A Developer's dilemma : Products vs Projects

Written on March 25, 2018
Estimated reading time : 3 mins
Tags : | career | job |

Background story

  • I regularly meet many young developers who take on work as it comes. Trending technologies & the reputation of the company matters a lot since it adds to resume value. However the nature of work matters too.
  • I remember my uncle’s words at the begining of my career “What do you want to work on ? Products or Projects ?”. I didn’t understand the value of this question then. But I do now.
  • While a developer should be concerned primarily with problem solving, the complexity & nature of problems matters a lot. Choosing the right type of work ensures you get what you want.

"Choosing between the two"



  • Its great to work on Products in 2 cases :
    1. Its a new product which solves a real world problem in a way others dont.
      • Traveling on a path less traveled, means you also encounter unique stumbling blocks on the way. Taking a crack at solving them often leads to great opportunities to learn.
      • The team usually consists of highly motivated individuals & the desire to make a difference can be very infectious !
      • It usually involves a startup like environment in which things can be quite hectic. However working in this environment for a few weeks/months prepares you for life & gives you the ability to deal with most stressful situations well. Too much of it can lead to a burnout though - so know when to say ‘no’ too.
    2. Its a well established product making revenue.
      • The need to stay ahead of their competitors ensures a constant desire to innovate.
      • Being well established ensures good support from the management.
  • In both cases, there is a big need to innovate & to distinguish themselves from the competition. For the developer, this means a lot of research, learning & high motivation to make an impact. Working on a product forces developers to think about the big picture.
  • There usually is more work satisfaction developing a product since long term goals are quite important here.


  • Working on a clone of another product which doesn’t get much traction in the market can be detrimental to one’s career.
  • Working on a Product in an organization which specializes in Projects can be a problem since there is a usual tendency to continue with approaches of Project management rather than evolving to Product management. This is especially true when its a new product.
  • If the product has a monopoly over the market, then people can become complacent.



  • Exposure to a variety of technologies.
  • Learning from other people due to changing team compositions.
  • The added pressure of sticking to deadlines leads to well defined sprint goals.
  • Regular deployments lead to a good routine of iterative work. Less chances of complacency.


  • Tight deadlines are pretty common here & can be stressful after a while.
  • Can lead to lesser work satisfaction since deadlines lead to compromises.
  • Extended contracts can lead to longer time in a single project. Development can then turn to a regular maintenance causing learning to plateau.

Final thoughts

  • There is no definite answer. The logical answer is probably - “it depends”.
  • Each path has different learnings. Working on both products & projects will lead to better understanding of your tastes. Good practices in one can be applied to the other too.
  • So learn from both & choose the right path for yourself. Don’t be surprised when the paths converge at times :relaxed:

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