Working With Open Source Projects

July 8, 2010

Chapter 2 – Market Yourself Into A Remote Job

Mark Horstman is a management consultant, not a programmer. He knows recruiting, not code. His advice to engineers is “find an open source project and work on it!” Open source has become a real business force and you can leverage it to help your career.

Open source companies hire a much larger percentage of remote engineers. When you ask those engineers how they got the job, many of them tell the same story:

By Benjamin Smedberg an engineer at Mozilla

From Volunteer To Paid Engineer At Mozilla

I started submitting patches to Mozilla in late 2002 or early 2003. I was just looking for something fun to do, so I was patching. I wrote a couple of patches in the low level [systems], in the Mozilla XPCom object model, C++ templates, hashtable classes, wrappers, and then started getting more involved from there.

At that point Mozilla was just starting out as its own independent entity with a little bit of money —actually hiring people. They offered me a job pretty quickly.

This story fits a pattern I hear over and over again from many open source engineers:

  1. I found an open source project that interested me.
  2. I made patches and become part of the community.
  3. They offered me a job because they knew me and my work.

This model allows you to become a known quantity before the company invests in you. When Mozilla hired Ben they already knew from experience that he was a good engineer and a good fit for the team. Building a history was especially important for Ben because he had no other history in the software industry. You can apply this open source model to corporate jobs too.

Potential employers want to know if you can do the job. The problem with working on proprietary software is that potential employers can’t really see what you did. They don’t know if your code is well written or barely functional. They can only take your word for it.

The solution to this problem is open source. Contributing to an open source project will help the open source community, but it will also help you. Showing open source examples of your work is much more convincing than any description of proprietary software you could give in an interview.

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