10 Side Hustles to Make Extra Money As a Software Engineer

How to make money outside of your day job

Photo by Chronis Yan on Unsplash

Over the last 10 years of my life, I’ve delved into a huge variety of ventures. Some have been a success, others not so much — but the result is I’ve learned a lot. Below, I’ll go over my experience and analyse how you can use your skills as an engineer to create extra income for yourself.

1. Build an Educational Course

How we learn is changing, and the educational landscape looks far different today than it did 10 years ago. University education is becoming questionable due to the vast amount of online content that in a lot of cases provides more value than a very expensive degree that has no guarantee of a job once completed.

It’s far cheaper for a person to spend $500 on several courses that are taught by people who are an expert in that area, who work in it every day, than a lecturer, who quite often, has no industry experience.

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The result is that there are huge opportunities out there to create paid educational content in the form of courses and subscription-based businesses. Even more impressive is that this is an area that’s not impossible to get into because you have one thing that separates you from everybody else: your personality and potential teaching style.

People like different styles and personalities and learn better from different teaching styles. All you have to do is be you, teach, and provide value, and you will make money from this.

Although it’s more work, I’d recommend building your own platform to sell your courses as you have more control over pricing, branding, etc., and this is going to be what really makes you successful.

Examples

Yaroslav Shmarov created a course and launched on Udemy, generating 420 sales in 100 days. He made some really good points and more reasons to avoid using platforms such as Udemy.

  • Hosting courses on Udemy is free, but be ready to sell at $10 and get $2–7
  • On Udemy, you don’t get access to student emails/phones (so you can’t create your own community, and you can’t cross-sell well)
  • Hosting on Udemy is good if your potential audience niche is very big
  • The only engagement a teacher can have with active students is the Q&A section of a course
  • Overall, selling courses on Udemy can be considered passive income with minimum engagement required after publishing a course

Challenges

Course creation can be a huge earner — demand is high and only growing. The major issues with course creation are as follows:

  • Audience: Building an initial audience can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. It can be done, easily actually, but it requires a lot of work and consistency in creating free content to provide traffic for your landing page
  • Course quality is important: It comes as no surprise really, but the quality of your course will affect the success of it. You have to be prepared to fail with the first few courses you create; however, if you take your time, are patient, and are prepared to learn, then you can overcome this and drastically increase your chances of success.

2. Create a Content Platform/Blog

Creating some kind of content-based website is another opportunity you can exploit as a developer to make extra income. There are so many areas of computer science and development that can provide you with a great topic on which to base your content.

By Dominic Walliman on Flickr

A great example of a self-made content/a blog platform is No CS Degree. It was created by @petecodes and is hitting monthly recurring revenue of $2,500/month.

The product itself is interviews with people who’ve made it as a developer without a degree, and that’s it — nothing complicated. It’s also free to sign up to the No CS Degree email list.

“Where’s money made on these platforms?” I hear you ask. Well it’s made by either ad revenue from ads placed on the site or from sponsorship deals for ad spots on an email.

Challenges

  • Writing content takes up a huge amount of time, as you need to do your research in order to provide the most value for your readers
  • Finding a niche — a good niche — will go a long way in helping you. Try to specialise where you can.
  • Find sponsors — this can often be solved by reaching out to potential suitors for your ad spots or by using something like Google AdSense to add ads to your page
  • Driving traffic is a common problem when creating anything. Again, it can be overcome by putting time into building followings on platforms such as Twitter or by improving your site’s SEO ranking.

3. Create a Forum/Community

Paid forums and communities are an emerging opportunity thanks to the rise of platforms such as Discord, Patreon, and Discourse. These platforms make it very easy to set up communities and integrate payments, making it a gold mine of opportunity.

Image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Why does this work? Well, people want to communicate and associate with others who have similar interests, wants, and needs. Essentially, by building a community, you’re providing a platform for this to happen.

Some examples

  • Peter Levels built Nomad List, providing a community for digital nomads. The business now generates $24,000/month.
  • Anne-Laure Le Cunff built Ness Labs, a community for healthy entrepreneurs that generates $9,600/month.

Why not utilise the free, open-source tools mentioned above and begin creating your own community? You can even code additional functionality that can enable to you to create some awesome features for potential users and really help as many people as possible.

Challenges

  • Community building is extremely challenging but highly rewarding due to the physiological impacts of something called social proof. In essence, it’s hard to get the first 100 users into your community, but as the number grows, it become easier to attract more — as the value is in the community. The trick is to stick with it.
  • High engagement levels will be needed from you, using up a lot of your time
  • Managing the community to avoid spam and to maintain good content within the community will also be a challenge

Note: Building a community is by far one of the hardest things to do; however, it can be hugely rewarding. Not only can you make a substantial amount of money (due to word of mouth), but you can really help a lot of people.

