Let me first say two things:
- I do understand that – in this particular case – we’re talking about advice to a student who is looking for their very first job.
- I’ve been a hiring manager for close to thirty years, both in the UK and in the US – and I’ve hired new graduates into jobs in both countries.
In Zack’s case, getting involved with (other people’s) open-source projects is definitely a positive thing to do, if he has the time and energy to do so. I encourage everyone to get involved with OSS if they have the time, energy, and inclination. I encourage this as a way to improve your skills and also to get used to working with others and to gain visibility in the community.
I’ll be honest, until I saw Zack’s post here, based on his interactions on Slack, I did not realize he was a yet-to-graduate student – again, worth cultivating visibility in the Clojure community is valuable if you have the time, energy, and inclination.
The reason I jumped in with a caution about “open source projects to show your skills” is that it is very common advice from people who already have a job and (usually) already do open source software work, and I wanted to provide the important caveat that there are lots of reasons why a candidate may not have a body of open source work to show – but they could still be a great candidate and do well in the interview process and get a job based on that alone. We, as an industry, often fail to acknowledge that contributing to open source is a luxury that not all candidates can experience and we should not penalize those candidates because of a lack of open source projects.
That’s why, as a long-time hiring manager, if a candidate puts a GitHub link on their resume/CV then I am going to look over their code with a very critical eye and assess whether their published code indicates a level of experience and competence that is appropriate for what their resume/CV claims.
Are there hiring managers out there who actively prefer candidates with open source projects? Yes, but I think the tide is slowly changing even for them. Is getting involved with open source projects going to help your career overall? Probably, yes – but more for the experience you gain and the interactions with other developers, rather than just being a “checkbox” for your resume/CV.
I’ve been very fortunate in my career that almost every single programming job I’ve ever had has come about because of my network of connections: even my first programming job, fresh out of university, was through a relationship I’d built with the staff that ran the computing lab there. In fact, even my sandwich year – a.k.a. industrial placement year – as part of my Math/Comp Sci BSc course came about because of an indirect connection with one of the hiring managers there.
So my bias for advice to candidates is to participate in the community and develop a rapport with people – which might get you hired into roles that never even make it onto the various job listings out there…