Coding Portfolio Increases Odds of Job Interview

When you’re a software engineer, the resume is a tricky beast. A resume can describe the technologies you’ve worked with, but can’t say what you were able to do with them.

For example, saying: “Used Selenium for record/playback” is very different from “Maintained the Selenium Web driver for <fill in the blank language>.” Also, a resume can’t tell a hiring manager how well-structured your code is, or how scalable your designs are.

Like many of the hiring managers I know, I tend to use the resume to look at places you’ve worked and the kinds of projects you’ve been on, but not for technical skills. For technical skills, I’ll either do a phone screen or an interview. And that’s a very inefficient process — both for the hiring manager and the candidate.

Surely there must be a better way!

Alternative Resume, Coding Portfolio

If your job is about producing software, the number one thing I need to know about you is how you produce software, preferably in an environment like the one I’m going to put you in.

Additionally, I need to know you can write code well, understand how to work on a team, use source control, and that you can design and maintain code you haven’t written. I need to know what your coding habits and whether they’re compatible with my team. In other words, I want to see your work. That’s your true resume.

So why not make me a resume with your actual work in it? Designers have their portfolios with examples of the work they’ve done. Why not engineers, too?

You can.

Github Glue

On your resume, provide your Github username so I can see the projects you work with and how you work with them. Then go to a hackfest or a user-group meeting and show me what you can do. Contribute to an open-source project, so I can see how you work with a team and whether you can handle having your code reviewed. That’s a resume that lets me evaluate your technical skills. That’s a resume that will get you a phone call, at least from me.

I have a standing rule with HR at one client where I recruit: If the resume includes a Github account or a link to a technical portfolio, I receive it — regardless of what the automated screening says. I don’t think I’m the only one with that kind of arrangement.

How do you show off your technical skills?

48 Responses to “Coding Portfolio Increases Odds of Job Interview”

  1. Computer Science Grad

    I like the idea of someone seeing I can actually write code, but if my prior skills and experience are academic I do not think that will increase my chances of getting the job. If the hiring manager wants to hire someone with work experience he/she will not hire a new graduate no matter how much they’ve learned. I went to school to gain the knowledge and now that I have the knowledge many companies will not even consider me because I do not have 2-5 years work experience. I know classmates with a bachelors and/or masters who have been unemployed for months and are ready to flip burgers just to barely stay afloat after years of struggling to earn their degree.

    • Well, your point about experience is well-taken, but I think you underestimate the value of code you might have written during college. In other words, the portfolio’s another tool you can use to make a stronger argument about why you should get the job.

      • Proud Paulbot

        But without the experience, s/he won’t even get a call; s/he won’t make it past resume-scanning software. If an employer wants experience, they will program the software to reject any resume that does not reflect it.

        Except for menial work, and sometimes not even then (even Wal-Mart requires that applications be completed online), job-hunting no longer involves filling out a paper application, then having it reviewed by a human as they speak with you.

    • Proud Paulbot

      ——–I know classmates with a bachelors and/or masters who have been unemployed for months and are ready to flip burgers just to barely stay afloat after years of struggling to earn their degree.—–

      Like JD’s who will never work in law are discovering, holders of STEM degrees need to get past the notion of ever working in tech, and seek employment outside the field they were trained in. It’s just not going to happen. All you’ll do is destroy your life chasing a rainbow.

      To that end, my goal is to open my own pet-sitting service. I don’t care that I didn’t get a Math/CIS degree so I could walk dogs. I’m past that. I needed to get past it, or I was going to end up homeless. I chose a path where I actually have a shot of being successful.

      But don’t do what I did. Don’t spend a year running around in circles, frantically trying to figure out your next move. Figure it out RIGHT NOW.

      • Unemployed Programmer

        The way to fix the economy is to fix the ratio of employers to employees, which has caused employees/applicants to be readily expendable, and therefore CHEAP.

        The way you fix the ratio is by convincing un/underemployed workers to WORK FOR THEMSELVES. Screw the companies who don’t recognize or appreciate your talent. Sooner or later some of those people are bound to succeed and grow and eventually start HIRING

        If you cant join them, BEAT THEM!

    • teahou

      I agree that experience is key, and during my job search I was constantly grousing about the vicious circle of “need experience to get a job, but need a job to get experience”. The way I handled it was to take anything I could find, including unpaid jobs for non-profits. As a result of this I landed my dream job (Programmer), 6 months after graduation. The other side is I started out in QA, then worked my way into my companies Programming department.

