5 ways open source can strengthen your job search

Working on open source projects can give you experience and connections you'd probably never get anywhere else.
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Are you searching for a job in the bustling tech industry? Whether you're a seasoned member of the tech community looking for a new challenge or a recent graduate looking for your first job, contributing to open source projects can be a great way to boost your attractiveness as a candidate. Below are five ways your work on open source projects may strengthen your job hunt.

1. Get project experience

Perhaps the clearest way working on open source projects can assist in your job search is by giving you project experience. If you are a student, you may not have many concrete projects to showcase on your resume. If you are working, perhaps you can't discuss your current projects due to privacy limitations, or maybe you're not working on tasks that interest you. Either way, scouting out appealing open source projects that allow you to showcase your skills may help in your job search. These projects are great eye-catchers on resumes and can be perfect discussion topics in interviews.

In addition, many open source projects are kept in public repositories, such as GitHub, so accessing the source code is easy for anyone who wants to become involved. Also, it makes your publicly accessible code contributions easy for recruiters and other individuals at potential employers to find. The fact that these projects are open allows you to demonstrate your skills in a more concrete manner than simply discussing them in an interview.

2. Learn to ask good questions

Any new member of an open source project community has the opportunity to learn a lot. They must discover avenues of communication; structure and hierarchy; documentation format; and many other aspects unique to the project. To begin participating in and contributing to a project, you need to ask many questions to put yourself in a position for success. As the familiar saying goes, there are no stupid questions. Open source project communities promote inquisivity, especially when answers aren't easy to find.

The unfamiliarity when beginning to work on open source projects teaches individuals to ask questions, and to ask them often. This helps participants develop great skills in identifying what questions to ask, how to ask them, and who to approach. This skill is useful in job searching, interviewing, and living life in general. Problem-solving skills and reaching out for help when you need it are highly valued in the job market.

3. Access new technologies and continuous learning

Most software projects use many different technologies. It is rare for every contributor to be familiar with every piece of technology in a project. Even after working on a project for a while, individuals likely won't be familiar with all the technologies it uses.

While veterans of an open source project may be unfamiliar with certain pieces of the project, newbies will be extremely unfamiliar with many or most. This creates a huge learning opportunity. A person may begin working on an open source project to improve one piece of functionality, most likely in a technical area they are familiar with. But the path from there can take a much different turn.

Working on one aspect of a project might lead you down an unfamiliar road and prompt new learning. Working on an open source project may expose you to new technologies you would never use otherwise. It can also reveal new passions, or at minimum, facilitate continuous learning—which employers find highly desirable.

4. Increase your connections and network

Open source projects are maintained and surrounded by diverse communities. Some individuals working on open source projects do so in their free time, and they all have their own backstories, interests, and connections. As they say, "it's all about who you know." You may never meet certain people except through working an open source project. Maybe you'll work with people around the world, or maybe you'll connect with your next-door neighbor. Regardless, you never know who may help connect you to your next job. The connections and networking possibilities exposed through an open source project may be extremely helpful in finding your next (or first!) job.

5. Build confidence

Finally, contributing to open source projects may give you a newfound confidence. Many new employees in the tech industry may feel a sense of imposter syndrome, because without having accomplished significant work, they may feel they don't belong, they are frauds, or they don't deserve to be in their new position. Working on open source projects before you are hired may minimize this issue.

Work on open source projects is often done individually, but it all contributes to the project as a whole. Open source communities are highly inclusive and cooperative, and your contributions will be noticed. It is always rewarding to be validated by other community members (especially more senior members). The recognition you may gain from code commits to an open source project could improve your confidence and counter imposter syndrome. This confidence can then carry over to interviews, new positions, and beyond.

These are only a handful of the benefits you may see from working on open source projects. If you know of other advantages, please share them in the comments below.

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Sophie is a senior at Duke University studying computer science. She has just started to venture into the open source community via the course "Open Source World" taught at Duke in the fall of 2017, and has developed an interest in exploring DevOps. She will be working as a Software Engineer following her graduation in the spring of 2018.

1 Comment

Great article! Thanks for your enthusiasm.

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