So you’ve worked on an open-source project, and you want to place that experience on your resume in order to move your career forward. Fantastic! It’s clear (especially from sources such as GitLab’s Global Developer Report) that companies and managers are increasingly in love with everything open-source, especially since it’s often cheaper and easier to implement than proprietary solutions.
As a result, there’s no reason an employer should shun your experience, just because you did an open-source project from home on your own time. But how can you actually leverage that project work to obtain a full-time job?
Job recruitment has fundamentally changed. The skills you possess are far more valuable than your degrees. Recently, the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, revealed that about half of Apple’s US employment last year included people who didn’t have a four-year degree. Cook reasoned that a lot of colleges don’t teach the skills that business leaders need most in their workforce, such as coding.
Instead of focusing on where someone graduated, or whether they graduated at all, employers are now focused on what that candidate is able to do. When measuring the fit of applicants in a job interview, recruiters are looking primarily to:
- Problem-solving skills
- Variety of backgrounds and industries
The recruiter needs to know whether your skills and experience match the job description or not. Let’s suppose that you’re currently a Java developer wanting to work with a Google stack. You’ve taken a few courses and have been awarded a certification in the C# language. But now you have to prove your experience and unfortunately, courses and certifications aren’t going to cut it.
Luckily, there are ways to make your profile stand out so that you can get hired, even if you haven’t worked with a specific tech stack. According to GitLab, contributing to projects that are open source is the most effective job-seeking hack that you can take advantage of.
We’ve assembled a few tips to help you use open source as a powerful job hunting tool:
Contribute to an open source project
Contributing to open source will give you the opportunity to work with production code and stabilized projects. By contributing, you are also going to be learning about project and people management as you solve conflicts, organize teams, prioritize work, and much more. An employer will find this valuable. Additionally, the diversity of the open source contribution environment will show the recruiter that you can work in multicultural teams.
Since the leading open source contribution website is GitHub, if you don’t have an account, you’re missing out on a lot. What to do now? Find a project that you engage with, or find interesting, and make a contribution. You may have used the project yourself and noticed a bug or wanted something to be different. Most projects have ‘contributor pages’ with beginner-friendly issues you can start out with.
Use these tools to find repositories looking for maintainers:
- GitHub Explore
- Open Source Friday
- First Timers Only
- 24 Pull Requests
Contribute to a large-scale project
To land an interview at a big company, you may be required to have worked with large-scale and high-availability projects. If you have no experience in this realm, you can pick a big open source project that you actually use or benefit from. Use the tools from the previous paragraph to find a large-scale project that is looking for contributors.
Start a side project
As an interviewer, would you rather hear “I’ve been studying blockchain for X months” or “using Python and C++, I’ve built a blockchain from scratch and have developed smart contracts to record the ownership of properties in my neighborhood”? I think it’s pretty clear that you’d rather hear the latter. It says a lot more and will help you show them not only that you know the tools you’re using, but that you can build things from the ground up.
Contribute to a specific company
If you are looking to land a job at Microsoft, for instance, you could contribute to Microsoft projects on GitHub. By contributing, you will grasp knowledge of the product, the stories behind it, and how it works. In doing so, you will earn lots of extra points with the interviewer because it lowers your onboarding time, setting you apart from other candidates.
Develop a personal brand
When you begin contributing to open source, you will start to build an online reputation. Being an active member of the community adds a level of trust for employers.
Having an online presence on Stack Overflow can also help you get that job. It shows that you care for the community and that you are willing to help other developers.
The Entire Project Is a Reflection on You
First, make sure that any project you present on your resume is a good one. Even if you did an awesome job on your parts of it, a bad project could lead a potential employer to attribute the less-than-stellar elements to you, even if you weren’t responsible. (No wonder some technologists feel a little bit uncomfortable about showing off their open-source skills; it’s intimidating to get involved in massive projects you might not have full control over.)
For example, the product might prove useful to many people, but the user interface is beyond poor. While you might not have contributed to the UI, your potential employer might not understand that; he or she will click around, increasingly aggravated, and conclude that you don’t know what you’re doing. On that note, also make sure the project is still alive: If it stalled three years ago and never even got a first release, it will surely reflect badly on you, too.
Open Source as Networking
As computer folk, we usually spend a lot of time parked in front of our computer screens, and not as much time in meetings and at conferences. That means less time to meet people, although doing so is pretty easy thanks to LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media. By the very nature of working on an open-source project, you’ve dropped yourself into a collection of like-minded folks. If you interact with them well, you can cite that experience in your next job interview; plus, your new network doubtlessly knows of job openings and freelance work.
Open Source Is, Well, Open
One thing to bear in mind is that the whole open source process is public by definition; everything you say in online discussions, and how you respond to bug reports, is generally available to anyone with a Web browser.
I spoke with an open source industry veteran named Carla Schroder, a senior technical writer with ownCloud, who suggested how somebody’s work in open source could become a positive thing from an employment perspective. “These are real achievements that are out in the open for anyone to see,” she said. “They show that you have skills and that you get things done, so you want to emphasize all of your relevant experience, whether it’s unpaid volunteer or a paid position. Be prepared to supply specific examples of your work.”
At the same time, your conduct is out there for anyone to view, so you’ll want to be careful in how you present yourself online. “Because FOSS projects are conducted in the open, keep in mind that emails, forum posts, and sometimes IRC sessions are forever,” Schroder added. “Linus Torvalds can get away with funny insults, but the rest of mere mortals are better off minding our manners.”
A potential employer’s receptiveness to your open-source experience can give you big insights into its culture: If the company respects open source, you might be happy working there; if they don’t, you probably wouldn’t have been a good fit there, anyway.
If you’re called in for an interview, prep ahead of time to discuss your project—and make sure you’re ready to discuss it in as professional a light as possible. Talk about deadlines, bug reports and fixes, documentation, source-code control, and user support just as if the project were something you’d completed for a major corporation.
If you’ve worked on an open source project, and the project is a positive portrayal of your abilities, personality, and work ethic, then you most certainly want to include it on your resume. It could end up the one thing that puts you above the other candidates and lands you the job.