When you are starting a personal programming project, what is your first step? I'm trying to start a project thats just an idea at the moment. I get lots of these and I dive right into the code and after a while just completely lose interest and or just forget about the project.

When you are starting, what is your first step? do you plan out the project? make a diagram? write some code on paper? How do you start a project in a manner that you know you will succeed?

+1  A: 

For my own personal projects I just dive right in. Of course, none of these have yet been sufficiently large as to require any sort of pre-planning. If this is going to be a serious project or a relatively large scale, it is always a good idea to flush out at least what each part of the program needs to do and a high level view of how they will do it.

Ed Swangren
+8  A: 

I spend a lot of time thinking about the various aspects of the project before I even touch a keyboard.

I go through what I've learnt from previous projects and write it down in various categories ('technical', 'promotion', etc)

Personal project or not, I always set up source code control. Git, Mercurial of Bazaar are examples of source code control tools that are not intrusive because you do not need to set up a master server. Just type a simple command to create the project, check your files in, commit. In the future, when you mess up one of your files, you will be able to 'undo'

I also set up a lightweight ticket system to keep track of 1.issues and 2.ideas By "lightweight" I mean that if maintaining two text documents with these lists works for you, that's good enough.

Hope this helps.

+12  A: 

The only thing that works for me: Create the smallest possible implementation of it that's somehow usable and then use it.


First plan out the basic outline of the final application. Most important features, basic GUI, program flow, etc. Then refine that so that you don't take on too much at first, remove unnecessary features, and add what else you want in the first version. Then use that outline to start a task list to create the smallest possible working version of your application. Then it's much easier to add extra features and make it fully functioning.

+7  A: 

From 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Habit 2: Begin with the End In Mind.

With any project you need a clear goal, a point where you can say "I'm finished". A clear outcome will give you direction. Once you have that, you can start planning how to get there. The size and complexity of the project will determine how much detail your plan needs, but in general you'll want to feel your making progress against your plan quite regularly.

My next step is to sketch out a design of the modules that will be needed and the APIs between each module. If the APIs are clean then the modules are probably right. Then I start implementing the modules, testing as I go.

Andrew Johnson
+1  A: 

It depends on the project - how big is it?

If I'm writing the next Notepad clone I might just dive in, if I wanted to roll my own operating system it'd take a lot more non-coding work.

I like to do a lot of diagrams, the tool I use for most development is clean A4 paper and a pencil. Draw out the UI, workflow, basic classes, and how you're going to store any data - then the coding is just a computer readable way of writing what you drew already.

Source control le.g. SVN is a couple of keystrokes/clicks, so the overhead is low and the benefit is high, its handy to try stuff and just revert to an earlier state if they don't work.

Then just make the most basic protoype that will work - once something is actually going it is much easier to get enthused and add more. If it is overwhelming I'll find I think the problem is solved in my head, and thats enough.

Steven Adams

I like Maximillian's answer.. to expand a little, my person projects are developed to solve something I'm working on already. So when I get tired of repeat work I'll prototype a solution. and then use it. If Its similar enough to one of my earlier projects I'll borrow as much code as I can and try to improve the level of my work, make it more professional.

Fusion's use of Source Control is important too. Takes 2 minutes to install SVN.

+1  A: 

Like the others, my personal projects always have:

  • A Final Goal
  • A Task List
  • Small usable units
  • Source control

As an additional motivator, I try to use a technology that I have never used before. Learning something new generally becomes the largest motivator for me.


If you want to turn it into a public open source project, Producing Open Source Software is supposed to be a good read (available both online and in print).

+1  A: 

Easy - don't start at all projects you're likely to lose interest in. Spend more time to make sure you want to commit yourself to an idea before beginning any work.

+2  A: 

I agree with the already given advice of:

  • Planning a minimal implementation that does something useful as a first complete release.
  • Have concrete goals about what you want to achieve to have something to compare your progress with.

I would also recommend beginning with a lightweight design of you overall architecture so you can have a roadmap of how to build your product.

I find it difficult to start building something when I don't have a clear idea about how it should look at least at a first level of decomposition. Think about what do you need besides functionality: high performance?, extensibility scenarios?, which ones?, usability goals?, high scalability?, ease of deployment and installability?, etc. Ask yourself: What components I will have to build in order to achieve those architectural qualities?.

And don't get me wrong, I'm a strong proponent of agile software development. You don't need to spend a lot of times designing your architecture (because it surely will have to evolve as you build and get feedback about what works and what doesn't), but having a blueprint of how to build your product based on its architecture should be useful in for planning your progress and setting realistic goals.

Sergio Acosta

If your personal project is similar to an existing open source project, you should consider contributing to that project instead. A couple of small contributions (bug fixes etc.) are more valuable than a half finished project.

+1  A: 

Define the goal for the project. Sounds like you are looking almost exclusively at the solution rather than the problem.

A program isn't useful to you or anyone else unless it addresses some problem. Writing code to get moving is great, but you appear to lose interest and focus after you start -- because you're looking at the code, not the problem.

Spend some time considering what led you to write this code. Ponder how other people might discover the same need, what path might take them to the same frustration you worked to solve.

Then, find some of those people and offer your (partial) solution, and you'll generate interest and suggestions among them all.

THAT will keep you going on your project. The fellow interest, the sharing, even the disagreements -- it's people who need software! Don't create solutions (software) looking for a problem (people). You started with YOU, with your need or desire, but focused on the code, and lost the impetus for the project.

Programming's a lot more fun when you're problem-solving. But you need to keep the problem in front of you. Sharing the problem builds community. That's what this is really all about, isn't it?