      It was actually a really quick process. I was hired as a QA in November, graduated community college a month later (that’s right, I’m a .Net Developer with only an AAS), in December then spent 7 months learning the very specific skills needed to be a junior developer here. So when a Junior job opened, presto changeo I was hired despite the company doing a full hiring process including interviewing 5 other candidates (all of whom I gave death stares to, which I like to think threw them off their game).

      Don’t get me wrong, it took 116 job applications and countless job interviews to land the QA job. But my point is you have to be completely proactive, never give up and never surrender!

      • happily employed

        This is actually great advice; look at the path of growth in any role, and then find out where you can get started (QA in TEAHOU’s case).

        6 years ago, I started in IT in a NOC as a CSR/Tier 1 admin while going to school for my AS degree, and was promoted within 6 months to Tier 2 admin. When I left, I was trying to shift from a sysadmin to development. After working for two other companies and going through a layoff in Sept of 2010, I realized later that the way into dev is via QA. Needless to say, at this point, I have no degree beyond a High School diploma, am working toward my BS in Comp Sci, and am in the top 25% of wage earners for what I do (I make people effective with the software/tools a company uses).

        The key to building experience is to find the job that the company needs that most people don’t want to do. QA and NOCs tend to have those kinds of jobs. I never dreamed 6 years ago I’d be where I am now, but I’ve also had to take jobs at lower than my desired pay range. Humility will get you farther than holding out for that dream job, especially when you’re starting out.

  2. Just a thought

    ER Physician. Must be familiar with injuries to the spleen. Prior experience in all other major organs not considered. Absolutely must have prior experience with ACE bandages. Must have distributed vicodin, morphine, codine, advil…(continues for 2 pages, edited for brevity). 99.9999% patient survival rate required. Applicants with portfolio (including pre and post treatment photos) preferred (screw HIPPA). Must really love the work, contributing to ”open source” ER efforts such as scouring the highways for random accidents, even treating family members seen as a plus. Will be asked to perform live head trauma treatment prior to hiring. Phone screen will include approximation of patients wacked out on narcotics and random trivia on drug interactions.

    Application will be reviewed by a school nurse with 2 years experience distributing bandages who calls herself ”VP of Medicine”. Her portfolio of ”ouchies” is a good reference if you need help.

    If other industries hired like Software Engineering, no one would be working…and this is from someone happily employed who has never had a problem finding a job, but has seen lots of good candidates weeded out.

  3. jcpopescu

    Strange thing…

    When I go into an interview it’s with my laptop loaded up with software I engineered (juxtaposed to just coding) varying from an interface to proprietary design audio effects, to Windows Multimedia, to a database solution for my previous company to a connection management solution I came to for a very large and quite complex audio system. The cherry on top of it all ? My desktop walpaper is a damn impressive shot of my life’s project and love.

    Yup…. I’m still unemployed…. The disconnect I sense on the part of a potential employer is one and the same had I made the claim I organized a chapter of the flat earth society or wasted my life aging disgracefully in my own folly.

    The claim companies hire for raw talent, technical enthusiasm, and natural gravitation and motivation is just nonsense. They’re so busy dreaming up creative ways of shutting out otherwise perfectly qualified candidates for cheap, young, pliant “skilled guest worker” labor.

    In a word: Pfffffttttt !

      • jcpopescu

        Umm… Yeah… It’s stuff I engineered for my own business.

        More to the point: I only play “show and tell” with the executable. NOT the source code.

        To see the source code would require an non disclosure agreement, compensation, and a royalty agreement.

        Whole point is: I’ve gone into an “interview” with what I consider a very diverse and quite rich portfolio of my work playing show and tell and I might as well have played solitaire…

    • Mark Feffer: A big part of the problem is that all of the players do the expedient thing rather than the right thing. The right thing for YOU to do is to host a conversation on the effect of H1B visas in the market for software engineers.

      This is going to keep coming up until (1) you provide a forum in which we can discuss this issue in a focused, candid, and constructive way, or (2) the issue stops cropping up because you have lost all of your readers because you’ve lost all of your credibility.

