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If you have a job programming with a language then it's safe to say that the number of years at a job is the number of years of experience you have. But a hobbyist doesn't always program with the same regularity as a professional.

How can I measure my experience as a hobbyist, for example, on a résumé? Is it effectively equivalent to work experience, or does it need to be qualified in some way?

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What have you actually finished? Anything that you can demonstrate? Anything you'd donate into an open source project? –  S.Lott Mar 2 '11 at 3:27

3 Answers 3

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Why, measure it by projects completed of course!

Since this hypothetical hobbyist is doing this as a hobby, then I would imagine he would have done projects for the hell of it.

More projects, means more time invested working on code, which probably means this guy knows more than the guy with certifications but no projects.

No amount of book smarts trumps practical experience.

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Professional experience is generally better. There are noticeable exceptions, but the generalization holds. Jonathan split it into two points. For me, there are three:

  • How much do you know? Here, the amount of time spent working as a hobbyist is roughy equivalent to the time spent at work, as long as it's consistent, and in large enough chunks. If you're working at a hobby for a day each week over a year, that's two months' experience. 30 minutes every 3 months, though, probably means you're doing the same tutorial each time.
  • How much experience do you have? For this category, it's very difficult to count the hobbyist work without seeing it. Contribute to an open source project, or any other visible or peer reviewed project, in your spare time, to get these kinds of brownie points. No matter what, they'll be discounted some, unless you can prove the full range of professional work - it's much rarer to see a hobbyist provide support and maintenance, for example. A professional can simply list the activities they participated in at work, and they will be more likely to be believed. Also, as in the point below, a quick reference check can prove they've done it.
  • How skilled are you at your work? This category is difficult to estimate from either source. Skill used to gain professional experience, though, can be checked with references. I can call your last boss and ask how good you are. Hobbyists will find this one even harder to prove than the experience one

Visible, consistent, public work, with end users that seem happy, is your best bet as a hobbyist. It will put you on equal footing with someone with pro experience when it comes to proving you have skills, and go a lot farther to getting you a job - since you'll both stand out more when compared to other hobbyists, and, since the work is being done in your spare time, it will be more impressive at the same quality level.

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For an given language it is difficult to say, generally what I have seen people do is to list out all of the languages that they have worked with and then sort them based upon the ones that they are comfortable answering technical questions with, the ones they are familiar with, and the ones that they have used but would need a refresh period before getting back up to steam. Beyond that, once you have an interview, just be honest, if you work with the language as a hobby (i.e. "At my previous position I used C#, but I enjoy working with Python for small hobby projects.") then say so.

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