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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.

Enterprise adoption of open-source software means that working on such projects is no longer the domain of hobbyists who code in their free time. For many developers, their day job involves working on open-source programs.

"Many organizations are highly dependent on open source and have their employees engage with the open-source community and contribute fixes and report bugs for the open-source software that they're using," said Gruber.

Zemlin already sees open source becoming the primary form of software development and predicts this trend will increase. Open-source code will comprise 80 percent of an enterprise software stack, he said, and the remaining resources will go to customizing the software for a particularly industry or product.

Another plus to open-source participation: the opportunity to develop skills and acquire experience that can be used to break into a hot area of IT. Developers who want a job in data science but lack the appropriate background could become involved with an open-source project connected to big data. Their code contributions and comments from peers on their work could be used to close the skills gap.

"You put that on your resume and you say, 'Look, I know I haven't worked in this area, but I'm a member of this community and this is what they say,'" said Graham.

Programmers interested in getting involved with open source should find a project that intrigues them — even if they lack experience in it — and find an open-source angle, said Graham.

"You're probably going to do it on your free time," he said. "You want to be interested in it. It shouldn't be a second job."

All open-source projects need contributors, but developers who join communities should not expect to instantly take on key development roles. This is especially true in popular projects or selective communities like the Eclipse Foundation and the Apache Foundation where the mass of contributions makes standing out a challenge, said Graham.

"Generally, any open-source project —even if it is something of the scale of the Linux kernel —needs help," he said. "It doesn't mean you're going to own the next version of the Linux kernel two weeks after you show up. But you can contribute fixes, clarification to the documentation. Any community appreciates that."

Developers should instead focus on how they engage with and contribute to a community, which outweigh the type of projects they select. Contributions are especially important and each holds different value to hiring managers. Filing bug submissions and asking or answering a question in an open-source forum serve as good starting points. The next and preferred level of involvement entails submitting code that adds features to the software and improves the program.


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