What should go in a portfolio?

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#1 dbhubbell  Icon User is offline

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What should go in a portfolio?

Post icon  Posted 14 November 2009 - 04:20 PM

I've heard that it's very useful to assemble a portfolio of your programs to show potential employers. Obviously different employers are going to look for different things based on what their company does, but generally speaking, what would look good in a portfolio?
To put it another way: on a scale from "Hello World" to "Here's my homemade OS" what's worth demonstrating in an interview?
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#2 MentalFloss  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 17 November 2009 - 09:05 PM

I have been thinking of doing this as well. I haven't yet so take my advice for what it is.
Anyway, I would create a small albeit full application that targets some business need. This application would demonstrate to whoever were to review it my competencies in multiple areas.

For example, I think when I do this I'm going to create an inventory control system. It's not going to be usable but it will be complete. Basically, I'd create all the pieces required to handle tracking, adding, removing, moving, etc on inventory, customers, and suppliers.

Here are the topics I would cover (speaking from a .net perspective - your language of choice might be geared differently)
- Error handling. How exceptions, errors, and warnings, are tracked and handled.
- File IO. Writing some things to log files or whatever. Demonstration of being able to do IO.
- Database CRUD. I would probably make the DB more than just a pure persistent layer if the job I'd apply for required SQL competency. This part can get pretty complex.
- UI. From the .net perspective, I would implement web interface, classic windows form interface, and WPF interface. In combination, they would demonstrate that I know how to properly separate UI from implementation.
- Clear cut design pattern usage. This can be done either by copious comments or clearly named classes. Ex: ProductFactory, CustomerBuilder, whatever.
- Comments that explain the why of what I'm doing. Let the what speak for itself.
- Clearly named variables, classes, etc.
- Etc, etc.

These are just ideas. Again, I've never tried this approach before.

Hope this helps.
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#3 Momerath  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 18 November 2009 - 12:49 AM

I've been in software development for a long time now, and not a single employer has ever asked to see code that I've written. I've also interviewed people for positions and none of them have offered to show me any code, nor would I ask for it. "Why?", you might ask.

There is nothing that shows that you actually wrote that code. For all I know you copied it off the internet to show me. If you did show me code, I'd ask if it was something you did for your previous job. If you answer yes, you'd never get the job as I couldn't trust you not to give the companies code to some random person.

I have, on the other hand, written small programs for potential employers, usually something that takes 10-15 minutes to do (well, it takes me 10-15 minutes, YMMV).
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#4 mocker  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 18 November 2009 - 08:51 AM

No one wants to read through thousands of lines of code while sorting through resumes. Highlight some examples of what type of programs you've created and worked on, and then be prepared to talk about them if you get to an interview.
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#5 dbhubbell  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 18 November 2009 - 09:53 AM

View PostMomerath, on 17 Nov, 2009 - 11:49 PM, said:

There is nothing that shows that you actually wrote that code. For all I know you copied it off the internet to show me.


That is a good point, thanks. I take it then that demonstrating my ability is more a matter of my resume and being able to answer any questions they might feel the need to ask.

I guess why I'm asking is because I don't have much in the way of work experience at this point and so at present, my resume isn't all that impressive.

Generally speaking, do many employers view open source involvement favorably?
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#6 mocker  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 18 November 2009 - 10:12 AM

Yes, if you can say you contributed to open source projects, especially ones they might have heard of, then that is generally a big plus. Even though they probably won't look at the code, it means you put your own code out to be scrutinized by others.
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#7 dbhubbell  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 18 November 2009 - 10:18 AM

View Postmocker, on 18 Nov, 2009 - 09:12 AM, said:

Yes, if you can say you contributed to open source projects, especially ones they might have heard of, then that is generally a big plus. Even though they probably won't look at the code, it means you put your own code out to be scrutinized by others.



Cool. Thank you.
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#8 NeoTifa  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 18 November 2009 - 11:51 AM

A disc or website with downloadable/runnable examples is a great thing to have. You could show this to your potential employer and they can look at it how they please.
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#9 Jayman  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 18 November 2009 - 01:38 PM

We actually had this discussion some time ago in another topic.

Looking to find it.......searching.....found it.

What components are in your professional portfolio?
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#10 thursdayniac  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 19 November 2009 - 01:07 AM

View PostMomerath, on 17 Nov, 2009 - 11:49 PM, said:

I've been in software development for a long time now, and not a single employer has ever asked to see code that I've written. I've also interviewed people for positions and none of them have offered to show me any code, nor would I ask for it. "Why?", you might ask.

There is nothing that shows that you actually wrote that code. For all I know you copied it off the internet to show me. If you did show me code, I'd ask if it was something you did for your previous job. If you answer yes, you'd never get the job as I couldn't trust you not to give the companies code to some random person.

I have, on the other hand, written small programs for potential employers, usually something that takes 10-15 minutes to do (well, it takes me 10-15 minutes, YMMV).


What types of programs were you asked to write? Can you give an example?
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#11 Mangotastic  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 19 November 2009 - 02:54 AM

I'm still in University but as part of my course I have to do a year in the industry and that includes applying at a lot of places.

I've been asked to write small applications and explain why I wrote them that way and it was up to me to mention anything at all I thought would help with my interview.

