If you want the Web to help you earn a living during tough times, you’d better be giving something back. [This is part of the Tough Times series.]

When I’m Hiring · What happens is, you get resumés with cover letters, and if those are vaguely coherent and show any sign of understanding what it is you’re looking for, you go online and search the Web for those people.

At this point, two bad things can happen. First, it turns out they’re Nazi pedophiles. Second, you don’t find anything. Which means, they don’t have a blog and don’t post pictures and don’t post movies and don’t participate in mailing lists or social networks and don’t contribute to open source. There are plausible excuses, for example having worked for the NSA or Apple. But not too many.

At the end of the day, the Web is what we all make it. And if I’m Web-centric if you don’t care enough to help make it better, why on earth would I want to hire you?

So if you have untold stories or unsung songs or unseen video or unused expertise, bloody well get it online already.

For Developers · I have a very specific recommendation for people who know code: Get involved in an open-source project. It’s not that hard. There are a lot of them out there, and there isn’t one of them that that’s not talent-hungry.

I’ll be specific: Get involved in an open-source project that produces something you actually use yourself. Because you’re going to have something of a feel for that project’s values, and you’re going to avoid whole classes of stupid proposals that would as a side-effect screw up the user experience.

It can be a little bit intimidating getting into in an open-source project, particularly a large high-visibility one. Fortunately, the well-run ones tend to have a “How to get involved” write-up somewhere with good, specific advice. You don’t have to contribute major new features to get started; in fact, the opposite is true, major new features generally won’t get a serious look unless they come from people who’ve already been involved for a while. So, start with baby steps. Report a bug. Better yet, report a bug with a simple but complete test case. Better yet, report the bug, include the test case, and include a patch that you think fixes it, and a test case that exercises your patch.

Alternatively, just fix a piece of documentation. Here’s a teeny tiny little patch I sent to the Apache server project last month: suggestion and response.

For Everybody · Let’s return to the situation of the person who’s out to hire and comes up negative on a Web search for a candidate. Maybe, when business is roaring and people are scarce, I have to go ahead and give that person a try. But when times are tough, no way.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Mattio Valentino (Oct 27 2008, at 12:05)

Kurt Cagle had an interesting piece along the same lines about a week ago.



From: Paul W. Homer (Oct 27 2008, at 14:27)

I don't think lack of either web exposure or contributing to OpenSource is a good way to limit candidates. Some of the best programmers I know have good healthy (and very busy) family lives and don't go near computers in their spare time. Just because someone isn't obsessive about computing doesn't mean that they are not interested or good at what they do.



From: Elaine Nelson (Oct 27 2008, at 15:27)

There's also the common name problem: a lot more Nelsons than Brays, a lot more Tims than Elaines. Pity the Jennifer Smiths of the world.

Which is not to say that one might not want to go out and participate in the web cultures of one's area of expertise, only that some people have a little higher barrier to entry than others, search-wise.


From: Eddie Welker (Oct 27 2008, at 15:30)

I sort-of agree with Paul's comment. I think it is healthier to look at web contributions as an added bonus, where bonus points are given but nothing is deducted. I work with a number of brilliant people who make their contributions in the work they do at their job, and prefer to limit their home online time to email only.


From: Mike Kozlowski (Oct 27 2008, at 15:52)

I pity poor John Smith.


From: Nathan (Oct 27 2008, at 16:33)

Some of us are also masked by sharing a name with a celebrity.


From: Janne (Oct 27 2008, at 17:24)

Paul, while you have a point there is more to it. The scene Tim is painting is one where you basically have a hundred good resumes for a position, all of which paint much the same level of experience, knowledge, sociability and so on. There is no way you call a hundred people to interviews so you need to differentiate.

And this is a reasonable way to do so. Your programmer who values his off time may indeed be excellent. But then you have another, equally competent programmer with their experience laid out publicly in source code, mailing list discussions and blog posts. They look about equally good on paper.

Do you choose the one where you have only their own word and a reference or two to support their work, or the one where you can follow their actual contributions to a project and their interaction with other developers over a span of months or years?


From: Rob (Oct 27 2008, at 18:47)

I am just not seeing these tough times. Perhaps being an independent consultant is the best thing to be in these times. Hell, since it looks like the annointed one will be Prez, I am picking and choosing to keep my income at 249,999.99


From: Gwen (Oct 27 2008, at 20:35)

I was genuinely surprised at your stance on a negative web search. Who participates widely online using their full legal name? (Which is what would be on the resume, presumably.) That might be typical in the open source projects, which I'm not familiar with, but for the other examples you cited--blogging, posting photos, engaging in newsgroups and listserv discussions and forums--pseudonyms are much more common than true names.


From: Erik Engbrecht (Oct 28 2008, at 04:03)

The logical conclusion of many comments here about common names is that if you expect your baby to do great things, you should give it an uncommon name so that it will be searchable.

Flip side is that if you expect your kid to be a screw-up, John Smith would do nicely.

I don't think you can have a developer who is passionate about technology but doesn't code in his free time.

Which leads to another corollary, if you want passionate developers, don't work them so long and hard that they have no free time for their own coding.


From: miike (Oct 28 2008, at 07:02)

Some of us like to compartmentalize our lives to a certain degree, and putting it all out on the Web doesn't allow that. Also, what you want exposed today may not be what you want exposed in five or ten years, but Web publication is one way. You can't take it back. It's like getting tattooed. (And I have no tattoos.)

I use a rolling series of fake names, myself, different names in different Web contexts, and I abandon them like pre-paid cell phones from time to time.


From: John Q Private (Oct 28 2008, at 09:26)

Some of us geniuses value our privacy. In fact, doing so is a sign of higher intelligence.


From: John Cowan (Oct 29 2008, at 18:47)

Whether you use your real name online or not, as Tim and I do, has a lot to do with whether your presence on the Internet predates its general availability to the public. The pioneer netizens saw real names as an indication of reliability and pseudonyms as fake. Like most old farts, though, we've had to get used to the pseudonymous ways of the younger (or rather, more junior) generations.


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