      • Ideafarm: There’s plenty of discussion on H1Bs going on in our discussion boards, if you want to take a look over there. I’m not sure how seriously people take them because the threads often degenerate quickly into racism. Of course, the way to prevent that is to have more people who are willing to be open-minded about the subject get into it so an honest debate can go on. But I do encourage you jump into those, or start a new thread yourself that frames the discussion the way you want it framed.



  4. Color me perplexed but it seems to me that if I start showing YOU, or anyone else for that matter, samples of code I wrote for an employer I might find myself in a bit of trouble.

    • Catherine Powell

      If you walk in with samples from your current employer and you don’t also have a release allowing that from the same employer, then you’re right – you’re probably in trouble with your current employer.

      You’re also probably not going to get hired. After all, if you’ll show me your current employer’s code, what will you do with my code? Uh uh…no thank you!

      Stick with samples that you own, thanks!

  5. Don Curtis

    Good article but there are some problems with building a portfolio.

    Welcome to the global market! Of course that does soften the blow of being unemployed.
    Software can be written anywhere and by anyone. And that’s the problem.
    Unless it is a government contract; no degree, training, certification or license (like PE) is required.
    Companies are always going to go cheap unless they are forced not to by either the law or the market (ie. they put out bad code).
    Almost all of us have coded for companies that own everything we did while working for them.
    Almost all of us went to schools that also own everything we did as a student.
    And if you are working on a government contract they own it too.
    (Interesting problem is what if you are going to school and working full time who owns your code? In Texas they both have a claim to it and the Feds trump everyone.)
    So unless your one of the top coders in your language and can work as an independent consultant selling licenses to your code, you are out of luck as far as building a portfolio.

    If you coded a UI for a web app and it is public then I guess you could put a link to it.
    Maybe you donate you time to a non-prof or church and get it in writing that you get a byline that would work. But then again you are working for free.

    I once had a call from a recruiter that suggested I build a Flex/ColdFusion website just so I can have a portfolio. Problem is that is time taken away from the unemployment required job search and buying some of the software needed and the hosting space hurts when all that’s coming in is unemployment. I can’t imagine how hard it is for new B. Sc. grads to make it.

    Bad software can be life threatening but just like doctors not enough people have died from it like they did from bad medicine in the 19th century to have the public call for licensing programmers.

    Has anyone looked at the NCESS SW Eng test specification? It is based on the SWEBOK not on coding knowledge. IMHO it is hogwash because it doesn’t require you to code and have it peer reviewed like the NCARB test requires design work products for architecture. So you could pass this and not know how to code.

    Sorry to rant but changes are needed to the Intellectual property laws and requirements for certifications in languages and engineering licenses.

    Anyways what to do if you’re looking for a job.
    List your languages and skills on your resume in a way they can be picked up by HR scanners, have solid examples of your accomplishments,
    have references lined up,
    build a portfolio (but don’t break your IP agreement),
    study to fill in your knowledge gaps,
    network (linkedIn, Dice, usergroups),
    and be ready to analyze, “strategize” and code during the interview.
    And don’t give up.

  6. >> Additionally, I need to know you can write code well

    That is the ONLY thing that you need to know.

    >> understand how to work on a team

    This is a given. It is given by (1) proof of graduation from kindergarten, and (2) effective control by management.

    > use source control

    This is not a proper screening / hiring criterion, unless it is your policy to hire idiots.

    > maintain code you haven’t written

    This belongs in the job description. It is not a proper topic for investigation.

    > I need to know what your coding habits and whether they’re compatible with my team

    Any mandatory coding standards belong in the job description or on a web page. For example, include the following statement in the job description: “We require all code to conform to detailed written formatting, variable naming, and other conventions.” It is not a proper subject of investigation. When such an issue arises, it should be handled summarily by an assertion of management control. For example, “This looks like great code, but it does not conform to our spec. Please bring it into conformance.”

    > In other words, I want to see your work

    I am one of the most experience software craftsmen alive today. I began writing code in 1974. For twenty years, I have written code only as the independent developer of an operating system. I have a thorough mastery of all facets of the C++ language that I do not view as stupid. I have a demonstrated love for the C++ language, a demonstrated work ethic, a demonstrated ability to work well with people, and demonstrated intelligence, and a top tier education.