4. Create an E-book

As software engineers, we posses vast amounts of knowledge around tech that a lot of people want to learn. A great way to pass this information down is in the form of an e-book.

The good thing about e-books is they can be written reasonably quickly, and if you pick a topic you’re passionate about, then they can be quite fun to make.

You can use a platform such as Gumroad to host your e-book and handle selling it.

Note: E-books can be a great cash cow you can use to generate money that can be invested in other ventures/hustles. They’re also a great project that can be worked on over a couple of months, writing a bit every day.

Examples

  • “The Good Parts of AWS”: An e-book by Daniel Vassallo and Josh Pschorr, generated $31,000 in sales, selling over 1,000 copies in the first week alone.
  • “Maker Minions: 101 Automations for Makers, Side Hustlers, and Entrepreneurs”: An e-book by Michael Gill made $5,000 and is still growing.

Image by Daniel Vassallo

Challenges

  • Research and planning will take up most of your time
  • Building an audience (you can go about doing this when you launch — there’s more flexibility with building e-books, as you can publish on platforms such as Amazon)
  • Creating a structure for your book can also be a challenge, but putting some time into figuring this out is the simple solution

5. Freelancing

Ah, freelancing — possibly one of the most obvious forms of making extra money as a software engineer. The model is simple: Sell your time for some extra cash.

Image by Nathan da Silva on Unsplash

The good news with freelancing is you can get paid very generously for your time, especially if you can hook yourself up with a well-funded startup.

The bad news is, unlike most of the other side hustles in this article, it leaves you without a product at the end. This means you’re limited when it comes to scaling, as you have a direct relationship with time and money.

However, it gives you a great option to transition into full-time work should you decide to, and then you can go about turning into an agency if that appeals to you.

Note: I’ve done freelancing myself and found it to be a really awesome way to make money that can be invested into other things or used to create more freedom with my time. The trick to it is to find good clients.

Examples

  • Susanne Peng is a developer and designer who built her dream life through freelancing — her story makes for a really good read
  • Glenn Stovall is an app developer who also built his life by using freelancing as a means to create more freedom.

Challenges

  • Building client relationships iskey and can be challenging to manage as you have to maintain good relationships with multiple clients
  • Creating effective ways to manage your time can be a challenging at first but becomes much easier after you’ve been doing it for a while
  • Finding clients is also a major challenge. Places such as Upwork aren’t what they used to be, and you’ll struggle to get decent clients on there. I would recommend using LinkedIn as a lead-generation tool (search for tech startups, and just reach out to people on there).

Ghost Blog Themes

Ghost is a powerful blogging CMS for content creators, entrepreneurs, and developers. To give some perspective on how much it’s growing, 5,933 writers, podcasters, and video creators set up sites with Ghost to publish online and deliver newsletters to their audience during this week alone.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I use Ghost myself, as it’s such a powerful platform, and there are some beautiful themes for it. The great news for you, though, is that there’s a huge shortage of supply for themes as well — recent posts in the Ghost forum only confirm this.

This provides a golden opportunity to build themes for Ghost, where the average theme retails for $59 on Ghost’s official website. Ghost themes are built using the following stack:

  • Node.js
  • SQL
  • Handlebars.js

This article on Geekinsta is a great guide that’ll get you on your way.

Examples

  • fueko: A small company that sells various themes. They have a Ghost theme that launched on July 6. The theme they’ve launched retails at $59, and they’ve sold 94 copies in the last three months, netting $5,546.

Challenges

  • There’s a lot of support on the Ghost forums, but finding useful tutorial videos and third-party documentation may be a challenge. The good news is if you understand Handlebars and Node, then you should be set up for success.
  • Picking a niche for your theme can help you create a theme a particular audience will love and will potentially increase your sales. It can be a challenge, but this is a relatively uncrowded marketplace.
  • Themes retail, on average, between $29-$99. This means there’s an expectation on price, resulting in a potential price cap. However, if you create an exceptional theme, there’s plenty of scope to charge a higher fee for it.

7. The Shopify App

With recent trends in drop shipping, lifestyle businesses, and a push for independent retail-based outlets to move online, Shopify has opened up another wonderful opportunity for us developers.

Photo by Roberto Cortese on Unsplash

The Shopify App Store is widely popular among Shopify store owners, as it provides a place for users to improve their customers experience and helps to increase the revenue of their business.

