A Programmer's Portfolio

I am convinced that a programming student hoping to get a job in that field should be actively building a portfolio online. Turn those class projects, presentations, and reports into Github repositories or blog posts! I felt vindicated as I read this anecdote in Peopleware:

In the spring of 1979, while teaching together in western Canada,we got a call from a computer science professor at the local technical college. He proposed to stop by our hotel after class one evening and buy us beers in exchange for ideas. That’s the kind of offer we seldom turn down. What we learned from him that evening was almost certainly worth more than whatever he learned from us.

The teacher was candid about what he needed to be judged a success in his work: He needed his students to get good job offers and lots of them. “A Harvard diploma is worth something in and of itself, but our diploma isn’t worth squat. If this year’s graduates don’t get hired fast, there are no students next year and I’m out of a job.” So he had developed a formula to make his graduates optimally attractive to the job market. Of course he taught them modern techniques for system construction, including structured analysis and design, data-driven design, information hiding, structured coding, walk throughs, and metrics. He also had them work on real applications for nearby companies and agencies. But the center piece of his formula was the portfolio that all students put together to show samples of their work.

He described how his students had been coached to show off their portfolios as part of each interview:

“I’ve brought along some samples of the kind of work I do. Here, for instance, is a subroutine in Pascal from one project and a set of COBOL paragraphs from another. As you can see in this portion, we use the loop-with-exit extension advocated by Knuth, but aside from that, it’s pure structured code, pretty much the sort of thing that your company standard calls for. And here is the design that this code was written from. The hierarchies and coupling analysis use Myers’ notation. I designed all of this particular subsystem, and this one little section where we used some Orr methods because the data structure really imposed itself on the process structure. And these are the leveled data flow diagrams that makeup the guts of our specification, and the associated data dictionary. …”

In the years since, we’ve often heard more about that obscure technical college and those portfolios. We’ve met recruiters from as far away as Triangle Park, North Carolina, and Tampa, Florida,who regularly converge upon that distant Canadian campus for a shot at its graduates.

Of course, this was a clever scheme of the professor’s to give added allure to his graduates, but what struck us most that evening was the report that interviewers were always surprised by the portfolios. That meant they weren’t regularly requiring all candidates to arrive with portfolios. Yet why not? What could be more sensible than asking each candidate to bring along some samples of work to the interview?

Last updated on Feb 05, 2024 12:37 -0500