this because:

  • You don't want to.

    Perfectly understandable. You may hate talking to customers, or doing accounting. This is not your job.

  • You are interested in technical aspects only.

    Perfectly understandable. You want to focus on the things you will need the most during your career.

not because:

  • You tried and failed.

    Depending on how a failure is presented, this can become very negative.

  • You don't even try, telling yourself that you'll never succeed.

    Nobody wants to hire a person who don't believe in him and in what he does, so even if the candidate knows exactly why the project is not viable commercially, he should omit talking about that under the risk of giving a negative impression anyway.

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  • Thanks for the detailed response. In my project I was mainly interested in the technical and solution providing aspect. Several trainers & athletes thanked me, however many developers told me I "should not" mention it on my CV because managers do not like "people like me". That seemed absurd at first but with time I noticed that the number of hiring managers that took it negatively was more than the ones who took it positively, even though I explained clearly my motives. It's like if,as a developer, it's unacceptable to swim sometimes on your own & that is what got me confused. – ccot Jun 7 '14 at 2:40
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    What if you just provided the app if they ask for it? In other words, if they want to know something about your technical skills, and the app will demonstrate that, then show it to them. At least then you are answering a specific question they have, rather than showing them something randomly and wondering how they will react to it. – Robert Harvey Jun 7 '14 at 2:58
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    @shadesco: if you're in front of a manager who doesn't like "people like you", i.e. people who get things done, this is probably not the best company for you in the first place. Favoring other candidate because you have done projects on your own while he doesn't makes no sense to me. – Arseni Mourzenko Jun 7 '14 at 9:11
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    @RobertHarvey: totally. Making the app open source could also be a benefit, unless the author is not particularly proud of the source code. – Arseni Mourzenko Jun 7 '14 at 9:12
  • @MainMa thanks , you are absolutely right concerning this is not the best company for you. But since it happened often I thought I had to ask the community over here. – ccot Jun 7 '14 at 18:26

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