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Do you care if the person you're interviewing has created or contributed to Open Source projects?

From the pool of people we've interview over the years at my workplace, I haven't found one person who contributes to an open-source project. In fact I'm the only person in the office that is really interested in the (.NET) OSS scene, but I don't believe that makes me any more competent, and it possibly reflects on my social life more than anything.

Does OSS participation make your ears prick up if you see it on a CV/Resume? Or are you apathetic towards it?

(This is what made me think of the question)

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closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, MichaelT, Dan Pichelman, Joris Timmermans, Kilian Foth Jul 22 '13 at 8:59

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

9 Answers 9

up vote 42 down vote accepted

It tells me a few things when I look at a Resume:

  • you're able to work independently
  • you're comfortable working on a (possibly) large team that's geographically spread out
  • you're familiar with modern technologies
  • you enjoy your profession
  • you probably have a beard
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+1 for the beard –  dan_waterworth Mar 30 '11 at 21:00
+1 for beards [extra characters] –  Evan Mar 30 '11 at 21:06
+1 beard [extra beard] –  user1827 Mar 30 '11 at 21:17
+1 for {{ mustache }} =O –  Brandon Tilley Mar 30 '11 at 22:40
please, can you expand a bit about how it will makes you able to work independently, how it makes you more comfortable with large/spread out teams, how it makes your more familiar with modern technologies. –  Dainius Jul 22 '13 at 8:32

As an open source contributor over the years (much less so now), it gets my attention. If I actually have the luxury of time, I will take a look at the project, what it is, and how the person contributed. 99 times out of 100, I'm asked to do an interview and handed the resume within 5 minutes.

That said, it's merely a point of interest. It's also a source to draw on when I ask about hard technical problems you had to solve without violating NDAs or client confidentiality. To answer your question more directly, I have a little more confidence in someone who is willing to put their work out in the open for all eyes than not. But only a little bit.

On the other hand, if you can say you are a member of an open source meritocracy such as the Apache Software Foundation, that lends a lot more weight. That speaks toward someone with both technical chops and someone who will improve whatever community they are in.

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John Resig, creator and lead developer of the jQuery, seems to think so:


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Github snob! ``` –  Chris S Mar 30 '11 at 19:41
@Chris, I didn't mention it myself; I copied the reference from the stackoverflow blog. blog.stackoverflow.com –  dan_waterworth Mar 30 '11 at 19:43
The only problem flaw with this is you could've committed a changeset that broke the project horribly –  Chris S Mar 30 '11 at 19:52
Unless the project doesn't have a test-suite, in which case, I wouldn't be proud of saying that I contributed towards it. –  dan_waterworth Mar 30 '11 at 20:06
There's tonnes of OSS projects without test suites –  Chris S Mar 30 '11 at 21:08

I've got a long (and erratic) history of OSS contributions: if I need an OSS thing to do something, I make it do it, and then contribute that back to the codebase. At one time this was the proudest thing on my resume.

However there are a number of large corporate entities who aren't comfortable with people on their staff doing a lot of OSS contributions, so in recent years, I have pulled that from my resume, and provide documentation only upon request.

So I would say that it depends wholly on the place where you are applying. I've got a fat resume, so I don't need to show OSS, so I don't, on the off chance that I'll run into an OSS bigot. If you're young, and that's the bulk of your experience, you have to show it, but be aware that some people will take it as a negative.

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Why would they be uncomfortable with that? At worst it won't affect them at all; at best they're using the software. –  Michael K Mar 30 '11 at 20:07
@Michael: Some business people are uncomfortable with the idea of somebody giving valuable stuff away for free. Some may be worried that you'll be working on your projects instead of theirs. Some may be worried about codebases getting mixed. There's several reasons, none of which I find impressive, but then I don't make hiring decisions. –  David Thornley Mar 30 '11 at 20:21
@michael: David is 100% correct. I've had people tell me that they didn't feel like they could hire me because they were worried I was some kind of OSS mole, and I was out to steal and opensource their code, or that the "viral GPL" was going to be used by OSS lawyers to force them to reveal their codebase. It's all BS of course, but if they believe it, there is pretty much no way to convince them otherwise in an interview setting. –  Satanicpuppy Mar 30 '11 at 20:45

I'm typically between apathetic and annoyed. Really depends on the project, what they provided, and how good the implementation is.

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Why would you be annoyed that someone contributes to open-source projects? Or do you mean annoyed that they mention it on their resume/CV? –  Beekguk Mar 30 '11 at 19:32
It depends on what the provided. Some people say they contribute when all they did was correct spelling on a label. I typically lean towards apathetic. –  Matthew Whited Mar 30 '11 at 19:35
Like claiming "Designed the interface for [some cool app]" when what they actually did was choose a background color. Yes that is annoying. –  Zan Lynx Mar 30 '11 at 22:44

Only so much that it is an example that the person has worked on project that is larger in scale than just them. This is valuable experience and likely means that the candidate is already familiar with source control and issue tracking systems. They will also likely have had to deal submitting changes to a moving target code base.

If they have examples that they have done this for a company in a proprietary project versus an open source one, there would be no preference. As an interviewer, I am trying to find out if there person is both a good programmer and would be able to work well in the company.

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This is a very subjective question, but I would find beneficial if I were to see that a interview candidate contributes to open source projects. It shows me that they are passionate (or at least a bit more interested) about programming, so much so that they are willing to sacrifice their own free time to do it. It's also something I can ask them about during the interview to get a better feel for what they want to do in their professional career.

In general I think it helps to look at the code of open source projects to gain an understanding of how other people program (for better or worse). At the very least, you learn something from it and at best, you give something back and show the community you are capable.

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No, not really. It wouldnt be a negative. But it'd have to be fairly impressive project for me to care, and they'd have to have some significant supervisory role. OS projects might be an indicator of certain areas of expertise. But there's no negative consequences to open source projects. You cant be fired. You arent 'responsible' for tech support. Contributions might be only for a very narrow piece of functionality. Heck, the contributed code might be total crap.

I'm far more impressed with a developer who's been responsible for for-sale products, since then you know they've had to deal with customers, support, and everything else that goes along with it.

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Some (many?) OSS projects also have to deal with customers, support and everything along those lines. In my work on OSS, I can certainly be fired, since it's my day job, and I have to support the users. Support isn't necessarily assosciated with a price tag. –  TZHX Mar 31 '11 at 8:19
I'm not sure I understand you, if its your day job, then its an actual job. That you use OSS software in it wouldnt be a big issue I dont think. The OP seemed to be talking about contributing to open source projects, which while nice, are done at the developers convenience and may not translate to much in the way of non-coding skills. –  GrandmasterB Mar 31 '11 at 19:22
no, not using OSS in my day job. Developing it. Open source does not necessarily equate to community-driven. –  TZHX Apr 1 '11 at 7:56
So its your....wait for it... JOB. Its actual employment. That your job is making open or closed source isnt particularly relevant. Thats not really what the OP was asking about. –  GrandmasterB Apr 1 '11 at 18:13

Many OSS projects have high standards of code quality and good stablished procedures and practices (source control, unit testing, in-line documentation, communication, feature planning). It is the only way to avoid a large, distributed project diverge into chaos.

To have had contributions accepted to a good OSS projects is an asset in a candidates resume. It shows discipline, care, communication skills, and technical knowledge.

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