    But I would never even get a call back from you, even with a portfolio. In my portfolio, you would see that I write code upside down, from the bottom to the top of the page. I would not, of course, write code for you that way. But it is the way that I write code for my own project. When you saw my upside down code, you would not get any farther. My portfolio would end up in the trash with a gasp, or emailed to your peers with ridicule.

    The problem with this industry is that we have managers like you. Software craftwork is not science. It is not engineering. It is not a manufacturing process. It is a craft. Code should be written by independent software developers. The whole idea of having an employee write code is idiocy.

    • “Software craftwork is not science. It is not engineering. It is not a manufacturing process. It is a craft.”

      Soooo, you are not fan of the title “Software Engineer”, eh?

      • The production of code is not engineering. It is craftwork. The job of an engineer is to apply scientific knowledge to the production of something. Knowledge of a particular field of science is essential. Although craft is an ingredient to any job, it is not an essential ingredient for an engineer. A materials engineer who has a thorough mastery of tensile strength constants but zero “craft” aptitude will trump, every time, someone whose whole being is engaged in the Zen of craftwork but who is not thoroughly familiar with the relevant scientific constants.

        In sharp contrast, it is widely perceived that liberal arts majors produce the best code. The production of good code is not about science; it is about attention to detail. It is about total intellectual engagement. It is about caring. It is about ethics and trust. In short, it is craft.

        The only reason that what we do is called “engineering” is that “craft” is a lower status word in the United States. No one wants their occupation to be equated with basket weaving.

  7. leipin

    What if I simply don’t have git account? And my portfolio is actually a list of live projects, some of them great some less great?
    Git account imo is simply a modern popular tool, but it some years it will be replaced by another modern popular tool and so on. It’s by far not a standard.
    In fact relying on people to have their git accounts or participate in open source, you narrow your search area for no worth reason. I would say even more – not all but many git lovers nowadays are guys that tend to switch technologies really fast, they take new stuff and kill old stuff all the time, while this approach can kill a long-term project. Yet such people are necessary in a team, to move the progress forward, but you also need more conservative people – who don’t break things just to play with a beta version library they’ve just downloaded. Hiring only “git” and open-source people can have very serious consequences, which are almost impossible to track – you have a team of proffesionals but the project doesn’t work, why??
    A good hiring manager should consider these pitfalls.

  8. You were/are fortunate to be interviewed.

    Correction: you are not yet a .NET developer. You are a graduate with an understanding of .NET development.

    It continues to sadden me that Support is considered an entry level position to a “real job” (i.e. programmer). The best programmers I ever met could not only write code, they could support (and perhaps re-write) existing messes.

  9. Employed

    When resently searching for a new job I also struggled with how best to show off my coding chops and came to the same conclusion as far as GIT is concerned. There’s no reason to use the stuff you’ve writen for past employers, just write some stuff from scratch, doesn’t need to be huge just enough to demonstrate your understanding of the field. If you are unemployed you have no excuse, you have the time, text editors are free and so is a basic GIT account. After I got my job I asked them what it was that made me stand out, it was my code samples on GIT.

  10. Tex444

    All the conversation about H1’s is killing me. I am in one of my states best tech schools and the graduation rate is 22 percent. Further, about 35 percent of these students are in remedial math which brings me around to a point. The visa’s you are speaking of are sought after by employers because the stem education process in this country is so sub par that is considered shameful by many scholars and CEO’s who routinely opine on the subject. I have personally witnessed the shoddy and haphazard teaching methods which have led to the great overseas mind hunt using the aforementioned visa’s. It will only go downhill from here.

    • jcpopescu

      Here we go again: American STEM education is broken. Nonsense.

      Why then, pray tell, is there such a movement to staple a green card to the diploma of foreign students, graduating from that same “broken” American system of STEM education ? Why is there a backlog of various student visas to get into that same “broken” American STEM education system?

      Prior to H-1B and all the immigration alphabet soup this nation had no problem whatsoever producing , training, and retraining engineers and STEM professionals to make things like the Boeing 747, the internet, cellphones, and virtually every electrical and electronic appliance found in an American home possible.

      What happened ? Those same CEO’s found out they could increase short term profits by “outsourcing” the job overseas or importing “skilled guest workers” for the sake of cheap labor. Furthermore: More than one credible studies have shown India and China rank near the bottom in innovation, critical thinking, and the mental gymnastics staple to REAL problem solving incumbent to STEM employ.

