Could open source experience land you a job?

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open source work experience

It’s that time of year. The weather is warming, summer is upon us, the school year is at its end—and many folks are celebrating graduation from their university. If you’re one of those people, congratulations! Now that you’ve completed your studies, you’re probably looking forward to the next big challenge: choosing a career path.

Regardless of whether you’ve always known what you want to be or you’re still trying to decide what you want to do, it’s no secret that the job market is tough right now, especially for new graduates. Despite the daunting economy, the good news is that participating in an open source project can help you jumpstart your career, even if you’re not a computer scientist.

Why participating in open source matters

In a competitive job market, a real-world portfolio of work gives you an edge when applying for jobs. Contributing to an open source project provides you with that real-world portfolio, as all the work you do is publicly available and gives would-be employers a sense of your skill set and potential culture fit. In fact, many employers these days, at least when searching for technologists to employ, ask for a GitHub username instead of a resume. While class projects have given you the opportunity to do more in-depth study of a particular technical problem, participating in an open source project does the same and much more: you have the chance to work on a living, evolving code base; you use a wider variety of tools to get your code written and published; and, perhaps most importantly, you get the valuable experience of working with a globally distributed team.

Even if you’re not planning a career in programming, participating in open source projects can bring you many of the same benefits. Able writers will find that open source projects are looking for volunteers to help them create documentation, and that documentation in turn becomes a valuable, real-world part of your job application. The same holds true for artists, designers and people who just enjoy filing bug reports when something doesn’t quite work the way it ought to work.

If you’re not sure where to get started, consider perusing the OpenHatch website for volunteer opportunities that match your skill set and interests. Also check out this recent article profiling seven open source projects that are great for newbies, including how to pick a project and which ones to avoid. A few include:

Should you find yourself attending this year’s OSCON conference, check out the talk I’ll be giving with Amye Scavarda on Growing Your Career in Open Source. (And, if you won’t be at OSCON, we’ll share our slides and commentary following the presentation.)

While building up a referenceable body of work is important for obtaining employment, it’s not the only—or even greatest benefit—of participating in an open source project. The best parts of working in an open source project are the people you meet, the experiences you have with them, and the chances you have to learn about things: from programming languages to public holidays, from individuals all over the world. Take the opportunity now to engage with an open source project and build your skill set and personal network. You never know where open source will take you!

Leslie Hawthorn headshot
Leslie Hawthorn has spent her career creating and cultivating open source communities. She has driven open source strategy in Fortune 10 companies, pre-IPO startups, and Foundation Boards including senior roles at Red Hat, Google, the Open Source Initiative, and Elastic. She currently leads the industry verticals community strategy team within Red Hat’s Open Source Program Office.


I agree that open source may lead you to a professional road. I have participated in some open source projects and when I put that in my CV, I got more chance to be hired. That's why experiencing work in such projects, will give you more talents and more experiences.

I can fully agree with the above. I am looking at almost 10 years of contributing to open source projects such as Joomla and eZ Publish. I have learned so much, and continue to do so. Valuable experience that I also add to my resume and linkedin profile.

Not only can you learn how to code, make use of several systems/tools, write documentation, organize/coordinate events, or help with translations. One can also end up in leadership positions and gain experience running 'projects' with a team of volunteers or even steering the project itself.

For me it even goes as far as further developing personal skills such as communication, 'dealing' with people in a multicultural team and more.

And not to forget, it is fun!

I'd suggest that being "open" in every sense is an important trait for employment today: Open to new ideas, new technologies, new models of development, new cultural directions, new ways of sharing and collaborating. We are lucky to be living now - with such rich tools available to help make this happen!

I get occasional contact from head hunters looking to hire security people if I can suggest some from our projects.I also hear from employers who want to verify participation that people put on their resumes. So it really matters to employers too. Of course about half the time, I have no idea who the person is that said they were volunteering for us, which is pretty sad. But obviously these people cared enough about their resume showing involvement in an open source project to lie about it :)

the first job i got after graduation, was one i got only cause i was in open-source before. the boss loved open source, and that was all he needed )plus a talk with me in person).

what is also important to mention:
it may be possible, at least in theory, that you may not get a job because you did a lot of stuff in open source. in that case, however, it may still be an advantage for you, as you skip getting a .... very likely to be frustrating job, where the values you like are not cherished at all.

As a recent graduate, this was really resourceful. Thanks for the tips!

Experience of Open Source development helps hone qualities like participation, team work, patience, ability to understand others' point of view and ability to learn from the others/community.

All these qualities are important for personal development.

I couldn't agree more, this is something we look at when hiring and is something mentioned in more head hunting emails these days. Open source allows you to build up a verifiable portfolio of your development work that has been tested in real projects that are actually used too. There are also the warm fuzzy feelings you might experience from giving something back to the wider community.

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