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Jobs, jobs, jobs: 5 tips for starting a programming portfolio

Software development is here to stay and the digital technology space is likely only to expand in the coming years. Here are five tips to start a programming portfolio. A programmer shows a sample of decrypting source code in Taipei, Taiwan, on May 13, 2017. File photo: RITCHIE B. TONGO/EPA

Software development is here to stay and the digital technology space is likely only to expand in the coming years. Here are five tips to start a programming portfolio. A programmer shows a sample of decrypting source code in Taipei, Taiwan, on May 13, 2017. File photo: RITCHIE B. TONGO/EPA

Published May 25, 2022

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Whether it’s staples like website design and fintech or rising trends like artificial intelligence, software development is here to stay. In fact, the digital technology space is likely only to expand as customers continue to move towards online platforms and businesses move away from costly physical locations.

Despite the demand, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd as being more employable than the next person. Here a programming portfolio can make all the difference. A good portfolio will not only demonstrate your capabilities, but also showcase your experience and personal interests. So where do you start?

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Step 0: Where are you aiming for?

First you need to decide what kind of role you’re looking to fill – data analytics, front-end design, building web servers, etc. This will inform the general kind of projects you should tackle and which language/framework you’ll approach it with. If you’re looking to start a portfolio, I’ll assume you’ve already got this sorted.

Step 1: Pick a project with passion

Following through on projects can be hard, especially optional ones that don’t have a boss setting deadlines. Passion is the momentum that’ll keep you going when things get frustrating, whether that’s locating an errant variable or scrolling through a sixth question on Stack Overflow.

Find a problem that really interests you and makes you daydream of solutions. Don’t be afraid to start small. The satisfaction of completing even a small project is great for motivation.

Step 2: Research

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It always pays to take at least a quick look at how others have approached the problem. Nobody wants to have a realisation that they’ve spent their time reinventing the wheel when a free, open-source tool already exists.

Get a rough idea of your direction and the tools you plan to use, and, of course, make sure your idea is feasible. Chasing the impossible (or just very difficult and time-consuming) projects may force you to learn, but it will often leave you demotivated and with little to show for it.

Step 3: Implement immediately

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We tend to get bogged down in ideas and plans, especially with new projects. It’s easy to get stuck in your head, weighed down by insecurity or simply distracted. And you never really learn anything until you make a mistake.

It’s essential to put fingers to keys and get a minimum working example as soon as possible. Actually having some of your own code to work with is the grip you need to stop spinning your wheels in theoretical mud.

Once you actually have code to start fiddling with, the little dopamine hits of getting something to work will be the fuel for the work ahead – step 2, step 3, repeat until complete.

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Step 4: Hosting

Once you have some projects that you’d like to show off to employers, you’ll have to host them somewhere so people can actually see them.

Your best go-to for this has to be GitHub. Aside from free hosting, you’ll be joining the largest coding community repository, which any employer will already be familiar with. Importantly, actually using GitHub as a version tracker and updating your page as you build shows your working process, proves you haven’t just copied your code, and shows that you’re competent with version control – an important skill for anyone looking to work as part of a team.

Of course, your most impressive option would be to host your own site. This should easily be your choice if you want to work in some part of web development – the hosting becomes an important portfolio project itself. There are plenty third-party services for this too, but I’d encourage you to at least try your hand at some of the simpler frameworks that have open, community-built templates such as Bootstrap.

There are some speciality hosting platforms as well. If you’re looking to publish a machine-learning project, Hugging Face offers free hosting with easy-to-use tools for allowing people to interact with your models.

Step 5: Keep trying

Coding work has a reputation for bouts of hopelessness and frustration that make you want to send your laptop out the window (if it could get through the burglar bars). Keep your eyes on the horizon and stay focused – curiosity and consistency are always rewarded.

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