*From the Recruitment Perspective* One of the greatest aspects about being a Data Scientist, Analyst and Software Engineer/Developer:
Your skills and experience are not just limited to what you do at work. That’s a big differentiation between these fields and other career paths.
There are opportunities for you to take on side projects to continue to practice, strengthen your skill set, work on a variety of problems, create products, all while building a portfolio of work that you can show on your CV.
There are plenty of opportunities to work on independent/side projects - I feel that as Data Scientists and Software Engineers and Developers, your skill set enables you to dream up a problem (or see a problem) that you want to solve and actually be able to solve it.
You also have access to Kaggle competitions (Data Scientists and Analysts), you also have work that is visible to the public and repositories such as Github, Bitbucket, Stack Overflow.
Why is this important?
Doing side projects and building your portfolio is one way you can differentiate yourself from your competition when it comes to job search time.
The feedback I've been receiving from hiring managers is that this shows your immersion into the domain and the community as well as your passion for the work you do. It also shows your versatility in dealing with problems outside of the projects you do in the office, where you may have more resources and support.
Having the visibility of your work on a public domain can also be advantageous because potential employers can find you through those means. This applies whether you’re a seasoned Data Scientist, Software Engineer or you’re an aspiring one who has just graduated from university.
For the more seasoned professional: You have a tremendous amount of experience in your craft, built at work. It can be useful to get your hands on different types of problems and projects, something outside of what you normally do at work to stimulate yourself and learn a different domain.
Something for aspiring Data Scientists and Software Engineers/Developers to keep in mind: In general, it is tough breaking into industry and securing your first role out of university. In saying that, there are not many fields out there where you can actually gain experience on your CV without actually having experience in the commercial environment. Start thinking about doing independent projects; work that is outside of your studies.
For more advice and tips, check out this link from our friends at Toptal on what potential employers look for in a Data Scientist: https://www.toptal.com/data-science#hiring-guide