Your Open Source Resume

Your Open Source Resume

Open source is no longer just the domain of hobbyists. Business leaders everywhere are now realizing the value that programmers with real open source experience can bring to their development teams and are directing their hiring managers to look to the open source realm for talent. Open source programmers bring a breadth of technical knowledge, a knack for teamwork and an open-mindedness that those who only have experience working with proprietary systems can't match. The jobs are out there, so what stands between open source developers and their dream jobs? Unfortunately, many open source programmers have a lot of skill with regard to coding but fall flat when formulating an effective resume.

No "real" experience?

Writing a resume can be a challenge for anyone, but it's especially difficult for programmers who only have open source experience. For every open source developer who has used their skills at a "real job" working in a salaried position, there are hundreds who have worked on thousands of projects as a labor of love. This is just the nature of open source but it makes it difficult to prove real experience to hiring managers. How do you write a resume based on projects you volunteered for instead of actual jobs?

This lack of "real" experience doesn't have to be the disadvantage it appears to be. Open source's free and volunteer nature can be turned from a detriment to an advantage with planning and focus. To write an effective open source resume, the key is to understand the basic rules of resume writing and then recognize how to apply open source experience to them. There are universal aspects of resumes that attract an employer's eye and will inspire them to set up an interview and there are also definite turn-offs that will send your C.V. to the dustbin regardless of how much impressive experience and knowledge you have. It is crucial to understand the difference in order to create an impactful resume.

Get organized

The first thing to do when approaching a resume is to thoroughly organize all the details that will go into your C.V. This is especially important for open source programmers. While those of us who have held real positions in the workplace can easily recall those long stints at a particular company, it's easy for open source coders to forget those one-off projects. At the very least, specific details of projects can be forgotten without proper forethought and organization.

When preparing to write a resume that truly reflects your skills, open source knowledge and experience, preparation is vital. You must really take the time to compile comprehensive lists of everything you have worked on with a focus on specific duties and what value you personally added to the project. Open source is team-oriented by nature and so is the modern workplace, so it is crucial to portray yourself as a key contributor who truly brought something to the project.

Understand the format

Resume format typically falls into two categories. Chronological resumes that stress past job duties are great for job seekers with real world experience. Functional resumes focus on skills and education and are a good fit for those of us without a work history to point to. Since open source falls in between these two situations, an open source resume should be a hybrid that lists relevant skills first and then details only highlights of work experience.

What are your skills?

Programming is a skills-intensive field and all developers will typically list their skills on a resume first. This is especially important in the open source field where real world work experience may be lacking.

Open source programmers will start their resume with a detailed section that outlines their specific skills. It's important to remember to tailor a resume. Does the job call for Perl? Make sure Perl is the first skill listed there. The idea here and in other sections is to make it very easy for the employer to see you are a match for the job. Target the resume to the job and tell them right away instead of making them hunt for the details they need. After listing skills, it's time to tell them about your projects.

What have you worked on?

Here is where all that organization pays off. This section could be called "past projects" or "experience," and the key is to really convey your value to the projects you have worked on.

What to put in:

  • Major projects: You're not listing every single open source project you've worked on. Pick the ones that they may have heard of and the ones you've made the most significant contributions to.
  • Project details: Don't be vague. Detail the actual purpose of the project and what the outcome was.
  • Actual specific duties and tasks, not just "worked on project to expand the capabilities of Open Office," for example.
  • Quantifiable statistics: "Coded over 300 Perl modules" sounds better than "coded Perl modules."

What to leave out:

  • Failed or obscure projects
  • Vague descriptions of your duties
  • Huge blocks of text: White space is attractive to the eye, as are short, bulleted lists like this one.

Just because open source experience is somewhat different from a "real job" doesn't mean open source programmers can't write a resume on par with their big company brethren. By organizing past work details and sticking to a proven format, developers can parlay their experience into the open source jobs companies the world over are waiting to fill.