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IT Careers: Open Source, Open Resume

Don't trash the traditional resume just yet, but developers who contribute to open source projects may find their code becomes their best career-boosting tool.

9 Job Hunt Tips For Older IT Pros
9 Job Hunt Tips For Older IT Pros
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How's this for some IT humor: What do you call a Linux volunteer who just contributed his or her sixth patch to the Linux kernel?

Hired.

Get it? Allow Linux Foundation fellow Greg Kroah-Hartman to explain: "The 'joke' is that no one contributes more than five patches to the kernel as an amateur, because after that, you normally get a job offer. It's not a joke, as I've seen it happen numerous times."

It may be one of the overlooked upsides for IT professionals who get seriously involved with open source projects and communities: For all of the collaborative, populist spirit at the heart of open source, self-interest has its place, too. Developers in particular can turn their uncompensated open source work into a more powerful professional calling card than any traditional resume or other job-hunting tool.

Bikas Saha, a technical staff member at Hortonworks who's also active in the Apache Software Foundation, where projects include Hadoop and other open source platforms, thinks of this as the "open resume," where a mix of source code and community reputation becomes as critical as any LinkedIn profile or standard resume.

"Your contributions are out there for anyone to see," he says in an interview. "We know exactly what you did and what the quality of that work was."

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He doesn't go so far as to say the open resume concept should replace traditional resumes or LinkedIn profiles altogether. Nor would a previous lack of open source involvement hurt a qualified candidate's standing at Hortonworks. Saha himself didn't get involved with Apache until after he left Microsoft to join Hortonworks in 2011. But strong open source contributions can work on behalf of your career even when you're not actually looking for a job -- which can actually be the best time to be looking for a job.

Kroah-Hartman, who has helped hire developers with Linux kernel skills for companies like IBM and Novell (which acquired the Linux enterprise distro SUSE in 2004), tells us in an email interview that the benefits of open source contributions speak loudly to recruiters and hiring managers.

"It shows that someone can work on a development team with others, has good communication skills and good technical skills at the same time, as well as generally being 'sane' and someone you can work with," Kroah-Hartman says. "A number of people I've helped hire didn't really have an 'official' resume at all, we just knew their open source development work and it spoke for itself as to their skill."

Saha says Apache's meritocratic nature lends itself well to the open resume concept. Unlike with the traditional resume, it's quite difficult to embellish past experience and accomplishments -- that work is, by definition, out the in the open for anyone to see and use. Apache contributors that earn the esteem of their peers, for instance, can be voted in as "committers" who, like him, hold more sway over Apache projects.

There's no shortcut to that role: "Note that becoming a committer is not just about submitting some patches; it's also about helping out on the development and user discussion lists, helping with documentation and the issue tracker, and showing long-term interest," the Apache website reads.

That peer-reviewed reputation component, paired with open source contributions, form the foundation of the open resume, according to Saha, and can have an even greater impact than anything you might say in a face-to-face interview.

"It can sometimes be a lot more significant than the three or four hours you spend interviewing a person," he says. "[The interview] doesn't quite give the same positive picture as being able to look at their open source background or using the open source social network to figure out where that person stands as an engineer and as a [potential] hire."

By "social network," he means the active online community that typically springs up around open source projects, especially high-profile ones like Hadoop or the Linux kernel. Kroah-Hartman points out it's quite simple for employers to identify people active with the Linux kernel: "Just look at the Linux kernel mailing lists and our source tree. It's full of names and email addresses of the people doing this work."

There's indeed a social component to the open resume, too. Kroah-Hartman says one of the most effective ways for Linux developers to find opportunities is to tell their peers that they're on the hunt. "Let other developers know [you] are looking for a job or a different one from what [you] have today," he says. "I get companies asking me every week if I know of developers who have experience in X or Y areas of the kernel and are looking for a job."

In the Apache world, Saha says that networking and the reputation effect can be especially useful because of the relative youth of Hadoop and related technologies for big data and distributed computing. "It's actually a fairly complex engineering platform," he says. "It's not easy to find people who can come in and [hit the ground] running from day one. It's not just about the software or the complexity of the code; it's also a manner of thinking. A lot of people are great at writing software but they do not yet have the insight or experience on distributed software."

Although Saha says the hiring picture has improved over the past several years, it remains a job-seeker's market for people with serious skills in the Hadoop ecosystem, underscoring the positive potential of the open resume.

In the end, strong open source contributions are no laughing matter on the job market.

"If you do open source development work, you will be contacted by companies looking to hire you," Kroah-Hartman says.

