Friday, January 9, 2015

Using Your Open Source Work to Get a Job

I sometimes give advice to students on finding a job, and today's item is also related to helping students in free software.

I am a long-time contributor to free software. In 1993, while I was an undergraduate physics student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, I discovered open source software for the first time. The concept of people around the world creating programs and not just giving them away for free, but sharing the source code (the computer instructions that define what the program does and how it behaves) was new to me. I had grown up in a time when computer software was a business; you paid for the software you used.

I found that open source software was of high quality, and helped me to get my work done. And because the source code was available, I could modify the programs to add new features, or to fix problems that I found.

This interest in open source software led to my decision in 1994 to create The FreeDOS Project, with the aim to create a free, compatible alternative to MS-DOS. I wrote the first FreeDOS utilities, and others I met online wrote our command interpreter ("FreeCOM," an alternative to MS-DOS's Command.com) and our "kernel" (which is what boots up on your computer). I did a little bit of everything: when I wasn't writing new code, I might add features to someone else's program. Or I might fix a bug, in my program or someone else's. Or I would update the website, to let others know what we were doing.

So it was that I was drawn to a recent article in Dice.com about Using your open source work to get a job. In an economy where recent university graduates may find it hard to land their first job, I wanted to encourage more students to get involved in open source software. You don't have to be a STEM student; anyone can contribute to free software.

From the article, students can leverage their open source software work to help get their first job. To put my own spin on the article:
Employers might look at how you engage with others as part of the open source project, to gauge how you will interact with co-workers. Are you responsible, helpful? Or are you a loner, spurning those who wish to contribute? How you represent yourself online is a reflection of yourself.

Who you meet online might be a useful networking contact. Sometimes, the path to finding a job is not who you know, but who others know. So as you begin your job search, ask your colleagues in open source software for recommendations. You never know, one of them might be looking for someone just like you to join their team. Or maybe one of their contacts wants to hire.

Your open source software work is part of your professional background. When I advice students on writing resumes, I encourage them to list any contributions to open source software. Don't forget this important part of your background when representing yourself in an interview.
image: Nelson Pavlosky

1 comment:

  1. IT work is can really be tough and dangerous, but it is very lucrative, since a lot of economy and production is being conducted and transferred through the internet these days. That increases the pertinence of tight tech security, including software and everything it entails. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

    Matt Wynan @ IDTUS

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