Poornima Vijayashanker

How to Keep Your Day Job and Pursue Your Passion Project on the Side


It’s a brand-new month, and we’ve got a new theme we’ll be tackling on Build! We’re going to be talking about building, managing, and growing a side project you are passionate about while keeping your day job.

I’m sure you’re aware of all the benefits that come with a side project: you get the chance to explore and learn new skills. And if it’s 100% yours, you get full creative freedom.

However, you’ve probably heard that once your side project starts to grow, you need to make a decision. You need to decide to go all in! You need to quit your day job and pursue that side project. Otherwise, you’re not really passionate about your idea, you’re not committed, and chances are you’ll appear less than focused!

But going all in on a side project can be a real challenge for many of us who don’t have the means, really like our day jobs, and truly want to have something on the side.

Well, it turns out you don’t actually have to go all in, and in today’s episode we’re going to tackle this myth. In future episodes, we’ll talk about how to manage your time and energy when you physically can’t and what to do when your side project is facing a number of challenges.

To help us out, I’ve invited Joy Dixon, who is a visionary and an entrepreneur with 20 years’ of industry experience. In addition to having a day job as a software engineer, Joy also runs a technical training school in Oakland, California called Mosaic Presence. So Joy is definitely someone who walks the talk!

In today’s episode you’ll learn:

  • How to pursue a side project while holding down a full-time job, when you don’t have the means to go “all in”;
  • How and why it’s important to share your side project with your current or future employer; and
  • How to respond to people who think you aren’t “focused.”

Once you’ve watched the episode, Joy and I know you are going to have some concerns around going all in on an idea rather than starting something on the side. Share those concerns with us in the comments below this video and we’ll be sure to take a look at them and respond shortly.

Watch the episode on YouTube!

Listen to the episode on iTunes!

How to Keep Your Day Job and Pursue Your Passion Project on the Side Transcript

Poornima Vijayashanker: I’m sure you’ve heard that it’s a wonderful idea to have a side project. After all, a side project will help you learn a new skill or explore something. But once that side project starts to grow, then you’ve got to quit your day job and go all in. If you don’t, you’re just not that passionate about your idea, you’re not committed, and you could appear less than focused.

Today we’re going to tackle this myth, and in future segments we’ll dive into how to manage your time and energy and grow your side project.

Welcome to Build, brought to you by Pivotal Tracker, I’m your host, Poornima Vijayashanker. Each episode of Build consists of conversations I have with innovators. Together we debunk myths and misconceptions that are relating to building products, companies, and your career in tact.

I’ve invited Joy Dixon, who is a visionary and an entrepreneur with 20 years’ of industry experience. In addition to having a day job as a software engineer, Joy also runs a technical training school called Mosaic Presence.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Joy.

Joy Dixon: Thank you for having me here, this is great.

Poornima Vijayashanker: You and I met at a conference recently and I’d love to just get to know you a little bit more. Tell us how did you get introduced into tech?

Joy Dixon: Actually in the sixth grade. I actually had a teacher, who said, “Hey, let’s do tech.” She was doing computers, it was back in the day with dummy terminals. Learned Basic, line number 100, duh, duh, duh, line number 200 duh, duh, duh. That’s actually how I started in tech.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Wow, that’s great that you got exposed to it so early and now it’s brought you full circle where you’re doing, you’re teaching. Let’s take it a step back, you have a day job right now. What’s your day job?

Joy Dixon: I have a day job right now. My day job is writing code. I’m a senior software engineer and I write code by day and then I teach people to write code by night.

Poornima Vijayashanker: That’s awesome. Your side project is Mosaic Presence. Tell us a little bit about it.

Joy Dixon: Mosaic Presence is my thing. That is the one thing that I do. So there is, it is truly my bliss, it is a software development training school, we have a mobile focus and really it’s about expanding opportunities and creating community. That is the main purpose of it all. We take brand new people, if you’re a complete beginner, we’d love you there. Then we move on and we do mobile stuff, we teach people how to make SMS apps. As well as your standard apps, either iOS or Android, whatever one’s your preferred flavor.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. What inspired you to start Mosaic Presence?

Joy Dixon: Actually I’ve been teaching for 10 years and I’ve taught at various companies professionally, as well as various universities, and I just really wanted to do my thing. I wanted to teach things in my way. And then also with, just when I went back to school to get my Master’s, I had to do that at night and on the weekends because I too had to keep my day job. I wanted to create a program that would allow people to also keep their day job as well acquire new skills.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Nice. You’ve been doing this for how long now? Mosaic Presence.

Joy Dixon: Mosaic Presence? Two and half years. The first half year was a pilot program that I ran and that was really great, there were so many companies who allowed me to use their space. Then actually putting pen to paper and creating a business was in 2015.

When to start a side project

Poornima Vijayashanker: OK, great. How did you know you were ready to start this? I know a lot of people are like, “Oh I want to teach.” Or, “I want to do this thing.” Or, “I want, want, want.” But it’s hard to get over that hurdle and then start doing it. You mentioned you’d been teaching before, but when did you decide, “Now I want to make this into my side project and then a business?”

Joy Dixon: Into a business. This is actually really great. This is actually my second time at bat. ‘Cause before I was just doing software consulting and I was building websites and doing consulting for people, and then that business went down because it did. I was working too much and not working on my business.

