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Hiring managers advise job seekers to contribute to open-source projects

Fred O'Connor | Feb. 12, 2014
Contributing to open-source projects can give software developers an edge over other applicants in the competitive IT job market, say hiring professionals.

Contributing to open-source projects can give software developers an edge over other applicants in the competitive IT job market, say hiring professionals.

"The phrase we use is 'code is the new resume,'" said Jim Zemlin, executive director at The Linux Foundation. "Open source has truly become a juggernaut as of late. Within the last five years in particular it's just become the dominant form of development."

Open source, he noted, is behind Google's Android mobile OS, which is based on the Linux kernel, and open-source programs like Hadoop and NoSQL play key roles in the data-science movement. With open source in the mainstream, contributing to a community gets the attention of hiring managers.

"It is a frothy, hot market," Zemlin said. "I suspect if you participated in these projects and got code into it you'd be highly sought after by a large number of companies. There's just all upsides to participating in these projects, which is why you see so many people doing it."

Working on one of the 10 million open-source projects posted to popular code repository Github, for example, allows developers to demonstrate coding skills, collaboration abilities and technology interests. For hiring managers, open-source communities may offer better perspectives on technical and soft skills than a reference.

Developers who lack an open-source presence won't find themselves passed over for jobs, though. Given the tech industry's need for programmers, whether a person has an interest in open-source software doesn't matter to companies.

"The market is so strong for software engineers right now that even if you care nothing about open source and never want to get near it there's still plenty of opportunity for you," said John Graham, director of software engineering at open-source software vendor Red Hat.

However, developers who shun open source may be missing out on opportunities to entice potential employers.

"The more you can do to demonstrate your ability to code, your work ethic, the types of technology you have experience in, the easier it's going to be for a hiring manager to assess you," said John Nagro, director of engineering at HubSpot, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, company that develops a cloud-based inbound marketing software platform. "You're not necessarily at a disadvantage but you're not taking full advantage of the resources you have available."

Since open-source software has a variety of uses developers must consider the range of their work, a skill companies find "very valuable," said David Gruber, vice president of product management at Black Duck Software, in Burlington, Massachusetts.

"The way you think about building software tends to have a broader perspective than a developer who was writing a piece of code that was used for a single-use case in the context of an individual company," said Gruber, whose company offers consulting services for enterprises looking to adopt open-source software.


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