Update: 23rd July 2014: This post is available in French translated by Vicky Rotarova

Well, this is not a tech post. Shoo… developers…

I’m not sure if this is a “Singaporean” thing or applies globally. Some people who are in charge of hiring has no clue how to get a good developer. So the first question they ask is for your “portfolio“. I really don’t understand how a iOS developer’s skill can be measured based on his application portfolio. A good looking app doesn’t correlate to a well written code. Back in the olden days of Web 2.0, asking for a portfolio means, you can have a look at the completed website AND the code (Javascript + CSS). Just because you hired people looking for their portfolios in the past doesn’t mean you should do that now.

Instead, ask the prospective hire for his open source contributions. Mine is here. If you aren’t too conversant looking at code, ask for client references. Turns out that, most developers can do this. (As developers you can ask your client before giving out their names as references. Believe me, almost all clients are more than willing to do so.)

App portfolios aren’t a great way to judge a iOS developer (or any closed source developer). Think again, have you ever hired a backend developer (PHP/Ruby/ASP.NET/Java) by looking at the website he built? Hiring a iOS developer is very similar to hiring a backend developer. App portfolios are good for design agencies and makes sense when you are hiring a designer (or outsourcing your complete app to an agency).

Stop asking for app portfolios. Look at the prospective developers’ Github contributions or ask for client references.


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  • Pierre Demain

    I see this article more like “hey look at my github, you should hire me” :)
    The thing is most of developers don’t have time to create open source stuff on github…

    So yes, client references is way better.

  • ntt

    I see two issues with this.

    1. If the person trying to hire is not technically savy or is not very versed iOS programming, looking at your github isn’t going to give them any better/worse opinion about your skills. It’s all greek to them. So seeing a performant and non buggy app might give somewhat more accurate impression. A good app would indicate some level of skill in the developer, maybe not very accurate, but definitely better than looking at greek.

    2. And secondly, if the open source work is not in any way related to the nature of the project it would be a false indicator. A developers skills in a specific area/technology may not correlate with his skills in another area/technology. For eg, I’ve seen kernel developer write some pretty pathetic embedded code, and vice-versa.. Hence, it would be important to see an OSS project in the same area of technology as to what you’re being hired for, and that would be difficult since most devs have only a few good OSS projects.

  • I disagree.

    Someone that can write good code only proves that he is technically proficient. That’s not sufficient in most cases.

    Portfolio of a developer’s own apps shows that he is capable of conceptualising & deliver. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome in shipping an app, and code is just part of it.

    Not saying code review is not important, but it does not show much. If you can have both, it’s great. If you can’t, maybe you should wait for a better candidate.

    If I have to gamble on it, I’ll prefer someone that has shown that he can deliver & capable of learning, and hope technical proficiency comes with it, or comes eventually.

  • It’s also rather pious to assume that every good iOS developer has open source contributions available. You seem to be assuming that all good iOS developers work freelance and live, sleep and eat source code. However any (good) developer with say 10+ years of software experience can become a relatively good iOS developer within a couple of years of normal working life (fixed employment). And the chances are, with that amount of experience he or she has reached “family” age, where evenings and weekends are no longer spent coding for fun. So where exactly, in that case, is this open source code going to come from?

    References are a better idea, but also not without their pitfalls as a very subjective thing.

    The best indicator is a small (1-2 hour) practical test.

    • Sam Joseph

      in the normal course of development every professional developer is building on top of open source contributions no? Through the process of using open source one ends up contributing, and every sensible professional gets agreement with employers that as much of their code as possible is open sourced, no?

      • StephenPAdams

        Not necessarily. Companies can dictate that employees are not to contribute their intellectual property/time to improving frameworks/libraries. On top of that, just because you USE a library doesn’t mean you’re actively improving it.

  • rkj2

    Being a developer is NOT only about contributing to open source. That’s too self-righteous and arrogant. Open source is only one way to contribute. There are other types of contribution, like umm .. actually helping conceptualize, code & deploy a project for a client. Working with a client, understanding their every changing needs, the relationship management & a working solution to solve a problem is, I believe, a far better skill to evaluate. ‘Coz if you think about it, does your client (if they are non-geeky) care you have open source projects ? Client’s requirement usually is: “can you make this in this budget?”

    In fact, I’d give more preference to coders with real world contributions who can code well following basic software quality patterns, keep stuff simple (that lowers client’s future maintenance costs) etc. That shows they can work in a real world environment, with people, rather than just in front of a dumb terminal.

  • Jacob Brashears

    Everyone loves all your contributions, and they’re totally awesome.

    But to be honest, this article comes across like you’re trying to advertise a lack of design conceptualization skills on your part, and promoting your Github contributions as your greatest achievement.

  • Ruben Hansen-Rojas

    It seems like client referrals would be the more effective barometer of a developer’s chops. If we’re going to only pick one. Which is almost never a good idea when interviewing for a tech position. There is value in a portfolio. Sure, there is value in open-source contributions, but this article reads too extremist.

  • Thomas Carton

    the french version of this article is full of mistakes and badly translated ;(