Actually that was really good because it gave me a foothold this time to make sure, if you’re doing Mosaic Presence, you’re going to make sure you spend the time doing Mosaic Presence as well as maintaining your day job.

Poornima Vijayashanker: So you had a little bit of a, let’s call it failure.

Joy Dixon: Totally.

Poornima Vijayashanker: It taught you how to do things the second time around.

Joy Dixon: I call them learning opportunities.

What it’s like to hold down a full-time job and pursue a side project

Poornima Vijayashanker: I like that. Then let’s talk about managing the business while you’re doing your day job. What’s that like?

Joy Dixon: A lot. It is really a lot. It is about time slicing, honestly. I pretty much sleep between 12 and 5, those are my hours. Before I go to work, I work on Mosaic Presence and then I teach at night. It’s really time management, time management is key, there are a lot of nos to invitations to go places and to socialize because the weekends are really meant for me to spend on my business.

Poornima Vijayashanker: I want you to hold that thought ‘cause we’re going to talk about that in the next segment. I want to skip ahead, why even do this on the side and keep your day job? Why not just save up a bunch of money and then say, “Peace.” And go and just focus on your side?

Joy Dixon: That is a definitely a way to go if that works for some people. For me, this couldn’t wait. Mosaic Presence couldn’t wait and I wanted to fund it and then just make it happen. I was like, let’s just do this. And the way I can do this and keep it in my control is to keep my day job.

Why you should tell your employer about your side project

Poornima Vijayashanker: The other issue that I know that a lot of our audience is probably thinking about is, what about your employer? How do they feel about it?

Joy Dixon: I told them. That was really, really, really important and key. Because when you start to kind of do stuff in the dark then you really don’t do it. I was very open and honest with them that this is the thing that I’m doing. I just felt better about that, just being transparent. This is my love. I’m working here and I’m going to do my best and I’m gonna work in excellence as always do but this right here is my love.

Poornima Vijayashanker: What was their reaction to it? Was there any, “Well, we need you here?”

Joy Dixon: They basically were like, “Hey, if you can do your job.”

Poornima Vijayashanker: OK, good.

Joy Dixon: So that worked out really well. I really appreciated that.

Poornima Vijayashanker: So finding that fit.

Joy Dixon: Yeah.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah, I talk to a lot of people who when they know that they need to financially or intellectually have that day job, they negotiate up front with that future employer or the current employer. But they don’t leave them in the dark because it gets them into deep water.

Joy Dixon: It really does.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Later on.

Joy Dixon: It really does. I would definitely agree with that and recommend that to anybody’s who’s doing both. It could be a little scary especially if you’re already in your current job. And they’re like, “Oh, why are you doing this all of a sudden? Are you planning to leave?” At the same time I think it’s just better just to have it out there. And it just makes you feel better in general and you put forth your effort.

How to share your side project with your employer

Poornima Vijayashanker: Do you have some techniques you can share with the audience for even how to start that conversation with a current employer?

Joy Dixon: I would really find somebody who you feel safe with. If it’s not your manger. Even if it’s not, just like, “Hey.” Have the dialogue and then at that point in time you do need to move it up the chain. But I would check all the lovely documents that they have for you to check. To see if this is even OK.

Poornima Vijayashanker: That’s true.

Joy Dixon: Before you even have a conversation. ‘Cause that’s really the challenge is the conflict piece.

Poornima Vijayashanker: I do know some places there are very, very strict where you’re not even allowed to do things like, “Oh, I took $100 for tutoring this kid on a one-off basis.”

Joy Dixon: No really?

Poornima Vijayashanker: Yeah. You’re just not allowed to take money. To your point, check the documents first.

Joy Dixon: Check the documents first because there’s a lot of times when people will think it’s something but what’s actually written on paper, ‘cause that’s really going to be what happens.

How to respond to people who think you aren’t “focused”

Poornima Vijayashanker: Aside from your employer, you probably told other people that you’re working on this and on the side in addition to your day job. They were probably less than supportive. How do you manage those reactions where they’re like, “Oh Joy, that’s not very focused.” Or, “How are you going to manage all of this? Seems like a lot.”

Joy Dixon: It’s really interesting ‘cause part of me and the people in my life know I’m type A so they’re just like, of course you are. But there are those people definitely who aren’t as familiar with me or don’t know me as well who do have that response. Really I just take it in and I’m like, “OK.” When you find that thing and Mosaic Presence is my thing, it actually energizes me. It energizes me and sets my energy in a space that makes me more creative, more full of life, more joyful, no pun intended. That’s what I respond with that. And when people see that passion and they feel that energy then they’re usually are like, “OK, keep going.”

Poornima Vijayashanker: They get it. That’s good, wonderful.

Well, thank you so much Joy for sharing.

Joy Dixon: It’s my pleasure. Thank you.

Poornima Vijayashanker: Now Joy and I want to know, are you worried about going all-in on an idea and would prefer to start something on the side? You’ve got some concerns? Share those concerns with us in the comments below this video and we’ll be sure to take a look at them and respond shortly.

That’s it for this segment, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to receive the next segment where we’ll talk about how to manage your time and your energy as it relates to your side project. Ciao for now.

This episode of Build is brought to you by our sponsor, Pivotal Tracker.

Build is produced as a partnership between Femgineer and Pivotal Tracker. San Francisco video production by StartMotionMEDIA.