Your Open-Source Work Will Get You a Job


Tech firms are interested in developers who have a following (however small) in the open-source community. Develop enough popular projects on GitHub and other repositories, and you could find yourself on the receiving end of an unsolicited job offer.

Even if you’re not building your own projects, submitting code patches or writing documentation on a consistent basis will get you noticed by others within the open-source community, which could attract recruiters and companies.

The Interview Process

If you’re solicited for a job offer because of your open-source contributions, be prepared to talk about them in detail during the job interview. At WhiteHat Security, for example, it’s one of the first things the interviewer asks, especially since many of the company’s current engineers are active in the Ruby, Perl, and Postgres communities.

“As part of our interview process, we ask candidates to provide samples of their work—a pointer to their GitHub repo is perfect,” said Carl Orthlieb, senior vice president of engineering & IT at WhiteHat Security. “We review what they’ve done and are working on as part of our first screen of candidates.”

But it’s just not about the coding. Under ideal circumstances, your record with the open-source community should hint at your ability to work in a team and take feedback. The applicants who look “promising,” Orthlieb added, will do a live coding exercise, which involves pair design and homework. There will also be a review of that live-coding exercise, and additional feedback from team members.

What’s the Benefit?

For companies with strong roots in the open-source community, it makes sense to tap into a talent pool that’s already proven itself. Hippo, for instance, has a robust community of open-source developers.

According to Arjé Cahn, CTO and co-founder of Hippo: “Some of our most successful hires have come through that process. It’s a smart and easy way to see the quality of code the developers are writing without having them even walk into the office.”

Hippo’s technical staff is perpetually on the lookout for technically creative people who are problem solvers, quick on their feet, able to improvise, and know how to cooperate. “In the open source world, you need to know how to communicate what you do and why and be open to feedback, especially when it’s not positive,” Cahn added. “Open source people can do that well and they can work in a collective, which makes them really good team players.”

A Push for Blind Hiring

For larger companies, the motivation to look at open-source contributions is twofold. Not only are they looking for people who can hit the ground running, they’re also searching for a way to make hiring a bit more blind.

Red Hat, for example, uses an algorithm for identifying top contributors to open source. “A trend we’ve seen recently is an effort to remove unconscious bias from hiring by using more objective criteria to evaluate candidates, noted DeLisa Alexander, the company’s EVP and chief people officer. “Our culture is based on meritocracy, so we’re always excited about technology that can foster that.”

In the open-source community, it’s not about who you are; it’s about the quality of your code.

2 Responses to “Your Open-Source Work Will Get You a Job”

  1. 1. Supplying code samples is all very well, but most of the coding work I do is proprietary and covered under a non-disclosure agreement.

    2. Always supposing I was involved in open-source projects, and I was making use of such things as the git-hub, my best work wouldn’t be posted there for anyone to just copy and use on related, unrelated, or just for inspecting my coding styles.

    3. After past experiences, I refuse to do live-coding, homework, or any other tests. I also do not ‘do’ certifications. My BS and MS in Computer Science are my credentials. I spent a lot of classroom-time and homework-time as a formal student learning C, C++, and Java. I had already taught myself assembly language when I was a hardware engineer, but I welcomed the assembly language course requirement just the same. If this makes me ineligible for the current employment market, then so be it. The more fool it.

    4. Since I finished school, I’ve learned C#, and LSL. I’ve been called-in to consult successfully on C#, for which I have no formal certifications. I also dabble with PHP as-needed.

  2. I as a PM, network engineer & software developer was and still am under the impression that for a potential employer to request samples of your past work ( a very new and alarming trend) puts an IT worker, software engineer or software developer in a position to violate disclosure agreements of those past employers or current clients whether via employment or on a 1099 or corp to corp basis and possibly deliver proprietary working papers or work product. This is an intellectual property legal issue that will soon be hitting the courts. And to make that a condition of potential employment well that is absolutely unacceptable