Contributing to open source projects is a good alternative to spending money on certifications if you’re looking to expand your credentials.
If you are thinking about career goals for 2021 and looking at various certifications, consider spending that time and energy on volunteering time instead. Recruiter Taylor Desseyn often recommends that job seekers spend time contributing to open source projects instead of completing certifications. He thinks the ROI of writing code is higher and creates an edge in the hiring process.
“Take the time you are going to invest in a certification and take on free work and get that work in your GitHub,” he said. “What I’ve seen from employers is they would rather see real world work experience than a piece of paper.”
Leaders in the open source community back up that idea.Todd Moore, IBM’s vice president of open source, said code posted on GitHub becomes part of a developer’s resume.
“Code talks for itself,” he said. “You also can help with code reviews because making suggestions is a huge part of the open source process.”
Here is some advice from experts about how to start contributing code and volunteer time to the open source community and
Getting starting with GitHub
Sachin Gupta, HackerEarth’s CEO and co-founder, recommended starting small when picking an open source project to work on.
“It’s not recommended to pick up the big and famous projects because the scrutiny there is higher and the chances of your commits being accepted in the beginning are low,” he said. “Start with something as basic as contributing to documentation, patching a simple bug, or fixing comments.”
SEE: Top 5 programming languages for systems admins to learn (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
This helps someone new to open source start making contributions without the risk of the pull requests being rejected.
“Once a few contributions are accepted, you build confidence and demonstrate ability, which can create a feedback loop of success,” he said.
Gupta also recommends pushing side projects to GitHub, including any code written outside of work.
“One easy way to build out a Github profile is to participate in hackathons and push all your hackathon projects to Github,” he said. “It’s a great way of demonstrating skills to recruiters and hiring managers, and building your own coding skills.”
Some developers build out a simple resume using Github pages. Another option is to call out key GitHub contributions such as repos, stars, and commits on a traditional resume. Gupta also suggests linking your Github profile to other online developer profiles.
“These profiles help to merge specific experience with skills that can be quantified and more easily assessed,” he said.
Open source contributions and the hiring process
Gupta said that activity in the open source community does help hiring managers understand experience level and proficiency.
“For example, the types of repos that you have committed to show the complexity of the tasks you can complete, the frequency of contribution indicates your commitment to certain activities and whether you have a long-standing base of experience, and the languages/tech highlights your proficiency in certain types of skills,” he said.
Gupta said that developers who participate in hackathons at HackerEarth often submit their prototypes on Github, which illustrates a person’s ability to understand real world problems and tech integration capabilities.
Gupta also said that having prior information about a candidate’s Github projects can help hiring managers conduct better interviews.
“For instance, I could take a code snippet from their Github projects and use our interviewing product, FaceCode, to do a more meaningful pair programming interview based on the skills they demonstrate in that public forum,” he said.
Moore said that developers looking for a new job should look for companies that encourage employees to contribute to open source projects.
“GitHub works for everybody because it’s a virtuous cycle—it helps the community and helps your career,” he said.
Other ways to contribute to the community
Brendan O’Leary, GitLab senior developer evangelist, said that contributing code is only one of many ways developers can contribute to open source and gain meaningful experience.
“New developers have a unique position to take a look at documentation, READMEs, and other material outside of code with a fresh perspective and deliver value in contributions there,” he said.
O’Leary also recommends that developers who are early in their careers document their learning process by writing a blog post or making a video about a new skill.
“Not only will this cement your own knowledge, but it will also help others too and give you a chance to show off your ability to learn, which is one of the most critical skills for any software engineer,” he said.
O’Leary said that these contributions are still worthwhile, even though this kind of work doesn’t show up on a contribution graph.