These apps can be an excellent source of passive income, as they tend to take care of themselves — of course, that’s not always the case, but it can still be a great income builder nonetheless.

Examples

  • Filippo Mursia has built Tailry, a Shopify app that helps users manage their stores and inventory. It’s currently generating $2,800/month in revenue and is a great example of how you can build an app on Shopify’s platfrom and turn it into a profitable side hustle.

Challenges

  • Handling ongoing updates once you’ve built the app can be a possible challenge that’ll need to be managed. There are ways to make this a graceful process, but it’s definitely worth investigating before diving into Shopify app building.

8. Build an API as a Service

We live in a data-driven age where information, attention, and content are king — to give you some perspective, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created each day.

Image by Luca Bravo on Unsplash

Taking some of this data and turning it into some form of valuable collection can be a great way to make money. Businesses make data-driven decisions almost every day and will happily pay for anything that provides value/ increases potential profits.

APIs provide a great platform to allow access to data for various businesses, so why not create one and charge for the privilege to access it?

You could create a web scraper that gathers useful data and then a Rest/GraphQL-based API to sit over the top of the data, providing access to it.

If you need inspiration, any kind of marketing-, social-, or product-related data can be of huge value to a lot of people. Amazon, eBay, and other e-commerce platforms can also be a great place to gather insights from. These are useful data sets for e-commerce entrepreneurs to analyse.

Examples

  • Gareth Fuller built a really simple oil-price API that generates $370/month in revenue. Not bad considering how young a company it is and the room for growth.
  • Sébastien Dumont built a WordPress-related API that handles front-end WooComerce. It currently makes $900/month and is growing, with 20,000 downloads.

Challenges

  • Building a data set can take a lot of research before implementing any solution. This is because you first need to find how it can provide value and what the best shape to provide the data in is. There’s a really good article by Coding VC that provides great insights into how to overcome this challenge, though, and gives some great tips, too.

9. Become an Online Instructor

There’s no shortage of supply when it comes to people trying to make it as a software engineer in 2020, so why not jump on the trend and help them by becoming an online instructor?

I’ve done this myself in the past, and it does provide a decent amount of money. You can generally charge between $50-$130/hour, depending on what you’re teaching, and it can be a great way to make some extra income while providing a lot of value to somebody who may need it.

Image by George Field. Worldwide Google trend for “become a developer.”

Platforms like Codementor are providing a great service for matching mentors with students, and it’s becoming increasingly easier to find people on social media who are looking for tutors.

Examples

  • Suresh Atta is a software engineer who’s racked up a total of 1,781 sessions at $60/hour on Codementor
  • Yuriy Linnyk has a huge 3,079 jobs at $80/hour

Challenges

  • It can be slightly harder to gather momentum because you’ll need to do around 10 sessions to provide social proof to others (I found offering a lot of value and providing a free 15-minute session managed to help me get some traction with it).
  • Competition is high, and this can be a stumbling block, especially when people can afford to lower their asking price per hour. Personally, I’d use these platforms as a means to build an audience off of — the platforms will try to prevent you, but there are often ways around it.

10. Build a Boilerplate Code Base

Think about the amount of times that you’ve gone to start a project, forgetting the amount of time it takes to set everything up. This is a problem that tons of engineers have, and we all like quick solutions — so much so that sometimes we’re even prepared to pay for a simple solution that’s already set up.

Image by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

Building a boilerplate that covers all of the basics of a particular setup can provide immense value for us software developers, and using a paid-for boilerplate, allows us to work on the important parts rather than focusing on the setup.

A really good place to build a boilerplate right now is in the world of web apps. Building a React/Vue UI and coupling it with a Node back end that takes care of authentication, databases, configuration, and common API services such as Firebase, SendGrid, Twilio can be a great way to get your foot in the door and enter the realm of passive income.

Examples

  • Kyle Gawley built Gravity, a React and Node SAAS boilerplate that generates $3,700/month in MRR. Kyle has built a really simple, clean UI that’s coupled with an elegantly designed back end, ready for you to configure it with what ever database you prefer.

Challenges

  • Creating a clean UI will be a time-consuming process, but anything worth doing takes time and requires patience
  • Creating trust with other developers is hard — although this can be worked around if you market it from the angle of being a developer yourself
  • Creating good documentation is another large piece of work that you may want to keep in mind

Conclusion

There are so many ways you can make money online nowadays, especially being a developer — it’s basically a superpower and a gateway to financial freedom if leveraged correctly. I hope you have a wonderful day, and thank you for taking the time to read this.