How important is your GitHub activity for a job interview?

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I often get asked just how important it is to maintain an active status on GitHub in order to land that next big job. Just how much attention do recruiters and employers put on this one aspect of your portfolio?

Do the green squared marks really equate to a higher paying salary or a 6-figure offer? Do you have to write code daily and hourly? And what happens if you take a month off?

Well, let's talk about that. Because this is an area of discussion, where none might be better than some at times, but where anything might be better than nothing as well.

My GitHub activity

I'm an open book. Here is my current GitHub activity.

If you were to only measure my skills based on that, you could surmise that I am brand new to coding and/or eager to learn.

But that would not be quite accurate. You would not be able to gauge my 20 years of experience, my Computer Science degree or my startup work by looking at that blank checkerboard.

Truth be told, I just don't have time to work on open-sourced projects as this blog takes up a considerable portion of my day along with teaching for a coding bootcamp. And you would be correct to guess that no, I did not upload the source code of this blog to a public facing repository.

And that's because this isn't a public project by design. It is a custom CMS that I built years ago to run my own personal websites and a few of my clients websites on the side. I can't just simply put that online for the same reason that you can't see Amazon's source code either.

Having said that however, I also have the benefit of having several websites published online (such as this blog), so the importance of my GitHub repo becomes less relevant for me personally from a hiring perspective.

New developers

If you are a brand new developer and don't yet have a strong web presence, such as a portfolio or a blog, then having something is better than having nothing typically.

But this is where you might want to be more careful with what exactly it is that you are spending your time on. If for example, you have hundreds of commits in a month on a personal project, but they are essentially small HTML or CSS updates, then odds are this won't make you stand out in any huge way. So what you are working on is more important than just how much you are working sometimes.

Which is why you typically want to spend your time working towards more substantial projects that involve complex frameworks or API's. This is a much better showcase of your potential skills as a developer.

Whether someone else's project, or your own, it would definitely to tackle more real-world scenario projects, like implementing API's or working with the latest frameworks.

Having said that though, there is one particular group of people that enjoy seeing the green boxes regardless of what you are doing. And that is recruiters.

Working with recruiters

From my experience, most recruiters, are not programmers. They just simply locate programmers from around the world and bring them towards companies so that the companies don't have to spend resources doing it themselves.

Based on my experiences working with many recruiters throughout the years, the more that a recruiter sees, the better the odds of you landing an interview. Which means that an active GitHub contribution feed can at a minimum, land you that first important interview with a company.

Once you get that interview though, that's when substance matters. Because you will be interviewed by real developers, typically. And they tend to want to see something more substantial than a simple menu design.

My best advice here is to leverage both sides. Yes work on small projects in order to increase your overall perceived online footprint to recruiters. But also try and work on one or two complex projects that a developer might find more interesting from a hiring perspective.

Such as the following.

Open-sourced projects

Looking for ways to contribute to open-source projects can also be a huge plus for anyone looking at your repo activity. For one, these projects tend to be more complex and they resemble the real-world projects that developers will work on in the corporate world.

And truthfully, this is also a good way to strengthen you own coding skills in the process. Which is the main reason why people are looking at your coding activity to begin with.

They don't just want to see green squares. They want to see what each of those green marks represents in terms of work that you've done.

Someone with 10 solid commits to an open-source project will stand out more than someone with 100 commits to a CSS file.

If you are not sure where to start with open-sourced, here is a daily trending list of popular open-sourced repos on GitHub.

So how important is it?

Just to recap. Having a strong GitHub activity feed is as important as everything else that you are going to bring to a job interview. If you have 2 or 3 other projects online to showcase your work, then it might not be as relevant.

If someone brings me a URL with a portfolio of their work to an interview, I don't typically spend time looking at their coding commits. Simply because I have no context to their projects. I don't know what it is that I'm looking at in a repo. I just know that they could type some code, which is overall not that helpful from a hiring perspective. But if I can see the actual work, I can ask questions about how certain things were implemented.

If they don't bring me anything however, then I might have to take a look at their work. In which case, it helps to be working on something more complex in nature than your typical HTML page or to-do list app.

And do take recruiters into account, as like I mentioned, most are not very technical in nature, but they do tend to favor someone that has a strong online presence.

Let me review your portfolio

And lastly, if interested, feel free to message me your personal work portfolio and I would be happy to give you a paragraph or two on what I like and what might need some work.

Just send an email to help@thatsoftwaredude with the subject line "portfolio review" and a link to your work.

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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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