Power-up your portfolio

Folks today we’re going to talk about powering-up your portfolio. During my Developer Mentoring classes, this is one of the things I get asked about most.

  • If you’ve already got one, these tips help you take it to the next level and bring you head-and-shoulders above other candidates.
  • If you haven’t, well, this advice is going to be exactly what you need to point you in the right direction for getting started!

Lets get right into it!

If you want to do anything with coding/programming/developing, etc./.. then you need to show that you can walk-the-walk as well as talk-the-talk! How do you do that? Having a body of work that you can show — a Portfolio.

Maybe you’re a newbie dev, or even an experienced Vet who asks “Why do I need one?”. The answer, is quite simple. You don’t want to give Interviewers or Peers the old razzle-dazzle but then have nothing to back it up with, right?

Regardless of your title, career path or problem domain, if you work in Tech, it’s pretty much mandatory. And having one actually serves multiple purposes.

  • To show to prospective employers to display that you’re competent and can do the job they require.
  • To cement in people’s minds that you’re an authority within your domain.
  • Also helps with job searching and opportunities (maybe they find YOU instead because of it!)
  • If you take part in the Tech Community, its great to have projects to showcase or speak about.
  • If you write articles or blog posts (which you should, btw) then having the proof behind it makes your writing so much more real and adds weight to it.
  • Finally, its to serve as a way to catalog your journey from your early beginnings and to showcase your progression in the craft.

Now we know why you need one, but well .. what is it, exactly? It is a place on the Web where you display your projects, abilities and skills.
For example, if you’re a…

Web Developer

You should showcase your Sites, Web Apps, maybe pets project in different frameworks, etc…

Data Visualizer

You show wow them with Charting, Mapping, Data Dashboards, Interactive Info-graphics, etc…

Music Software or Audio Production Developer

Showcase examples of DSP techniques like Fast-Fourier Transforms, links to SoundCloud snippets, etc…

DB/SQL Developer

Show off Stored procedures that demonstrate Joins, Pivots, Grouping, etc… or that generate reports. Highlight performance tips and tricks!

Mobile App Developer

Show off screenshots and link to real apps deployed on the App-stores.

Now, If you’re a beginner starting out and the thought of all of this scares you, or maybe puts you off, then don’t worry. I know it sounds like a lot of work (and it is) but I have some top-tips for you that make it much easier to get through. Also, when you do it right — it is an invaluable asset that can serve you no matter what you plan to do in the world of Technology.

Lets launch into my top tips now:

1. Your Portfolio is VERY similar to your CV.

The same rules apply. Check Episode 7 where we talk about Boosting your CV/Resume for and idea, but here’s the highlights:

  • Spellcheck your portfolio.
  • You need to to be concise. Get to the point! It shouldn’t have your whole life story.
  • Get someone else to review it — the more technical or ‘in-the-industry’ they are, the better
  • It should demonstrate projects, techniques and snippets that are relevant to your career path and that match your desired job descriptions. If you are looking for positions in Front-End or Web development and you’re not showing off Good Html Structures, Solid CSS Layouts or knowledge of both responsive and accessible designs — you’re doing it wrong.

In the same way that people say “Dress for the Job you want” — I’m going to say “ Portfolio for the Position you want”. Like your CV, it should have focus, and direction.

2. Show the Greatest hits; not the whole back catalog.

You want the items that people see to be the highlights. You really want to curate the contents of your Portfolio. Don’t just put things there to have things there.

Think of it like a painter’s work in an Art Gallery. You don’t see the half-finished sketches, spoiled canvases or abandoned frames. You see the best: the creme-de-la-creme.

Now, lets take a second — I really want to emphasize here that Quantity does not equal quality. One Good project will stand better alone than the same single good project mixed with a dozen rat-ass, half-finished items. Your portfolio should showcase your talent, not catalog your every misadventure. A single standalone piece gives a better impression.

Now depending on your stage of your career (you might be just starting, etc…) you may not have projects that really demonstrate your abilities, or that you’re proud of. That’s okay. Put your best project — the one that you’re happiest or proudest about. As you make new things, you can always add or remove items from your portfolio.

It should be a constantly curated collection of your greatest hits. As your talent and skill evolve, so should the body of work that you show.

Also, don’t wait until you have X projects done — Have something!

3. Don’t just do HALF.

I’m going to cover a bit of a hot-take here — every portfolio I see is missing a HUGE component. You see, there should be two VERY different and very separate portions to your Portfolio.

The majority of people only do one of those halves (believing it’s enough) and honestly it kind ofhurts their chances!

First half:

The first is a Website or blog. This is the VISUAL show-piece. It should have good descriptions, screenshots, mock-ups, code snippets, videos or direct links to live implementation — anything for Visual consumption of your projects. Blog posts about Techniques — the whole load! The more it links to live docs, blogs, app-stores, YouTube videos, case-studies, etc… the better it looks and the better your SEO is. The easier it will be for Industry experts, peers, recruiters and head-hunters to find you.