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Kevin Casey is a writer based in North Carolina who writes about technology for small and mid-size businesses. View Full Bio

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Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/11/2014 | 8:30:17 PM
Re: Open Source, Open Resume

@Brian.Dean    Thanks for the further clarification.  I see and understand your point. 

Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
8/11/2014 | 6:36:20 AM
Re: Open Source, Open Resume
@Technocrati that is a good point. A lot depends on the type of project that one is interested in, relative to their education/experiences/skillset. For example, if a Master's in Mathematics enters a group that is trying to solve a high school level math problem, serious contribution has already been made by the degree holder to the group, even if it only took a weekend of their time. The contributor gains the recognition and also increases their understanding of the type of problems that a group in a similar setting might be facing. It is quality that the contributor gives to the group -- it's a win-win situation.

Likewise, if an individual with a high school math degree enters a group that is trying to solve a Master's level math problem, then the individual is the one gaining more from interacting with the group and the group also gains. 
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/11/2014 | 1:11:56 AM
Re: Open Source, Open Resume

@Lauriane   Social Networking is a key ingredient of this for sure.  Often companies need unique skills which are very hard to find - social networking helps considerably.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/11/2014 | 1:09:26 AM
Re: Open Source, Open Resume

@Brian Dean   Have you worked on an Open Source Project ?   If so, how did you manage it ?    I would think someone with a regular job would not have the time to contribute seriously.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
8/11/2014 | 1:03:58 AM
Re: Open Source, Open Resume

".... but not everyone is a Hadoop or Linux developer. "

@zerox203    Good point, you don't necessarily have to be a kernel expert to contribute to Open Source and hopefully other skills can gain the same opportunities that "kernel patchers" receive.

Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
8/5/2014 | 2:15:45 AM
Re: Open Source, Open Resume
The open source model is a completely different model that provides a lot of benefits. For instance, the fear of reverse engineering disappears and competitors become collaborators in an effort to grow the ecosystem, etc. For the individual that is looking to increase their level of productivity, open source provides a healthy environment that provides ample work and social interactions of quality. Experience can be viewed as a byproduct. However, it is extremely valuable.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
8/4/2014 | 4:11:00 PM
Re: Open Source, Open Resume
The social networking opportunities here, as Kevin notes, may prove key for the developers. That's how you learn about jobs when you're not even looking.
KevinRCasey
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KevinRCasey,
User Rank: Moderator
8/4/2014 | 3:43:53 PM
Re: Open Source, Open Resume
Thanks, zerox. And I agree, I don't think this approach is for everyone or every employer. Nor is it a quick fix for someone currently on the job market. But I definitely see the upside here for IT pros (devs especially) with open source skills/interests and companies that need people with experience in Hadoop, Linux, etc. One of the things that appeals to me about the concept is that it's a potential solution to the timeless "can't get the job without the experience, can't get the experience without the job" problem faced by students, young professionals, or experienced folks looking to develop new skills in areas like big data, cloud, etc.

Speaking of timeless problems: It also seems like hiring managers should like this if for no other reason than it's tough to "enhance" your open source credentials... not so for imaginative resume writers that oversell their qualifications.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
8/4/2014 | 2:36:43 PM
Re: Open Source, Open Resume
This article is much appreciated, and I'm glad to see this line of thought finally gaining some traction. It's one thing for companies to say that they value 'open source' (and I think it's been said by plenty of managers who don't even know what it means), but it's something else to take real consideration for the differences an open-source contribution has from a traditional resume entrance, and adjust your hiring practice accordingly. As you say, Kevin, you can't really put that contribution on a resume... which means employers who are looking for you to have their process backwards. There was another article on impending changes in the hiring process on InformationWeek last week, and I think this one goes nicely with that.

At the same time, I think we run the risk of overselling the point. Sure, some employers are looking for open-source contributions... but many others aren't. It wouldn't hurt to try and bring it it to employer's attention if you are already someone who contributes to open-source projects, but I don't think it's necessarily a practical approach to go out and start today if you need a job tomorrow. It's more something you should be doing as you go. Likewise, only certain kinds of open-source projects have this kind of sway... Mr. Kroah-Hartman mentions Hadoop and Linux Kernel, and that's great, but not everyone is a Hadoop or Linux developer. Tons of other great open-source projects might still not get you the accolades you'd like.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
8/4/2014 | 1:50:04 PM
Vendors show off their committers
In Hadoop circles -- and where other big-data platforms are concerned -- being a committer to an open source project is a badge of honor. Hortonworks flaunts its committer numbers in contrast to rivals, and commercial-vendor capabilites are often cast in a harsh light by rivals and the community when it's revealed that "X company has only Y committers." Contributing is a first step to becomming a committer, but just having the warewithal to offer useful code is a feather in your cap.
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