Archive for August, 2009

How to boost your career by contributing to open source projects

August 13, 2009

I’ve been hanging out at lately, after I was the guest forum contributor a few weeks ago. The Java market seems to be glutted with programmers from what I read, and there’s a lot of interest in using open source to boost one’s résumé. One poster asked for specifics of how he could use open source projects to help his career change to one of programmer. Here’s what I told him (with some minor edits):

The key to getting into open source isn’t to find a project to contribute to. What you want to do is contribute to a project you already use.

What open source projects do you take advantage of every day? I’m no Java expert, but it seems like half of what the Apache Foundation is driving these days is Java-based. Do you use Ant? Struts? Jakarta?

How about non-Java projects that you use? Do you use SpamAssassin? It’s in Perl, so would give you a reason to also learn Perl. Any Apache modules you use? You could learn some C.

How can you contribute to those projects? It doesn’t have to be just contributing code at first. Hang out on the mailing lists and provide answers. Update support wikis or contribute documentation. I know that on the Parrot project, a large amount of contributor time goes just to maintaining the tickets in the bug system. Anything you can do to pitch in, do it.

Start with joining the appropriate mailing list for the project, or monitoring forums. Hang out in appropriate IRC channels. Listen to what people are saying. Make yourself known as being someone who is willing to pitch in. And then do the work people are saying needs to be done.

Go into it with the goal of contributing to the project, and not of improving your career. When you take care of the first part, the second part will come naturally.

Good luck!

Any other suggestions? I’d like to turn this into a sort of standard page that I can point people to when this question comes up.

Resume tactics from the grocery checkout lane

August 6, 2009

Next time you’re at the grocery store checkout lane, take a look at the women’s magazines and see what they do to get you to read them. There’s a valuable lesson there for your resume. No, it doesn’t involve including a photo of Jessica Alba’s cleavage next to your work history.

Magazine covers

There’s always a blurb on the front for an article inside that offers a specific number of items inside. They’re of a form like:

  • 17 hottest celebrity couples
  • 23 ways to keep your man happy
  • 37 quick and easy meals for summer
  • 684 new looks for under $100

The magazines’ editors know that numbers attract attention. If you’re like me, those numbers may be the first thing you notice after the cover photo. The numbers also promise a level of service. It’s not just “an article about celebrity couples,” but a promise of seventeen of them.

You should use this approach on your resume as well.

First, we know that numbers attract attention. When scanning your resume, the reader’s eye will be drawn to the numbers naturally.

Moreover, numbers make your story more interesting and give the reader a sense of the size of your accomplishments, or the troubles you’ve solved in the past.

Consider the difference between these two bullets:

  • Ran the help desk. Answered trouble tickets, responded to phone calls and tracked spare computer parts.
  • Ran the help desk for 200-seat office. Staff of 3 answered average of 50 phone calls and 27 trouble tickets per day. Maintained 200-unit inventory of spare computer parts worth $10,000.

These two bullets describe exactly the same responsibilities, but the addition of specific numbers draw the attention of the reader, and add the details that give a much fuller picture of your responsibilities.

Without the numbers, the reader might also logically assume that the reality is more like this:

  • Ran the “help desk” in a four-person real estate office. Answered questions a few times a week about Excel. Kept a spare PC in a closet in case something tanked.

Remember, your awesomeness is not self-evident, and part of your job in telling the story of your awesomeness is giving the numbers to support it.

For more on the power of numbers, see chapter 3, “Résumé Content: Getting The Words Down” in Land The Tech Job You Love.

Hunt for your job like you hunt for your toys

August 1, 2009

We geeks love our toys. ThinkGeek has
led an industry on new toys, but many of us revel in our old toys
as well. The quest to find the last comic in our collection, the
last Star Trek model, or an old first edition Heinlein novel can
be pretty compelling.

Darth Vader bank Say you’re looking for some crazy collectible. Maybe
it’s that Darth Vader coin bank that says “Impressive, most impressive”
when you give it a nickel. Where are you going to find this most
elusive of tchotchkes? (Yes, I know, they’re actually easy to

First place you look is on eBay. You go surfing around, and sure,
there are some Vader toys that are pretty cool, but not what you
want. You could make do with an R2-D2 bank, but again, it’s not
what you really want. You check Amazon Shops and Craigslist, but
come up empty there as well.

Are you going to say “Oh well, my Vader bank must not exist.” Of
course not!

You’re going to keep searching. You’ll scour the web, finding other
potential sources for your elusive quarry. You hit the streets,
visiting collectibles stores, talking to the people who work there,
asking if they have suggestions on what to score your treasure.
Plenty of stores don’t even post their goodies online.

Sometimes you stumble across an excellent score, and it feels like
you just lucked into your find. Fact is, if you weren’t out looking,
that “luck” wouldn’t have struck.

So why don’t job hunters treat their job hunts the same way?

Many job hunters get up in the morning, check Dice and CareerBuilder
and Monster, don’t find the job they want, and conclude “Nobody’s
hiring” or “There are no jobs I want.”

Or maybe they figure that they’ll go pursue a job that might be
interesting, but isn’t really what they want, settling for the R2-D2
bank instead of the Vader bank they really one.

You’ll call or email companies that you’d like to work for, and if
they’re not hiring, you’ll ask for suggestions on other places to

The big job boards are the eBays of job hunting. They’re the
first place you look, but rarely the last.

Don’t stop looking if you come up empty. Certainly you must not
conclude that because you haven’t found what you wanted in the
first, second or third place you’ve looked, that it must not exist

You don’t have to be so diligent in your hunt, but you’ll lose the
job opportunities to those who are.