Learn the steps to construct a robust programming portfolio that can boost your chances when applying for coding jobs. This guide provides tips and strategies to showcase your coding skills effectively.
Whether you’re just starting out in the industry, or you’ve been around the block but you’re looking for a new job, the job search process can feel overwhelming. What do you need to stand out from the crowd? How can you impress your potential employers?
When it comes to coding and programming, one of the most important pieces of the puzzle is the programmer portfolio. Let’s take a closer look at how your coding portfolio can make a big difference in your job search.
What is a Programmer Portfolio?
A programmer portfolio serves as an online resume. It showcases projects that you’ve worked on in previous roles, during a coding bootcamp, or in various settings throughout your years of educational or professional experience.
Some programmers opt to create a programming portfolio website, while others use sites like GitHub to house their portfolios. With an option like GitHub, you also have the opportunity to make use of the built-in professional network on the site.
Why Do You Need a Programmer Portfolio as an Entry-Level Programmer?
A programming portfolio is important for anyone who’s seeking a job that involves coding. It’s an integral part of the job search process. Portfolios:
- Give you the chance to showcase your capabilities, especially if you’re self-taught or changing careers
- Allow you to brand yourself as a professional and express who you are as a person
- Showcase other experiences from previous roles or education that are relevant to your career
Most professionals in the industry need coding portfolios to help demonstrate their specific skills and expertise. At this point, a portfolio is something that employers have come to expect from their candidates, so it’s crucial to be prepared.
Coding professionals across the industry, including data scientists, web developers, and software engineers, need coding portfolios. A coding portfolio is as essential to the job search process as a professional resume.
In an industry like software engineering where tactical skills, creativity, and attention to detail are paramount, a programming portfolio can help you demonstrate all of these abilities. Employers will be able to see firsthand the sorts of projects you can accomplish.
What to Include in a Programming Portfolio
Your portfolio should be a personal and professional narrative of who you are. These are just some of the components you should include:
Including a personal introduction helps give your portfolio a more personal tone. This section can give potential employers better insight into who you are alongside your projects and work experience.
At the very least, include your name (obviously), a professional headshot if you feel comfortable, and short biography. You can dive deeper, though, if you feel like it would help strengthen your portfolio as a whole.
Share your professional goals and strengths — what’s your objective in your career? What sorts of things have you done in order to get there, and what makes you a standout candidate?
Share some personal goals, too, or relevant personal experiences — want to climb Mt. Everest? Play the guitar? Walk your dog? This gives you an opportunity to create a memorable personal and professional brand. But be careful not to include anything personal that could distract from your professional talents.
Previous Work Experience or Education
This is the part of the programmer portfolio that’s most akin to a traditional resume. You should include a section that details your prior education and/or work experience. List any degrees, certifications, or other merits you’ve earned in an effort to move your career forward.
If you’re a self-taught coder or you attended a free program that doesn’t provide certification, be as detailed as possible: What was the program? When did you attend it? How long did it take you to complete the curriculum? What sorts of languages, functions, arrays, and skills did you learn? What types of support or community did you get involved in while working on this course? Getting specific shows you really immersed yourself in your studies and got as much out of the opportunity as possible.
Your previous work experience — if any — should be thorough but specific. Pull out important metrics or points that would be relevant to the role you want to apply for. Showcase any opportunities where you flexed those important skills like teamwork, leadership, and problem-solving. If you have too much irrelevant information on your resume or your work experience page, a hiring manager won’t spend the time to deduce why you would be a great employee.
Coding Projects You’ve Worked On
Including coding projects you’ve worked on in your programming portfolio is the main feature, and it helps to back up your previous professional and educational experience. It’s a good rule of thumb to include somewhere between 4 and 10 projects. The projects you choose to include can be any of the following:
- Projects you created on your own for personal or volunteer purposes (e.g. blogs, games, or websites)
- Projects you created from a prompt
- Projects you created with friends
- Projects you created for class or schoolwork, especially if you’re just starting out
- Projects you created for a previous employer (if allowed)
- Projects you created on a freelance basis
- Projects you created as contributions to open-source projects
- Projects that are ongoing, but make sure you keep these regularly updated
Regardless of the projects you decide to include, it’s crucial that they demonstrate job-relevant skills as well as the breadth and depth of your coding knowledge. It’s also good to keep in mind that potential employers will want to see current work. Even if none of your included projects are ongoing, make sure to frequently update your portfolio. Not only does this keep your work current, but it also demonstrates that you have a passion for your work and a strong work ethic.
