search

5 great side hustles for Software Engineers

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on May 27, 2021

side hustles for engineers

A combination hobby and part-time job, a side hustle is something you do in your off hours in addition to your full-time role as a Software Engineer. More work?! Yes! In addition to bringing in some extra cash, a side hustle offers a few key benefits.

A side hustle can help you level-up your skill sets or enable you to get paid to learn new skills. It can reduce your chance of burning out by giving you more autonomy than you might have at work. It’s also potentially an outlet for the creative ideas you can’t execute at your full-time job.

Here are five great potential side hustles for Software Engineers that can help you learn, grow, and make some extra income.

1. Freelancing or moonlighting Software Engineering

Getting a part-time/contractor job doing something similar to what you do at your day job is the most obvious way for Software Engineers to quickly and easily make more money with the skills you already have.

Benefits

  • You’re likely to find high-paying work quickly

  • It’s usually relatively easy to find part-time jobs that will expand your SE skillset and resume

  • Side jobs often lead to full-time jobs if you want to change roles

  • Great networking opportunities

Drawbacks

Erik Dietrich, founder of DaedTech, recommends Software Developers avoid side gigs that involve building mobile apps or SaaS in their free time. “Yes, you heard me correctly,” Dietrich wrote. “You’re a software developer and I’m steering you away from software development. You spend all day, every day writing software for a living already. You know software — you live it and you breathe it. So if you go home and start a side hustle building software, all you’re going to do is build software. You’re going to build it, then build it some more, and finally, after that, when it’s finally time to ship, you won’t ship so that you can spend another year building it.”

You should also be careful to only use your own equipment when doing side hustles and not your work computer.

Examples

Besides building apps or SaaS, there are tons of ways to use your SE skills to make extra cash on the side. For example, you could build and sell Shopify apps or themes for Ghost or Wordpress blogs. One developer sells emoji domains names on the side.

2. Create a course

There’s no better way to be sure you really understand something than to try to teach it to someone else. And if you can make a little money doing it? All the better.

Benefits

  • According to Erik Dietrich teaching technical courses can be very lucrative

  • Makes you more hirable by helping to establish you as a subject-matter expert

  • If you create online courses within a distribution platform that links you with editors, their feedback will likely make you a better presenter, which can help you in your career

  • You’re likely to meet a lot of up-and-coming SEs who may become good friends and helpful connections later on

Drawbacks

The main consideration when deciding to teach a course is whether to build your own course and distribution platform or go with existing platforms. Obviously building your own is a lot of work. Plus, if you don’t already have a huge audience you’re going to have to do your own marketing. On the other hand, if you go with a platform they’re going to take a lot of your earnings and you’ll have to work within their limitations and restrictions.

Examples

Erik Dietrich created courses with Pluralsight, which he said “made me a lot of money over the years and built me a good bit of influence.” You can also distribute courses through Udemy or Lynda.com. “With those, you can just build the course and let them handle distribution, marketing, sales, etc.,” Dietrich writes. “It’s good when you’re getting your feet wet and don’t have an audience. Once you’re established, you can take it to the next level.”

If you want to roll your own, you can distribute through Gumroad or Patreon, for example. They also take a cut, but it’s much smaller and you have much more flexibility. And there’s always the option of creating your own YouTube channel. There are several ways to monetize a YouTube presence, including ad revenue and selling courses, community access, and ebooks.

Whatever path you choose, if possible collect every participant’s email address so you can sell them other courses, white papers, or ebooks later.

3. Automate your hobby

You may be able to combine the skills you use for your day job with what you love doing in the evenings and weekends and make a little cash while you’re at it.

Benefits

  • A side hustle outside your professional area of expertise totally avoids potential problems around conflict of interest and non-competes

  • Doing something very different from your day job can help you de-stress and provide an outlet for your creativity

  • Getting out of the SE world can help you meet people you otherwise wouldn’t come into contact with

Drawbacks

  • It’s generally going to be harder to make the same amount of money doing something you love as you’d make with freelance work that resembles you’re already getting paid to do but on the side, especially at first

Examples

  • If you love making visual art, try turning it into NFTs

  • If you love to cook, you could create an algorithm that finds recipes based on your dietary restrictions or flavor preferences

  • Software Engineer Manuel Odendahl makes and publishes music with machines, some of which run on his own code. “I hope to get a few regular gigs once that is possible again,” Odendahl told me. “I’m at the beginning of my ‘career,’ but it’s going decently.”

4. Blogging + affiliate marketing

Blogging and freelance writing offers many of the same benefits as course creation, including establishing subject matter expertise and networking with your peers.

Benefits

  • Like creating a course, blogging helps establish your expertise on your subject matter

  • Monetizing through affiliate links offers is that it can be even more lucrative and scalable than course fees

  • You can blog about any topic, even if it has nothing to do with software engineering

Drawbacks

  • It can take a long time to build up an audience big enough to bring in significant revenue

  • Managing affiliate relationships can be time-consuming

  • Only using Amazon is easier, but generally less profitable

Examples

  • Erik Dietrich monetizes his blog with Amazon affiliate marketing

5. Get out of tech entirely

The benefits of using your SE skills for your side hustle are many. But there’s also something to be said for leaving work at work and doing something totally different in your off hours, especially if you can rake in a bit of cash at the same time.

Benefits

  • Learn totally new skills that can translate into better job performance

  • Meet new people you wouldn’t otherwise meet

  • You’ll be more interesting at parties

Drawbacks

  • Usually the pay is lower for non-tech side hustles

  • You’ll often have to learn a totally new skill set

Examples

One Software Engineer moonlights as a square dance caller. “Not a thing anyone does for the money, but it has led to some interesting stories and I've got friends in a lot of faraway places,” they tweeted. “Gets me out of my introvert-shell. I'm a lot better at presentations than I otherwise would've been.”

This same Engineer is also a veterinarian on the side. He quit tech to go to vet school, but found it was too low-pay to do full-time. “Now I can do relief vet work ("substitute" when a clinic is shorthanded) or volunteer (e.g. pets of the homeless). Yay!”

Going forward

Whether you’re looking to pay off your student loans, retire early, or just buy that shiny new toy you’ve been eyeing, there are plenty of great options for side hustles for Software Engineers.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

Sign up for our newsletter

Ready to try Clockwise?

Get started for free