Just recently, a potential client requested to see some of my past work, or my work portfolio, if you will. If you ever go the self-employed route then you know just how valuable it is to have a showcase of your past work. I compiled a quick list of the top 10 websites that I remember working on, and sent it on over in a plain text email. I didn't really think too much about it after, and just sort of picked randomly from the ones that stood out the most from my past.
Out of curiosity I decided to go down memory lane for a bit and take a gander at these once important projects. And then a funny thing happened, as I clicked on each link one at a time. One by one, I began to receive 302' and 404's and 500 error messages. Some of these websites were pretty old mind you, maybe 10+ years old. And in a world where the average digital company has a very short lifespan, this isn't something that is too unexpected.
But having your entire work portfolio vanish before your very really puts that challenge into perspective. In all honesty, having been in the software industry for over a decade in various senior roles, my work portfolio doesn't really play a role in my attainment of clients in any way anymore like it once used to. My personal client portfolio has become much more important in this regard.
Which is what this post is about. Here are a couple of ways that you can work through your vanishing past work experience section on your resume. It definitely doesn't have to be a bad thing, and can even be a sign that you aren't keeping up with other aspects of technology.
Get your own clients
You can't control the fate and outcome of a company with hundreds of employees. Companies pack up and shut down from night to day sometimes. Other times you end up working on confidential tasks that you can't openly talk about to other employers, so they might as well not exist.
Most of these events are out of your hands. Which is why getting your own clients can be a valuable asset in your career in the long term. These projects are not only more in your control, but you will also have a much better understanding of the technology and infrastructure, which means you can answer any questions in regards to them much easier.
And more importantly, you can get more clients if you need to. Working for any company, you will be limited in what you will be able to work on. You might spend years on a single project, or you might hop around from department to department. All out of your hands for the most part.
Becoming your own boss in this way also has sort of a cascading effect. You start with a single client, which could turn into a long-term client, which will then lead you to your second, and eventually you won't have time to interview anymore.
Staying relevant in technology
Staying ahead of the tech game can be your best asset for one major reason. New technology takes time to circulate and increase adoption rate. When a new framework comes out, there are only a handful of people that can probably work on it. Most can learn it, but only a few will attempt early on. Most will wait for the popularity to increase before they decide to jump on board. By which point the market could be much more saturated, and thus employment more scarce.
You can't go all in on every framework however. Many won't be around past the 1 year mark and some require a hefty amount of learning in order to fully make good use of them. This is where being able to learn quickly can come in handy. And by learn quickly, I refer to being able to pick up the fundamentals well enough that you can solve more complex issues down the road when you need to.
Just being more aware of the new technology that is popping up around you can be a huge benefit. This puts you in more conversations and in more situations that could be beneficial to your career down the road.
Start your own company
Unless there is any reason why you wouldn't hire yourself, then this is a safe bet in getting the job. By no means is this as easy as just 'starting your own company'. It takes time, planning, confidence and the willingness to fail and to accept and learn from it over and over and over again.
But that effort goes with you wherever you go. A year having worked for your own company stands out much more than any website that you worked on for somebody else. Much of the work that I do now revolves around the startup that I co-founded with friends, Renly. It didn't require any portfolio, and in fact, requires skills that can't be picked up at any past employer.
If your work portfolio is staring to dwindle, then I would wager that you have been around the block long enough to where you have the skills to start your own company, which is good. Take it as a sign that you need to make the plunge into that next big adventure in life.
Nothing lasts forever. The new is built upon the old. Your old work did its job. Whether it was to teach you how to do something, or to get a paycheck so that you can move to a bigger home, which gave birth to new ideas and new desires. I may not have a portfolio of past corporate experience at hand anymore, but I do have dozens of my own clients, our startup and dozens more personal projects which are still getting worked on.
Before anything else, preparation is the key to success. And I'd like to think that these personal projects are my preparation for what is next.
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Walter G. is a software engineer, startup co-founder, former CTO of several tech companies and currently teaches programming for a coding bootcamp. He has been blogging for the past 5 years and is an avid BMX rider, bio-hacker
and performance enthusiast.