4 things to avoid in your personal programming portfolio

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If you have a portfolio on the web with your own custom URL, then congratulations, that is half the battle when looking for a job. The other half is the content that is found in this portfolio. When hiring, there are certain things that I personally look for and there are other things that I tend to ignore and that might actually hurt your chances just a bit.

Here are 4 of the more important things that you really should avoid so that you can stand out more. But more important, so that your work can stand out.

Getting too personal

There's a difference between your personal Instagram feed and your professional work portfolio. And it's a good rule of thumb to keep those things separate. So no photos of your cat. I mean it.

In fact, don't mention your cat at all. Believe me, nobody wants to read it. It just takes away from the overall aesthetic of your work and it really is a distraction.

"What if I just want to be me and add a personal touch?"

It's your website, and you can do what you'd like of course. But don't be surprised if you get less and less recruiters calling you up. That's all I'm saying. I've reviewed many resumes and portfolio's during the past few years, and most people that are relatively new tend to start off with something like the following:

"Hello there! My name is so and so, and I like music, cooking and taking care of my cat Snowflake. I am new to coding but like it very much..."

I will stop there, but you get the point. That sentence does nothing to impress anyone. But the real reason why you should avoid getting too personal, is because it takes away precious page real-estate. You don't want to distract the reader with non-essential content. For example, the infamous "Hello, my name is" greeting. Odds are, if I'm visiting your website, I know your name already. And if the domain is your name, then again, you don't have to worry about restating it.

Focus on your skills and your work and on what you really want to get across to the reader.

Single page layouts

To reduce complexity, many younger developers have a tendency of only creating a single static webpage. index.html.

That's fine if you don't have too much content to showcase. If you just want to include a professional headshot, your name, contact info and maybe a link to your resume, that's perfectly fine.

But if you have 10 projects that you've built plus books you've written and YouTube videos that you've created, then it's probably a good idea to split that up and organize it a bit. Some people might only be interested in your work samples, while other's might prefer reading your personal bio.

But if it's all in a single giant page that resembles a sales funnel, there's a good chance that big parts of it will be missed.

Too many words

You enjoyed writing that riveting 4 paragraph intro at the top of the page that talked about your coding journey and why you're pretty great. Fair enough. But most employers or recruiters have many many other resumes and websites to look at. Words just don't pack that immediate punch that images or dynamic elements produce.

If you have a 4 paragraph description of your skills and really want to include it on your site, add it to its own Bio page and link to it from the nav bar. But don't put it at the forefront of your work as the primary call to action.

If a recruiter or employer wants to learn more about you and your history, then they can make the choice to read the 4 paragraphs that you have prepared. Instead of words, be sure to focus on your work. Whether that mean that you have screenshots of your work, or even better live coding samples from GitHub or some other online coding editor. Showcase the content that is going to land you the job, and make everything else secondary.

Default domains

There's a fair number of free hosting services these days, particularly for small Node.js apps. Most will allow you to choose a subdomain for free. I've seen far too many url's that resemble the following:

awesomesauce.github.io
coderrules.heroku.com
fancydog.vercel.com

My point here. Just buy a custom domain. If you can get your full name, even better. You can more than likely pick up any domain from Google Domains for $12 a year. A worthy investment. But if you can get partially your name, then that works too. And the main reason really is that getting a custom domain and setting up the appropriate DNS records, just shows that you care more about your project.

And that you know how domain propagation and DNS records function as well. I know far too many programmers that avoid any type of web server related work. But everything is on the web these days and it's only a matter of time before you need to log in to a server and work with the configuration.

A good looking portfolio is one that is simple, clean and that tells the viewer just what you are capable of. Anything else can become a distraction.

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Walter Guevara is a software engineer, startup founder and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He is currently building things that don't yet exist.

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