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Five ways open source can boost your skills and portfolio

April 12, 2022
Linzi Nield
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If you’re looking to boost your career, you might want to consider contributing to open source projects. Open source projects can do wonders for building your skill set, but the benefits go far beyond improving your coding abilities – they can be a great way to find new opportunities and expand your network, and they can also give future employers a great sense of your coding abilities.

Here are five ways that contributing to open source projects can help your career.

It allows employers to see your code.

Your resume might imply that you know how to read and write code, but open source projects can prove it. Open source is visible to the public, which means that prospective employers can easily inspect your code and assess your skills. For many employers, GitLab and GitHub profiles are the new resumes, because your contributions can demonstrate your abilities more than boot camps, certifications, and even work experience. Open source projects also signal to potential employers that engineering isn’t just your day job: You’re passionate about coding and want to help the larger engineering community.

It provides a lot of valuable feedback.

When you work on an open source project, getting detailed feedback from a more senior engineer is a key part of the process. You pick an open source issue to work on, fork the project, and create a feature branch. When you’re done with it, one of the main developers will review your merge request to determine whether or not it’s ready. They might need your help, but they also need to ensure that the quality of the code is high, and every merge request will get a thorough review. They’ll provide you with valuable feedback that you can then use to make adjustments and, ultimately, hone your skills. This is an incredible opportunity for learning; you might not be able to get such direct feedback from a senior developer in your day-to-day work.

It bolsters your network.

Remember that many open source projects have large organizations behind them, and those organizations are always hiring new developers. Your open source contributions will give you a natural advantage for these roles: You know the product, you know the code, and you know the people behind the project. But the benefits to your network go well beyond landing a job at these organizations. Many programmers report that their work on open source projects opened up doors for them by giving other coders more visibility into their work and fostering deep connections with like-minded individuals.

It builds your experience level.

If you’re a budding software developer, open source contributions can help you expand your skills and gain recognition. Even entry-level jobs and internships require some experience of job candidates, and open source projects are a perfect way to get some coding under your belt before you ever take on your first official role. Open source projects democratize access to skill share by allowing you to read other people’s code, find and fix bugs, and add your code into a main repository.

It demonstrates that you can collaborate.

Writing and reading code are critical skills for landing an engineering role, but they aren’t enough. At most jobs, you’ll be working as part of a team and collaborating with others to build large-scale applications. Open source projects are almost always built by a large team, and often that team is composed of some of the best engineers in the world. Contributing will allow you to gain experience working with elite engineers while innovating and building at scale. You’ll develop soft skills that will help you thrive when working in unstructured, ambiguous environments, much like the ones you’ll find at early-stage startups.

Open source projects are great motivators.

Contributing to open source projects is one of the most effective things you can do to show your potential to employers. It simultaneously builds your network and your portfolio, and makes it easier for employers to find your work. But even outside of your day-to-day job, joining an open source project can help you in a much more meaningful way: It will give you real-world encouragement and a sense of community, both of which are critical to staying happy and healthy in your engineering career.

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