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Letter from Scott Isaacs
Received August 11, 2002

Hello,

Let me first say that I really appreciate your writings. They are very clear and helpful; I find myself referring to them frequently and suggesting them to others.

I have just read The Art of the Developer Resume, and am planning an overhaul to my current resume. What is your opinion on adding a portfolio to the end of the resume? I work primarily as a web programmer, and currently have a list of links each with a brief description of the functionality and my part of the process.

Do you think I should remove this completely? Make it "available upon request"? Or leave it in, modified or not? A friend put his portfolio in a margin -- good idea?

Thank you again for the great resource and any input you have.

Sincerely,
Scott Isaacs

Daniel Read responds:

Hi Scott,

Thanks for writing, and thanks for your kind words. Yours is an excellent question.

I think a portfolio is a great idea--especially if you have experience with GUI design and web page design that you wish to showcase. However, even less visual things such as UML diagrams, E/R diagrams, code samples (printed with a good "pretty printer" program), and documentation, can be included in a portfolio. I have used a portfolio in the past during a job search, and expect to use one again. However, I don't know that "attaching it to the resume" is necessarily the best approach. The intent of the resume is to get you an interview, and a good resume, assuming you are a match for the position, will get you interviews. I view the portfolio as more of a tool to bring with you to the interview. I recommend putting the portfolio together in a nice notebook, with plastic covers for the pages, as if you were giving a sales presentation (which is essentiallly what an interview is).

Bringing the portfolio with you, and taking it home with you when you go, has a couple advantages. First, it allows you to put proprietary material into the portfolio--that is, work that someone else paid you to do and would not necessarily want you to be sending around to the world. Since you only flash the portfolio during the interview and take it with you when you leave, you are not really exposing anything substantive. This is a gray area, though, and you will have to use your best judgement and ethical compass to decide if something is "too proprietary" to be included in your portfolio.

A second advantage is that it's a great surprise to the interviewer when you open that notebook and show off the nice color screen shots, printouts, etc. I used a portfolio for a job interview and the guy was floored. He spent all of two minutes actually looking at the notebook, flipping through the pages, but he was so impressed that I had actually gone to the effort to produce such a thing, he hired me on the spot--literally. He went on and on about how, in years of interviewing developers, he had never had anyone bring a portfolio into the interview.

The third advantage is that you only have to produce one portfolio, since you carry it with you and don't leave it behind.

My discussion thus far pre-supposes the creation and use of a paper-based portfolio in a notebook. Of course, another way is to put together a web site that showcases your work. Your question alludes to this technique, and I think it's a great idea. I have a couple friends, one who is a web designer and the other who is a graphic designer and artist, and they have used this technique to great effect, producing very slick web sites that show what they can do. However, you do have to be careful what you include from your past work. If you include anything that a past employer would not appreciate being posted on the internet, then you might upset them, or worse, get sued.

I suppose you might devise some clever way to create a password protected site, and give the password out to prospective employers on a limited basis, and expire the passwords relatively quickly. This might be sufficient to reduce risk of stuff getting out, but as we all know, once something is made available in digital form, the genie is out of the bottle. Again, you have to use your judgement about what material to make avaialbe and how to go about it. If the material you wish to make available is already on the public internet for all to see, then by all means, show it off. Another way around the proprietary material problem is to create a web site for a fake company or product and let that web site serve as an example of what you can do. That could take a lot of effort, though, and you would have to re-work it frequently since technologies change so fast.

Even though I like the idea of an attractive paper-based portfolio that you bring with you to the interview, there's nothing that says you can't use both techniques. You could put up a web site that showcases your work, refererence it from your resume, and then also bring a portfolio with you to the interview.

Good luck, Scott.
Dan