I’ve hired about 20 developers in my career so far (and I’m looking forward to hire more). When job applications arrive I separate them in three piles: Yes, No, and Maybe. It’s better to do Yes and No piles, but it’s a luxury that I haven’t had (if curious, drop a comment and I’ll write another blog post about it).
In the No-pile I put all those people that are obviously not a match, people that explicitly tell me they never wrote code before, people outside the time zone target, applications with grammar so bad I can’t understand them, etc.
In the Yes-pile I put all those that show promise. Their application looks good, their profile match and this is the most important bit: I find some evidence that they have written code before.
The rest of the applicants go to the Maybe-pile. They are not discarded, but I’m going to focus on the ones in the Yes-pile first because I believe I’ll find more successful candidates there than in the Maybe-pile. This doesn’t mean that someone brilliant isn’t in the Maybe-pile. It only means that I couldn’t find any evidence about their potential brilliance.
Here’s the kicker: I never get to the Maybe-pile. I always find all the candidates I want from the Yes-pile. Landing on the Maybe-pile is almost as bad as landing on the No-pile.
There are many ways in which you can make yourself go from the Maybe to the Yes pile. These are the best ways: blogging about code you write, writing tutorials, contributing to open source software. Having done all of that will not only put you in the Yes-pile, it’ll probably put you at the front.
But those are things that require a lot of time an effort. There’s another thing that may only require a couple of minutes. If you’ve been using your GitHub account for work or for university, that account has a lot of activity. You may not be able to show code from work and you may not want to show code from university, but you may show the activity. Go to your Public Profile settings and tick “Include private contributions on my profile”:
This, if you have any private activity, will turn your public GitHub profile from something that looks like a ghost town:
into something like looks more lively:
The latter looks like a developer that wrote some code. It will not send you to the top of the Yes-pile, but if the rest of your application looks good, it might be enough to send you to the Yes-pile and it’s a change that requires only a few seconds.
Now, if you are in the know, you might object that this is completely fakable, and you are right. Yet, I don’t see people faking it. I see lots of empty profiles looking sad and empty, so it’s still a useful signal.
Even if some people fake it, I might still continue using the signal. It’s not like you don’t have to pass all the interviews after this anyway. Remember that I’m not trying to find a perfect way to evaluate candidates, I’m trying to find a heuristic to help me find which ones to evaluate first because it’s impossible to evaluate everyone.
Now, if you decide to fake it, you have two paths. The first one is to just fake, essentially lying about it. That’s a deception. The second is to troll. You can spell out your name or draw something in that part of GitHub. I won’t know if you have real activity or not, your profile won’t look as empty, but at least I know you know enough about coding to pull off that.
You could argue that because some people wrote the code to make that happen and uploaded to GitHub, all you have to do is find it and run it, and it doesn’t prove that you are above script kiddie. And then again, most applications I have don’t even have script kiddie level of a display of ability, so you may still be coming ahead.