In addition to including the projects themselves, it’s a good idea to add explanations of your role in each project, especially if it’s a project you worked on with a team. These explanations will also allow you to highlight specific details about the process or the outcome of the project. Here are some other elements you could include, in your own words:
- The initial problem: What were you trying to accomplish or solve?
- Any research you conducted or teams you worked with to learn more about the end user and what the solution should be
- Your thought process, from start to finish
- How you determined what language to use — was it part of a tech stack? Were you teaching yourself something new?
- Any challenges or problems you faced and how you overcame them
- Things you learned along the way aside from actual skills learned. Did you learn you like to work a certain way? Did you learn something new about skills you thought you had mastered?
- What the solution was and why you landed on it
This comprehensive explanation can help a hiring manager understand how you work and what led you to your conclusion. Problem-solving is a must-have skill for anyone working in engineering, web development, or data science and analysis, so the ability to showcase that skill in a programming portfolio is imperative.
If a hiring manager likes what they see, you should make it easy for them to contact you. Email, cell phone, LinkedIn, social media, carrier pigeon, what have you — just make sure the hiring manager can get in touch with you.
Programming Portfolio Best Practices
Now that we’ve gone through all of the most important components of a programmer portfolio, let’s take a look at some of the best practices to ensure that your portfolio can stand out from the rest.
Tailor the Samples
Much like building a classic resume, building your portfolio should involve tailoring certain samples to the particular job you’re applying for. Ideally, your portfolio will include “evergreen” samples of your work, or samples that will be relevant to a wide range of positions.
At the same time, however, you should make sure to update your portfolio with any samples that particularly align with the job you’re currently applying for. Certain positions may value certain skills over others, and you want to make it clear that you can perform the tasks that will be required of you.
If you’re applying for a coding job, for example, add some more examples of your coding work. If you’re applying for a job that specifically emphasizes using a certain coding language, highlight a project where you successfully used that language. Or if you’re looking to land a job in a specialized niche, like front-end web development, include project samples that demonstrate similar work you’ve done on webpages.
These projects can be anything — class work, freelance work, or personal projects — but they should be directly relevant to the skills you’ll need in this new position.
“Extracurricular” or Side Projects
When it comes to choosing projects to include in your programmer portfolio, the most important thing to keep in mind is that the samples you pick adequately highlight your strengths and relevant skills. That means that even if a project was just something personal you accomplished — a side project, something you put together to test your skills, etc. — it can still be a great option to include.
If you’re really excited about the prospect of working for the company you’re applying to, for example, consider creating something that will really grab their attention, like a new version of a landing page for their website.
Or you can think of including these side projects as another way to highlight your personal interests and personality. They can help demonstrate any of your soft skills, motivations, or ways that you approach different projects.
Visually Appealing & Easy to Navigate
Every piece of your portfolio, even beyond the projects you include, are a reflection of you. You should make sure that every aspect of it reflects your skills, your personality, and your professional brand, so it’s important that your programming portfolio is both appealing to look at and easy to navigate.
A visually appealing layout will help visitors to your portfolio remember you and your work, but you also want to ensure it’s simple and not too flashy. Go for design choices that will appeal to a wide range of visitors.
When it comes to ease of use and navigation, simplicity is the name of the game. Potential employers should easily be able to explore your portfolio and gain a comprehensive understanding of who you are as a programmer and as a candidate.
In our current age of a multitude of technological devices, it’s also important to consider building your portfolio to have a mobile and web-responsive site. Take the time to build your web portfolio so it’s fast, responsive, and offers a seamless experience. Otherwise, your potential employer might just move on to the next candidate.
Another way to support everything else you’ve included in your portfolio is to include social proof. Link to your social media profiles or include testimonials from previous happy clients if possible.
Social media profiles enable potential employers to reach out to you, experience your communication style, or review more of your work if you showcase it on social media.
Testimonials from previous clients can be really impactful if they share how your work had a positive impact on their business or what they particularly liked about working with you.
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