Here's what 3 Austin tech employers really look for in your GitHub profile

by Kelly O'Halloran
May 24, 2017

With 21 million users and 59 million repositories internationally, GitHub hosts the largest hub of open source code in the world. It allows programmers to develop their own projects and add onto the work of others, track changes, review code and more. It’s building, it’s sharing, and it’s networking.

And for job seekers, it’s part recruiting. When used effectively, a candidate’s GitHub profile can lead to a new career opportunity. We caught up with members from three Austin tech companies, including one of GitHub’s most active users from Austin (seriously, in 2016 he was ranked 21st) to learn how software developers can use GitHub to get ahead in the job market.

 

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Headspring conducts technical evaluations and builds custom applications services for enterprises in industries like government, healthcare, energy and financial services. The company’s VP of Operations and Strategy Glenn Burnside offered some sound advice regarding your GitHub account: If you wouldn't want your mom to see it, don't put it on GitHub.

What can developers do to improve their GitHub profiles before starting the job search?

Build something you care about and are proud to showcase. At Headspring, we're not interested in proxy indicators — stars, forks, commit days, or any of that. We want to see what you can do. And we also realize that a lot of work the developers do doesn't belong to them, so your best work might be locked up in some prior employers' IP.

But if you've got an itch, scratch it for yourself and put it up on your account. Even if you don't productize it if it's just there as an FYI for others or a "look what I did" project that helps us understand you as a developer.

Don't try and make a "perfect" repo to serve as a portfolio piece. We don't want to see your "senior project," we want to see how you actually work on a regular basis.

We're as interested in the history of a repo as we are about your final product — good commit comments and isolating changes and change types between commits. Those tell us a lot about how you approach your work. When your commit history is clear, that tells people that your thinking is clear while you're working. And since most development roles are team oriented, we get a sense of how you would commit change and rationale to your team members.

Github has pretty decent secondary tooling, especially for smaller projects. Are you taking advantage of the wiki and using issues to keep track of and document your work? Most importantly, do you have a solid readme.md that explains the why, what, how, and what next of your project, so it's easy to orient with the codebase?

Are there any things to avoid putting on your Github?

I feel like this is obvious, but we've had people try to pawn off other people’s work as their own. So if you're going to borrow, then make sure you provide credit and appropriate attribution. If you're pulling in libraries under an OSS license, make sure you're honoring those terms, too.

Don't pull in code samples from other projects, especially employer's code, if you don't have the rights and permissions to do it. Even if it's the best showcase of your work, that code isn't yours, so don't post it on your GitHub account. Come up with a solution to show what you want to show that doesn't violate any prior employer's IP.

I generally advise people not to publish or advertise anything on their GitHub account that smacks of "cheating" — so tools or solutions that violate terms of usage on online services like Amazon, Facebook, Craigslist, or the like. That's a flag for us that someone isn't going to have the kind of integrity we're looking for in employees

Remember, GitHub is mostly public, so if you wouldn't want your mom to see it, don't put it on GitHub. Don't get lost in issue flame wars and the like. Employers want to see how you handle conflict, and disagreements in a GitHub team, and how they're handled tell us a lot.

 

 

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Bobby Earl, a software engineer for Blackbaud, said he pays attention to a coder’s repository on GitHub. Earl examines the frequencies that candidates make updates to their repositories and how they interact with repositories belonging to other coders.

What can developers do to improve their GitHub profiles before starting the job search?

I believe there are two areas of focus regarding what to show on your GitHub profile. First, their repositories. I’d like to see actual code written and maintained. Seeing only one repo, with only one commit from two years ago doesn’t help me. I want to see some of their real-world code and how they manage their workflow. Second, and perhaps even more important, is their interaction with repositories they don’t own. I’d love to see them interacting via issues and pull requests to other repositories.

Are there any things to avoid putting on your Github?

Conversely seeing negative interactions with the open source community would be a huge deterrent. As an example, “how is this not fixed yet” and similar comments show to me they don’t value open source software, other developer’s time, and healthy contribution model in general.

 

 

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Mike McNeil created the web application framework Sails.js in 2012 to help his team build scalable Node.js projects for startups and enterprises. In 2014, The Sails Company launched to provide a full-service web and mobile studio in addition to its free and open-source software. McNeil contributes regularly over at GitHub, adding to more than 7,000 repos within the last year. From June 2015 to June of last year, McNeil ranked as the 21st most active GitHub user for those with more than one thousand followers in the world.

How have you used GitHub to bring on members of your team?

When I hired one of the co-founders of The Sails Company back originally when we were Boulderdash, I hired him based largely on the fact that I saw a lot of backbone stuff and node stuff on his GitHub profile. The GitHub activity was a key validation point. I wasn’t expecting to see repos, and repos and repos. I just needed to see something vaguely relevant to give me a checkbox of okay yeah this person is legit.

What can developers do to improve their GitHub profiles before starting the job search?

A big problem for folks coming from a less in-demand technology and moving toward a more in-demand technology and folks learning to code for the first time is that it’s really tempting to make a quick chat example or a quick login sample — basically making an example app. All of this is a great way to learn, but if you’re going to make an example project, the right thing to do would be to make it actually for something.

For example, I have a Sails.js v1 example backend that has a Vue.js-powered website and a React Native-powered mobile app called Chatkin. It has a little brand with a little green man, and if you go to chatkin.com, it’s hosted and you can actually use it and chat with users on it in your zone. You don’t have to go to that far, but having something that shows you went into the details and spent a lot of time making it look like a product is a better example and you would learn a lot from building it.

Are there any things to avoid putting on your Github?

A pet peeve of mine is when I see a profile that has a bunch of forks of other popular projects. Or if you’ve had one tiny commit merge into Rails or Node.js. It’s still really cool, it’s part of the beauty of open source is that you want to tout your involvement. But it does seem a little disingenuous when you have a fork in every popular node project.

 


 

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