The private programmer

Hiring for Tech
September 14, 2020

A house at night, with lights coming out of the windows.

Candidates shouldn’t have to work into the night to pass an interview. Photo by Devon MacKay on Unsplash

Some of the most solid engineers, ones with track records of consistently delivering business value, have no public display of their work. Most companies don’t directly open source their primary code bases, leaving the work to be done behind closed doors. After working on these code bases, engineers don’t always have the time and inclination to work on public projects.

We’ve talked about this before

This is a topic people have been writing about for a while. Since it made its rounds again recently, I want to compile some of the literature and summarize why you shouldn’t require Open Source Software (OSS) contributions from your candidates.

Can you use GitHub at all?

One suggestion I’ve seen brought up is to have candidates bring in work samples to talk through during the interview. Maybe a candidate wants to bring in their OSS code as a sample. Or, when answering a conceptual question (“what is a hard problem you worked on in the past?”), they want to use their OSS contributions as an answer. That seems fair. As long the OSS contribution isn’t a requirement, just an option.

I’ve used people’s GitHub profiles to see if there’s anything they’ve highlighted on their profile. That can be a nice icebreaker to get the candidate to talk about themselves. But that’s it. The GitHub profile is not part of the evaluation, just a way to get the candidate to feel comfortable. In particular, if the candidate doesn’t list their GitHub profile on their resume, or the GitHub profile is not well curated, I find another way to connect with the candidate.

Going back to the idea of looking for strengths, an active, well-curated GitHub profile can be a strength. But the lack of one should not be a weakness.

Should I have a public GitHub profile?

Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary. You’ll hear many stories of interviewers never actually looking at the GitHub profile. But, if for reasons other than interviewing, you have a GitHub profile, consider curating it. You never know if it leads to inbound opportunities!

Requiring Open Source Software contributions from candidates locks out people who lack the time, or the inclination, to software development outside work hours. This disproportionately affects minorities in tech, including women and older developers. If you do incorporate GitHub profiles into your hiring process, only do so as a way for candidates to show their strength. Make public contributions an option, not a requirement.

This post was sent out on the September 14, 2020 edition of the Hiring For Tech newsletter. Subscribe to get future editions sent to you by email, once a week.

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