Portfolio Code

Now that your GitHub profile is looking good and you’ve set up your top project, it’s time to take a look at your actual code. As I said before, this is really what it all comes down to for most coding jobs. If you can’t prove your ability to write code, you won’t get the job.


I usually start by trying to find the main part of the project. In a Rails app, this is typically a model file or maybe one of the controllers. For an Express app, I’ll start at app.js. For non-web apps, I’ll look for the main entry point. Once I’ve found a file with some real (not autogenerated) code in it, I look for several things.

Consistent Style – I’m not so concerned with whose style guide you follow, but I do expect you to pick one and stick to it. If you’re writing Ruby, use Rubocop. Your Python should always follow PEP 8. Check out Prettier if you need to clean up your JavaScript.

Clear Names – I’m fine with terse names and abbreviations, but I should be able to look at the name of a function and have some idea of it’s purpose. Variable names follow the same rules. Variables used only in loops or iterators can be single letters, but everything else should be easy to understand.

Idiomatic Code – Different languages naturally have different ways of performing the same task. For example, I wouldn’t expect to see a for loop used to iterate over an array in Ruby. I would expect to see an Enumerable method such as .each or .map. In Python, I would expect to see a list comprehension.


I don’t care when you write tests, as long as you write them. I’m not dogmatic about test-driven development, but I do expect production-ready code to have an automated test suite.

Include instructions for running your tests in the README file for the project. Also setup a continuous integration server, such as Travis CI, on your GitHub repo so the tests run automatically.

Beyond simply having a test suite, you need to make sure you’re testing the right things. Knowing what to test, and what not to test, is usually a sign of an experienced programmer.

It’s safe to assume that the framework you’re using is well tested. It’s not necessary to include tests that ensure that Rails associations and validations are working. It’s better to include tests that specify exactly what makes a model object and its associated objects valid or invalid.


In my experience comments are often not found in production code. This may come as a surprise to some programmers. Comments are typically only found before especially complex code or when something is implemented in a non-standard way. Comments used as documentation, before public classes and methods, are appreciated.

The most important rule is comment why something is done a certain way, not how it is done. I should be able to determine how something is done by reading the code. If I have questions about why the code was written that way I expect to find that answer in a comment.

Commit History

Finally, I like to also take a look at the commit history on a project. It’s interesting to see how long the candidate has been working on this project. Is this something that was put together just for a job search, or is this a real project?

You can learn a lot by someone’s commit messages. If I see a series of messages like “typo”, “fixing”, “fixing again”, “really fixing this time”, etc. I get a little worried. This is a red flag that maybe this person really doesn’t know what they’re doing.

I also see if more than one person has committed to the project. If so, I’ll go back to the code and check out the “Blame” view. Maybe that really impressive method I saw earlier was written by someone else. Group projects are fine, but never try to take credit for someone else’s work.

Your GitHub Portfolio

In my last post, I talked about how to setup your GitHub profile when looking for a job. Now that your GitHub profile page is looking good, shape up the details of your top repositories. You can customize the six popular repositories that appear on your profile page. These repositories should show off your best work and match the skills needed for the position you’re currently seeking.

When I’m reviewing a candidate, I sometimes skip the popular repositories and go to the repositories tab. I like to see what the candidate is currently doing. Projects appear in order by most recent commit on here. Since a recruiter or hiring manager might only look at one or two projects, be sure those at the top of the list look good.

Once I click on a project, it should be pretty easy to see what you’re trying to accomplish. Include a brief description at the top of the repo. Explain what the project does in simple terms. A few sentences is enough. You’ll provide complete details later in the README file.

Next, include a website. If this is a web application, this should probably be the address of a live demo. Even better, link to a post on your site that describes the project. That post should then link to the live demo. A demo running on a free Heroku site is fine.

As the reviewer scans down the list of files, there should be a clear structure. Most frameworks, such as Ruby on Rails, provide this structure for you. Things I look for include a breakdown of the application into components, usually following the model-view-controller pattern, and a test or spec directory.

After the list of files in the project, include a detailed README file. This is your chance to elaborate on the purpose of the project. What is special about this application? What technologies did you use to build it? What did you learn from this project?

Finally, explain how to run the project locally. What are the requirements, and how do I install the correct versions? Again, the framework and tools you use should make this easy. Hopefully everything is just a bundle or yarn command away.

