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Join a free software project and dive in diligently. This is perhaps the most important activity you can do to understand free software. Just as you have to hang out with native speakers to learn a language (no amount of vocabulary or grammar study will make you feel that way), so you must make free software a part of your life to do well professionally. Which project should you join? If you use a certain piece of free software, it goes without saying that you follow the community that maintains it. You can also search for projects that achieve social goals that are important to you.
If a project is small and has only a few community members, their participation can provide renewed energy. If the project is big, you can learn a lot by participating in it. In a community, learn about the concepts and memes people cite when they talk about the software, its goals, and the challenges they face. You can interact with people from all over the world and learn to build positive relationships across borders and cultures. You learn what to say and what not to say.
Assessment of technical expertise
There is a famous story about Elon Musk, who sold a game he made as a teenager for around $500. and that Bill Gates and Larry Ellison were known to sell software to their corporate clients that they hadn’t even finished building. A common theme among these titans is a keen understanding of the technology they have sold to make millions. At the time, it was enough for them to speak authoritatively about the technical details of their product offerings to pique the interest of consumers and investors.
Today, since the learning curve for technology is not as steep, the game has changed. Work demos are now a requirement; and slides are often not enough. Demonstrating expertise is even more difficult for people today as concrete evidence of their talents is needed. In a market where millions have ideas, thousands are actively pursuing them, and hundreds have the networks that can get them an audience with the best agencies, without a concrete proof of concept, it becomes incredibly difficult to extract substance from the crowd to differentiate yourself.
The same analogy applies to recruitment, which appears to have undergone a massive paradigm shift toward a structured process of weeding out, particularly the mass recruitment of talent.
How has recruiting changed?
From a cousin’s friend recommending your uncle’s company to a recruiter reaching out to you on a messaging platform to do a keyword search on your technical skills, we’ve come a long way in using technology in the recruitment. The process has changed significantly over the years and now provides extremely concrete reporting on a candidate’s performance at each rung of the ladder.
There are now tools and resources that allow you to not only practice the same problems candidates may have been asked before, but also be interviewed by the same people during mock sessions—for a fee, of course! There are a variety of problem statements with detailed solutions that allow you to gain valuable insight into the interview process for specific companies.
The availability of all these resources has given rise to an interesting dynamic, namely the technical interview. More recently, attempts have been made to make the interview a more holistic assessment through take-home themes and subjective discussions of the themes, rather than more objective question patterns. But the goal of all these processes, to identify a specific candidate among hundreds of thousands of applicants for a recruiter, remains a challenge. Enter open source, a comprehensive solution for high-level decision making by evaluating technical expertise.
How is open source related to employment?
The demand for developers is high, but fortunately (or unfortunately for job seekers), so is the supply. This is especially true for entry-level developer roles due to bootcamps, online courses, and access to resources that allow a non-technical user to gain technical experience and become an active programmer. The problem for recruiters is finding candidates who can truly handle the scale, variety, and speed at which teams work to successfully fill open positions at both large corporations and growing startups.
The key for candidates is to demonstrate competence by successfully completing projects similar to those the hiring company is looking for. This makes it much easier to assess their work and see if they fit into a role, possibly a larger project and organization. The candidate’s experience may not be as relevant and the project not as large, but this approach is still preferred over blindly selecting candidates with no prior experience in the field.
What the open source experience brings is the idea that a candidate knows what it’s like to pick an idea, work to develop it, implement it with a programming language, fix bugs, document the code, make the work reproducible and extensible. and work as a team. This is of tremendous importance as each of these skills is valued in the industry. It is incredibly difficult to find candidates who meet all of these requirements; Recruiters always have to make compromises.
This inherent value of applicants actively working on open source projects is why GitHub is such a valuable resource for recruiters. Of course, there are arguments against giving too much weight to open source profiles, but we’ll refrain from doing so for now, as it would be too broad for us.
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