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Isaac Lyman
Isaac Lyman

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I've spent 10 years building my portfolio. What was it all for?

They tell you if you want to be competitive as a developer, you have to go above and beyond. They tell you to work outside of work: contribute to open-source projects, learn new programming languages and frameworks, build apps, write a blog, amass followers on social media.

Since 2014, when I took my first programming job, I've been doing all of those things. I'm active on GitHub. I maintain a popular open-source tool. I ran a software micro-startup for three years. I know Rust, Dart, Vue and React, none of which I've ever used at work. I've published three mobile apps and a handful of websites. Between my blog, the DEV community, Medium, and the Stack Overflow Blog, I've reached hundreds of thousands of readers. I even wrote a book.

Want to know how job interviews go for me?

The same way they go for everyone else.

First, I send in an application online. Then I spend about a week trying to get in touch with someone at the company via email or LinkedIn, since online applications are useless. Then there's a phone call with a recruiter. Then one or two technical interviews, which half the time are just vocabulary quizzes (the industry sucks at interviewing). Then they make me an offer, or not—and if they do, it's strictly based on years of experience. I don't know for sure, but I'd guess the average hiring manager spends about ten seconds skimming through the second and third pages of my resume, where my non-work projects live.

In ten years, I think there's been one time when my side projects materially changed the direction of an interview. (And they didn't end up making me an offer, anyway.)

If this sounds like a lot of moaning and complaining, well, fair enough. That's how I feel today. I don't think it's unreasonable to be disappointed when you've put in the work and the promised results are nowhere to be seen.

On the positive side, I don't think all that time has been wasted. I like coding. Nothing is a waste of time if you enjoy it. Besides, I've learned a lot by doing it on my own, with no safety net or guardrails; a lot of my seniority at work is due to the intuition I've built with side projects.

But I've got a new attitude going forward. I'm done saying "this is for my portfolio" or "this will help me get my next job." It's not, and it won't. From now on, I'm coding because I like doing it and I want to. It may not look any different from the outside, but I'll be operating with different expectations. And if, on occasion, I want to abandon a project or spend a year doing Sudoku after work instead of pushing commits, I will.

Has your experience been different? Have your side projects turned into job opportunities? Let's hear your side of it in the comments.

Top comments (10)

ben profile image
Ben Halpern

It's a tough job market, the first serious deceleration of opportunities in tech of this degree ever I'd imagine. I am sure all this if helping, even if it doesn't feel like it.

isaacdlyman profile image
Isaac Lyman

The market's definitely worse than it was in the 2010s. With all the layoffs in Silicon Valley lately, I've been coming to grips with the fact that there are better devs than me out there—thousands of them—who are willing to work for less. It's humbling.

Thankfully, I'm still employed, and my job is good to me.

fullfull567 profile image

Don't give up

dipanjan profile image
Dipanjan Ghosal

I know its probably not gonna help, but I suggest you to cut the fat from your resume and only have just one page, where you show your best work and only the most relevant stuff, that immediately falls on one's eyes as soon as they open it.

isaacdlyman profile image
Isaac Lyman • Edited

This is great advice for someone in the first two or three years of their career. It’s exceptionally bad advice for someone who has more experience to showcase.

Source: I’ve reviewed a hundred or so resumes over the last several years, done a bit of hiring, and took a course on resumes in college.

lorandbiro profile image
Loránd Biró

I agree that you shouldn't skip the old or less relevant employment history, but you could keep it brief and only expand the relevant parts.

I never liked to screen the resumes with multiple pages. Not just because it's time-consuming but because I didn't find it particularly useful for the screening.

You could make your resume short and to the point and use your LinkedIn profile to showcase all your experience in detail. That way, people can find it if they need more information.

lulasvob profile image

I've done hundreds of interviews and have gone through even more resumes.
Recently I had to switch jobs and it again was a proof that resumes don't really matter. I mean, it has to be decent but that's it. Whether it's one page, 2, 3, it doesn't matter as long as it is readable and not overwhelming.

On the other hand I think Isaac is right when saying that hiring managers don't really care about the side projects someone does. Maybe in Google and Facebook but only maybe, there could someone be looking into those. In regular companies I don't think that's the case so much.

And when it comes to going the extra mile in your spare time I'd have to fully agree that at times it's really hard to find the motivation if you think that what you do will help you with your career directly. If you think about it, it definitely helps you indirectly i.e. if there weren't these commits you'd probably not have the confidence you have now and the preparedness to act in situations where others would get lost.

It's really strange how one can anticipate their next career move for so long and it's just what destiny decides ... basically nothing may happen for years until one day "boom!" you get what you've always wanted and it turns out it's not exactly what you've imagined it to be... :)

devonlambert profile image
Devon Lambert

I would say that it wasn't a waste purely because you were able to "sharpen the saw".

As someone who has been an EM for over 10 years, and who, at some point focused more on people management than technical / coding in the line of release, I can say that I do still envy the time that one can spend coding, ideating and growing in the passion.

I AM looking for work and I feel that the lapses in my time to code are, potentially, what sets me in back from roles where I would otherwise be a perfect fit. That and the market is bananas right now.

chovy profile image

to be honest I do the same thing and I appreciate devs who are ok learning on their own. basically if you can't show me code you wrote (ie: "can't because it's proprietary"). I just end the interview. You don't have one script you wrote to manage some shit online via an api or something? If your only work is for the company you work for then I don't care to interview you.

That being said there's a lot of us who think like this at slack community, come join us!

lorandbiro profile image
Loránd Biró

Your work is impressive and I'm surprised that it didn't turn into opportunities. Have you focused on networking? What did you try to get more exposure? Have you presented on local meetups?