The kinds of applications you have to write are generally small, but on the fly. I had to write an app to simulate a 'Buck Fizz' drinking game. This is where you go around a room and shout a number. If that number is divisible by 5 then you say 'Buck', if that number is divisible by 3 then you say 'Fizz'. If it's divisible by both you say 'Buck Fizz' and if you mess up you have to take a drink. I had to simulate this, only, without the drinking.

I took a moment to think about it, wrote it out in UML (activity diagram) on a white board and was then asked to hand write the code as part of a larger test they gave me. This was pretty interesting, writing code from memory without all the IDE aid is a different story.

I have also worked as a freelance web developer before, and I can say this is one exception where a portfolio is vital. The potential customers don't want to see your code but will want to see your websites, they need some concrete evidence that you can do the job before they give you the job. As a freelance programmer your responsible for architecting, developing and testing your own software so it becomes a bit more of a creative process and stands to reason that being interviewed is more like being interviewed as an artist than a computer scientist.

You also need to bare in mind that a 'portfolio' request will be more common when your looking for your first job. If you don't have a recommendation from a previous company or a list of job roles you've performed then your going to need to get creative to show that you can do what they're asking from you in the job. Now, whilst I agree that people only have your word that you've done what you said that's where your verbal creativity comes in to play. You need to explain what's good about your app, what the issues were, where you had to redesign things and where you had a particularly ingenious idea for the code are all good examples of what to mention.

If you do build a portfolio good luck to you, but building an app that isn't actually ever used, wasn't developed as part of a team, and isn't built for a customer or designed from a spec will not be the most impressive thing in the world. Try your hand at doing some free work, or volunteer work if your looking for your first job or are in school.

This post has been edited by Mangotastic: 19 November 2009 - 03:04 AM

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#12 Momerath  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 19 November 2009 - 04:34 PM

View Postthursdayniac, on 19 Nov, 2009 - 12:07 AM, said:

What types of programs were you asked to write? Can you give an example?

One I remember well was "Write a method to reverse a string, using at most 2 extra bytes of memory". I did it with 1 extra byte, the loop variable (this was in C).

The reason I remember this one so well is that after seeing my answer, they called a bunch of their programmers in to look at what I'd done, as no one had ever seen it done in less than 2 extra bytes. I spent about a half hour trying to explain it to them, not sure they ever really understood :). I didn't get that job as they told me "We could hire 3 beginning programmers for what it would cost us to hire you".

I've also been asked to write sort routines that outperform bubblesort (I'm a fan of heapsort, most people have no idea how it works :)), reverse the lines in a file (leave the text alone, just the line order), Calculate Factorials/Fibonacci sequence in both recursive and iterative ways, and simple SQL stuff (select items from table that aren't in other table, merge two tables, calculated fields). That's all that comes to mind right now.
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#13 thursdayniac  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 19 November 2009 - 09:59 PM

View PostMomerath, on 19 Nov, 2009 - 03:34 PM, said:

View Postthursdayniac, on 19 Nov, 2009 - 12:07 AM, said:

What types of programs were you asked to write? Can you give an example?

One I remember well was "Write a method to reverse a string, using at most 2 extra bytes of memory". I did it with 1 extra byte, the loop variable (this was in C).

The reason I remember this one so well is that after seeing my answer, they called a bunch of their programmers in to look at what I'd done, as no one had ever seen it done in less than 2 extra bytes. I spent about a half hour trying to explain it to them, not sure they ever really understood :). I didn't get that job as they told me "We could hire 3 beginning programmers for what it would cost us to hire you".

I've also been asked to write sort routines that outperform bubblesort (I'm a fan of heapsort, most people have no idea how it works :)), reverse the lines in a file (leave the text alone, just the line order), Calculate Factorials/Fibonacci sequence in both recursive and iterative ways, and simple SQL stuff (select items from table that aren't in other table, merge two tables, calculated fields). That's all that comes to mind right now.


Well those all seem fairly simple. Although... I could see my self completely blanking at a job interview from being nervous lol. I had to do a heapsort in my data structures class using a binary tree... It def took me longer than 15 min though.
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#14 TMKCodes  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 21 November 2009 - 02:57 PM

View PostMomerath, on 19 Nov, 2009 - 03:34 PM, said:

View Postthursdayniac, on 19 Nov, 2009 - 12:07 AM, said:

What types of programs were you asked to write? Can you give an example?

One I remember well was "Write a method to reverse a string, using at most 2 extra bytes of memory". I did it with 1 extra byte, the loop variable (this was in C).


Damnit, how did you do it? xD Really, this is annoying i can't do it w/o the extra 2 bytes. :(

This post has been edited by TMKCodes: 21 November 2009 - 03:01 PM

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#15 Momerath  Icon User is offline

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Re: What should go in a portfolio?

Posted 22 November 2009 - 10:20 AM

View PostTMKCodes, on 21 Nov, 2009 - 01:57 PM, said:

Damnit, how did you do it? xD Really, this is annoying i can't do it w/o the extra 2 bytes. :(

It's the swap variable that's causing you problems, isn't it? :)

Play with this:

a = a ^ b;
b = a ^ b;
a = a ^ b;
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