That’s Part 1. The first half. Your portfolio is not complete with just that.

The Second half:

It’s the technical show-piece. This ideally will take the form of a Github or Bitbucket account that has publicly available your code projects, or website designs. This is the part where your show the code.

Now this is exactly like how on Instagram and Youtube, or even say documentaries about your favorite movies, where people love to see Behind-the-scenes shots. Tech-Recruiters, Hiring Managers and tech peeps LOVE seeing how people code. You’ve whet their appetite with the Visuals and now you show them how the sausage is made.

Showing the code serves a few important purposes:

It demonstrates how you structure projects: good Separation of logic, templating, styling, etc…Experienced devs know this as Separation of Concerns

It can be a great chance to show-off:

  • Coding Style (adherence to a standard, usage of a Linting tool, etc…)
  • Usage of Design Patterns, Algorithms and Data Structures and When they are appropriate to use!
  • How comprehensive and relevant your comments are. BTW you are commenting your code right? No such thing as self-documenting! Some documentation, like docs on how to install or get it running on their machine, etc…

Now if you’re a beginner and most-or-all of these concepts don’t make a lot of sense — don’t worry! You’ll pick up all these things in good time. Definitely add the relevant ones to your learners log though — the more of these things you can show, the better!

Now having described the 2 of these, you’ll see that you they are 2 halves of a whole. The visual piece draws people in and wows them, while the code piece is to give them the nitty-gritty on how it’s done. One informs the other.

4. Version Control is the shizzle

In your technical part of your Portfolio — like we said it could be a Github or Bitbucket profile with public projects: Show how comfortable you are using Version Control, not just your code.

There are very few Developer, Coder, Programmer or Engineer jobs that don’t use version control (e.g. Git, SVN, TFS, etc…) and the few that don’t use it are places you absolutely DO NOT want to work — trust me on this one! Its non-negotiable in this day-and-age.

Regardless whether you’re front-end, back-end, game-developer, app creator or down deep in the dank, dusty database — this is something you really, really need to know and be able to demonstrate.

Show you can do it, and do it right. Follow best practices for your chosen VCS. E.g. Don’t just commit everything to the main branch. Use feature branches, write good commit messages, do pull requests, merge changes, etc… If you work on an Open Source project and can demonstrate doing this in a team environment over time — EVEN BETTER!

If you don’t know how to do these things, that’s okay: but do find out. Its an often neglected part of the coding journey. It can leave you in heaps of trouble later if you don’t grok it.

As your knowledge increases you can showcase some ‘extras’ like bitbucket pipelines or github actions, that do things like:

  • Automatically run tests on your code on push
  • Create build artefacts if the tests pass and code compiles
  • Automatically deploy to Dev/Staging/Live Environments

Going the extra mile with these items (even in pet or non-commercial projects) will give you a massive advantage over other candidates. The more self-sufficient you can be, the better. You may not use those skills in your job, but knowing them sets you above others. The time you invest here will return to you exponentially in value and opportunities down the line, so don’t skimp! Speaking of not skimping….

5. Don’t skimp on the secret sauce.

The best part of your portfolio is … you.

Inject some of personality, add a photo or two, link to (appropriate/work-safe) social media. Pick colors that you like, not just from generic palette you found somewhere. When you write about things, maybe use some words or phrases you use when speaking. Choose a font that compliments your style and tone of your writing/portfolio. Don’t just have a generic, formal, clinically clean text/design.

The tech industry, and companies in general don’t want robots that can crunch out code projects. They want real, living breathing people who have personalities, likes, dislikes and varied experiences. They want to hear your story, get to know you and understand your approach to the craft.

Bring a little bit of your own flair into the mix is a great way to differentiate your Body of Work from others in the Industry and help you stand out (in a good way)! There’s a lot of cookie-cutter portfolios out there, with half-baked projects and forgotten ideas. The only thing that differs in them is the names of the profile and projects. Bring a little of your personal whoomph to your work and you’re not going to be left behind when it counts.

Summary

So there we go! We covered 5 hot hints on how to Power up your Portfolio, regardless of which stage you’re at with it.

Following my top portfolio tips above means that you can then focus on what really matters — prepping for the Actual interviews! On a side note — If you need a bit of a hand there, dip back to Episode 5 where I gave some EXCELLENT tips on how to ace your Interview.

I also offer mock-interviews and soft-skill interview prep — drop me a line at speakingsoftwareshow@gmail.com and we’ll get your sorted! I’d love to discuss your situation and how we can get you into a place of confidence and success.

Originally published at https://www.speakingsoftwareshow.com on September 21, 2022.

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All about Soft Skills, Developers, Job Interviews, People, Management, Mentoring & Careers; with some occasional salty takes.

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SpeakingSoftware

SpeakingSoftware

All about Soft Skills, Developers, Job Interviews, People, Management, Mentoring & Careers; with some occasional salty takes.

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