Should programmers have a github profile?
Since you mention your teacher, presumably you are at high school or university (with some small chance of being in a different career and taking some programming classes on the side).
In all of those cases, yes, I believe it’s very important to have a profile on github. (It could be somewhere else in theory if you link it from your personal site, but github is where people look first).
Why? Because it’s difficult to tell much from a CV these days because the latter tends to be stripped of all meaning and information that helps one make distinctions between candidates. I think you can tell something from a cover letter, but you can tell much more by noticing what someone is interested in, how they interact with others in a community (including how they respond to negative feedback, people blocking them, and so on), and simply reading their code.
And whilst this is perhaps especially true of more junior people, it’s my belief it may still be useful for people further advanced in their career, and maybe even for pretty senior ones — but then in part for different reasons.
One wants to hire people not just who can program, but still like to. And pursuing open source projects is a hard to fake sign that someone does still actually enjoy programming. (I mean someone can fake it, but not convincingly). Perhaps there are times and contexts where one can be so senior that it isn’t actually any longer necessary to get one’s hands dirty by writing code — if that’s so, it’s a different world from my own.
It’s not only about personal projects on GitHub, but also contributions to other projects. That’s one way to see quite quickly how someone works with others. And some projects have high technical standards. For example I know that if someone contributed in a significant way to the Dlang standard library Phobos they meet a pretty high standard, and this is true of some other projects too.
Hiring decisions are very important. The lessons of the research on human potential suggests that your first pick should be very much better than your second best pick, and your second pick significantly better than your third choice and so on. It’s hard to know how good someone is from a CV alone, and if you filter based on prior experience, you may exclude some of the best candidates. (I agree with Thiel that capabilities may be more important than micro experience, though depends on your situation of course, and I am not saying experience doesn’t matter).
I would also suggest you take the advice of Walter Bright, one of the best programmers of his generation, and to this day, the only man to have implemented a complete C++ compiler by himself (it was also the first native C++ compiler for the PC). He says that if you are a programmer you need to have a personal page, and he is right.
A younger, very bright chap:
It’s true that some people may not have time to contribute to open source, and may not be able to make such contributions if they work for an employer that owns all their IP and doesn’t favour open source. That doesn’t make it less valuable if someone is able to contribute.
From discussions I have had, other people seem to be coming around to this way of thinking about hiring, although it is probably still a minority view.
Originally published at www.quora.com.