If you’re not familiar with GitHub, you should be. With more than 10 million users, it’s a community of active developers and software engineers who present their skills for all to see by posting code, commenting on the work of others, and contributing to the projects held in more than 24 million repositories. Approach it correctly, and you’ll get a sense of their strengths and interests, along with an inside view of how they go about their work.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that GitHub is the tech professional’s home ground. It’s not a place to blast out form emails or blindly troll for candidates. Recruiters generally believe it works best as a sourcing tool, using it to establish one-on-one dialogues with candidates after diving into the details of their work and interests. In short, they focus on taking advantage of GitHub for what it is – an active community of tech professionals – and not on trying to make it an arena for blindly chasing down candidates who fall within certain parameters.
Many recruiters use GitHub as just one of many tools. With practice, you can certainly identify candidates by technical skill and location, but its search options weren’t designed with recruiting in mind. Some recruiters prefer to conduct X-Ray searches of the site through Google or Bing in order to generate initial lists of possible candidates. Others use Dice’s OpenWeb platform and Twitter profiles to identify prospects, then turn to GitHub as a way to study their work, interests and reputation.
Using GitHub “is a bit of a long game,” said Casey Kugler, a tech recruiter for the Center for Open Science in Charlottesville, Va. Using it effectively requires you to set up an account and actively follow other members to get a sense of their skills and experience. In that sense, it’s a great tool for developing a pipeline.
“There’s a lot of information if you look between the cracks,” added Robert Fleischhauer, senior technology recruiter at the InSource Group in Dallas. For example, following the projects can help you identify areas of technical interest that candidates might not have listed on their resume or social-media profiles.
Many people talk of GitHub as a place where tech professionals demonstrate their interest in technology beyond whatever they do to pay the bills. “When you talk about someone who’s working on their own time to offer up and critique code, that speaks to passion,” observed Jeff Newman, recruiting manager for the San Francisco startup Tripping.com. At the same time, he added, diving into GitHub allows recruiters to take their sourcing efforts “to the next level.”
GitHub is a good way to gauge a user’s sophistication. “Someone who’s extending tool offerings shows that they’re more of an engineer than simply a [programmer],” observed Kugler. “I’m interested in people who add functionality as opposed to just looking for workarounds.”
Because users post code for all to see, GitHub provides a simple way to qualify candidates. “If I’m on the fence about someone – I’m not sure of their tech chops – I’ll grab some code and show it to the hiring manager,” Newman said. “The manager can see if it’s up to par for what we’re looking for.”
The hub also presents opportunities to measure a candidate’s professional reputation: Those with large followings and highly-rated repositories are studied (and probably respected) by others.
Smart recruiters can use GitHub to identify how tech pros think. For example, Fleischhauer looks at the readme files that accompany each project: “They can almost be more valuable than a resume, since the developer is describing the problem they’re trying to solve with their code.” The readme files provide a glimpse of the candidate’s thought processes, grasp of business problems and level of sophistication in attacking a problem.
Last but certainly not least, GitHub can provide clues into how a candidate will fit into your organization’s culture. “You look for certain behaviors,” Kugler said. “Do they contribute to open source projects, for example. In my case, can I get a sense of whether they’re interested in working for a non-profit?”
How to Connect
GitHub is most decidedly not a place for generic outreach. “You have to operate the way GitHub operates,” stressed Newman.
That means having an account, following users and communicating only with those who’ve shown some kind of common interest. “It can be tough for recruiters,” said Kugler, who often relies on his in-house development team for help evaluating potential candidates he finds via GitHub.
A recruiter who reaches out on GitHub needs to find a tie to the candidate. “You want to have something that they’re interested in,” Kugler added. “Having an initial bond and paying attention to what they’re working on – that’s a conversation starter… you’re engaging on their ground.”