      It’s know fact: Albert Einstein FLUNKED math. Moreover: How many students at some point in time had to labor a “remedial” course or two ? It’s a very dirty little secret however colleges and universities have been making nothing BUT money funnelling students into various “remedial” programs.

      Scapegoating American STEM education is factually bankrupt. Using such to justify importing “skilled guest workers” is morally bankrupt.

    • Call to mutiny! These DICE.COM editors don’t have the nuts to host a discussion of the effect of H1B visas on the market for software developers in the U.S. I propose that all present that we OCCUPY this discussion by submitting posts to discuss H1B right here.

      This is a moderated discussion. Let the editor who is moderating this know that WE WANT TO DISCUSS H1B. Are you with me? Post a comment on H1B. Force the editor to either reject all of our comments or allow us to OCCUPY this discussion, converting it into a discussion of H1B.

      (If this post appears, please thank the editor.)

      • Don Curtis

        Come on everybody. Quit complaining about H1B and foreign code shops.
        DICE is about finding a job and getting it. So make valid and helpful suggestions for us unemployed and keep the political discussions on

        • Don, this is the natural forum to discuss the effect that H1B visas have on the market for software engineers in the United States. That is because DICE.COM brings together precisely the people, on both sides of the issue, who are most affected by, and care the most about, making the market for our services function better.

          Your post amounts to an attempt to silence the many people here who have indicated, by their posts, that they want to discuss it. Your post also creates the impression that you are attempting to curry favor with potential employers.

          • Don Curtis

            “Curry favor with employer’s”?
            Ouch! If only it was that easy to get a job.
            Employers have their pick these days.
            So in addition to being highly qualified, you have to make a great impression (i.e they like you) and fit in their budget.
            Again I submit and ask the moderator to confirm that this forum is about helping people get jobs.
            I did rant earlier about other things but I came to my senses and concluded with 5 achievable suggestions for people to try.
            Could you please make a valid non-trivial suggest for people?

          • Ideafarm, your second point is where you and I disagree. Don’s post (it seems to me; I don’t mean to speak for him) is not an attempt to silence anyone, and I think you’re wrong to say it is. His priority is job hunting and his career, and that’s why he’s here. And in that context he believes the H-1B discussion is a distraction. I agree with him. It’s an important discussion, but the discussion doesn’t help anyone — right now — get a job. It’s a long term issue, and as such, doesn’t help anyone who’s trying to write a resume or put a code portfolio together.

            Really, it’s not right to accuse a colleague of having an agenda, when all he wants is to be able to focus on his immediate concerns.

            But that’s why I set up the other thread, so let’s move it over there.


          • Don Curtis

            Thanks Mark.
            Sorry I came across so strong. I just think we should be helping each other and that this particular discussion and Dice in general ought to about positive advice for job seekers.
            I apologize for “censoring”. I just thought this discussion should take a positive direction.

      • jcpopescu

        Actually there are many discussions on DICE surrounding H-1B and “skilled guest workers” so your call to mutiny is rather late in the ballgame.

        From the main page , the first you see when you enter dice, find item “Tech News and Advice.” From the dropdown menu select “discussions”.

        PLENTY of H-1B discussion in the various discussion threads. Trust me as I’ve been there and done that.

        Forget occupying this particular discussion. If we should be occupying anything it’s the offices of our (s)elected officials as well as the public sidewalks in front of the companies that offshore and use H-1B and other “skilled guest worker” labor.

        • You’ve just proved my point for me. H1B keeps popping up in all of these Pollyanna discussions designed to put a Disneyland spin on what is in reality a disastrously dysfunctional marketplace. But DICE.COM has, so far, refused to host a single discussion that is FOCUSED on H1B.

          I have been told privately that they have been considering it for weeks. With these posts today, I am attempting to stick my elbow into their ribs with a big, good humored smile that says, “Well, what are you waiting for?”

      • jcpopescu

        @Don Curtis,

        Like it or don’t fact of job searching and employment in 2012 is H-1B and “skilled guest worker” visas affect the economic lot and (lack of) prosperity of the domestic STEM talent stock.

        I’ve been in tech some thirty plus years and can’t even BUY a job nowadays.

        Why ?

        Simple: I’m being underbid by “skilled guest workers” who are working for the right to be on US Soil. How does one compete with , essentially, slavery ?