Now that I know what your project is all about, it’s time to dig into the code. I’ll cover what I look for in a code review in my next post.

Looking For Engineers

We’re currently looking to hire two more experienced Ruby / JavaScript engineers here in the Sharethrough Austin office. This is one of the hardest parts of my job as an Engineering Manager. If you’re interested, I thought I’d offer a few tips to make it easier for recruiters and hiring managers to pick you out of the crowd of applicants.

After I look over an applicant’s resume or LinkedIn profile, the next place I go is their GitHub page. I have some advice about other parts of an engineering candidate’s application, and I’m already working on a few more posts like this one. Since GitHub is basically the first place I look, I’ll start here.

As someone looking for a job writing code, GitHub can be one of your most valuable assets. The most important question that a potential employer has about you is “can this person code?” If you can’t code, nothing else really matters. Even if you’re a perfect culture fit for the team, if you can’t contribute you won’t get the job.

Your GitHub profile and your code repositories should demonstrate your ability to get things done by writing code. The fastest way to learn programming is by doing. The best way to improve your ability is consistent practice. Write lots of code and share it publicly.

Your Profile

As with all profiles, I recommend you use your real, full name on GitHub. This isn’t required, of course, but be sure that your username is fairly easy to pronounce and remember. Imagine telling it to someone over the phone. Also, don’t use anything that someone might find offensive.

The same goes for your profile photo. A recent photo of yourself is best. It doesn’t have to be a professional headshot. A picture of you doing something you enjoy is fine. Almost anything is better than the default pixel art face.

Write a short bio about yourself. This doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a few sentences about your interests and experiences. This could even be simply your job title and your current company. Add your real email address. This should be the same address you use on LinkedIn. If you have a personal website, link to it on your profile. If not, link to your profile on LinkedIn.

Your profile is also a great place to show off things that you’re passionate about other than coding. Maybe you’re on a mountain bike or climbing wall. If you’re wearing headphones in your photo, I might ask you about music. Feel free to show off your personality and interests, but do it in a way that still looks good to potential employers.

After the profile, I head over to the repositories tab next. I’ll finish up a post with my tips for polishing up your repositories in a few days.

Getting Started With D&D

Halfway through my 5th grade year, my family moved over 100 miles away from the small town where I was born to the Dallas / Fort Worth area. This was before the internet or any other cheap long distance communication. As an already nerdy kid, this was fairly traumatic for me.

One day, while bored in math class, I started drawing a dungeon on the graph paper we were supposed to be using for plotting points. Another kid noticed what I was doing and asked if I played D&D. I answered “yes” and made a friend. Even better, that kid bought a few of my maps with his lunch money.

These days, thanks in part to its appearance on shows like Stranger Things, lots of people are curious about Dungeons & Dragons. This, combined with the fairly recent release of the Fifth Edition rules means there’s no better time to get started playing Dungeons & Dragons.

The Starter Set

If you’re interested in playing, I recommend buying the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set. Other than a few friends and some snacks, this box has everything you need.

For about $20 you get 5 pre-generated characters, a set of 6 dice, a 32-page rulebook, and a 64-page adventure. The included adventure, Lost Minds of Phandelver, is perfect for a new Dungeon Master.

Playing a few hours a week, the starter adventure usually takes 6-8 weeks to get through. At this point, you and your friends should be eager for more.

Beyond the Starter Set

Players wanting more options for making characters should buy the Player’s Handbook for about $30. This large, hard-cover book contains all of the rules and many more options for building characters.

The Dungeon Master will want to pick up the Monster Manual which details hundreds of monsters for the game. The Dungeon Master’s Guide contains more guidance for running adventures and rules around creating your own adventures and campaigns.

If you’d rather not build your own adventures, there are many campaign books. The latest release is Tomb of Annihilation, which takes place in the jungle region of Chult. Other popular choices are Storm King’s Thunder, which has the players face off against giants and Curse of Strahd, a gothic themed adventure which pits the players against the vampire Strahd.

Dungeons & Dragons is played by people around the world. You’ll find a thriving community on your social network of choice. There are Facebook groups, several popular subreddits, various groups live-streaming on Twitch, and many D&D personalities on Twitter. Hopefully this is the beginning of a lifetime of enjoyment in role playing games.