A technical resume only scratches the surface of a developer’s career story. It might show you a few bullet points about previous jobs and programming competencies, but there are so many other details that you need to know before hiring a programmer.
Fortunately, lots of developers aren’t shy about sharing their work on GitHub. A lot of what you’ll find on a typical GitHub profile might not make sense to you if you’ve never written a line of code. But there are a few ways that tech recruiters can (and should) use GitHub to evaluate developers. Here are a few that you can try as soon as you’re done reading this post.
Forks (or copies) of repositories allow developers to experiment with someone else’s code without overwriting anything. If they want to share suggestions a that repository’s owner, they can submit what’s called a Pull Request.
As a tech recruiter, you might not understand the code that powers these repositories—but frequent forking and pull requests can tell you a lot when you evaluate developers. Looking to add developers to a collaborative team? A high number of forks and pull requests is a good sign that your candidate has a passion for writing code and contributing to the developer community at large.
Frequent pull requests are a good start to evaluating developers. But repository owners aren’t under any obligation to accept all of them. In fact, an accepted pull request is a big deal, especially since programmers often post their favorite work-related and side projects on GitHub.
For tech recruiters, accepted pull requests are significant for two reasons. They tell you that a developer is a verified expert in the programming languages used on a given project. Plus, when you find that a developer’s pull request was accepted into a popular repository on GitHub, it’s an obvious and flattering way to compliment them in a recruitment email.
The Contributions table gives you a day-by-day breakdown of a developer’s participation on GitHub. Each contribution is represented by a green dot, and the shade of that dot indicates the volume of activity on a given day. Does that mean you should only look for developers with Contributions tables lit up in dark green dots? Not exactly.
Some developers might be most active on GitHub on the weekend, which means that writing code is as much of a hobby as it is a career to them. This is the type of candidate that our CEO Joel Spolsky has said you should want to hire.
But for others, open source projects are the main component of their job. Those developers will be on GitHub more often during the week. When you pitch your company to this type of candidate, make sure to highlight the opportunities they’ll have to continue working on open source projects as a member of your team.
GitHub is a great tool to help you understand a developer’s skillset, even if you don’t know how to write code. But you should also take what you find with a grain of salt, especially if a programmer’s number of sources seems a bit low.
Your ideal developer candidates might work for government contractors or private corporations that don’t allow them to share their code publicly. As a result, you’ll find that their GitHub profiles look a little sparse compared to their peers. That might seem like a red flag, but you shouldn’t make the mistake of rejecting a developer solely for lack of GitHub activity.