I fell in love with technology when I went to my first open source convention in 2012.
After spending years in recruiting, I decided to take a job specializing in big data at Greythorn. I had been trying to learn the ropes for a few months leading up to OSCON, but going to the conference sped that process up like crazy. There were so many brilliant people all in one place, and everyone was willing to share what they knew. It wasn't because they were trying to sell me anything, but because they were all so passionate about what they were working on.
I soon realized that, in many ways, the open source and big data industry was less an industry and more of a community. That's why I now try to pay it forward and share what I've learned about open source with those who are just getting started in their careers.
Why employers want open source contributors
Many clients tell me that although they want a candidate who has an exceptional technical mind, the ideal person should also really like this stuff. When you are passionate about something, you find yourself working on it even when you aren't getting paid.
My clients often ask, "Do they code in their spare time?" "Can I find their work anywhere?" "What do they really enjoy?" Open source contributors are often at an advantage because they check these boxes, and not only are their projects out in the open—so is the evidence of their coding proficiency.
Why recruiters search for open source contributors
Solid tech recruiters understand the technologies and roles they're recruiting for, and they're going to assess your skills accordingly. But I'll admit that many of us have found that the best candidates we've come across have a tendency to be involved in open source, so we often just start our search there. Recruiters provide value to clients when they find candidates who are motivated to work on a team to create something awesome, because that's basically the description of a top-performing employee.
It makes sense to me: When you take really smart people and give them the chance to be collaborative—for the sake of making something that works really well or may change the landscape of our everyday lives—it creates an energy that can be addictive.
What open source contributors can do to build a happy career
There are obvious things you can do to leverage your open source work to build your career: Put your code on GitHub, participate in projects, go to conferences and join panels and workshops, etc. These are worthwhile, but more than anything you need to know what will make you happy in your work.
Ask yourself questions like...
- Is it important to work for a company that gives back to the open source and software community? I find that some of my best candidates insist on this, and it makes a huge difference in their job satisfaction.
- Do you want to work for a company that is based on open source? The culture is often different in these environments, and it helps to know if that's where you think you'll fit best.
- Are there people you'd specifically like to work with? Although you can always try to join the same projects, the odds of collaborating with and learning from someone you admire are better if your day jobs align at the same company.
Once you know your own career priorities, it's easier to filter out the jobs that won't move you closer to your goals—and if you're working with a recruiter, it helps them match you with the right employer and team.
Although I don't contribute code, I'll always share what I've learned with those who are working on their career in open source. This community is made up of supportive and smart people, and I love that I've been able to be a small part of it.