How to Build Your Professional Portfolio as a Developer
“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”
– Yogi Berra
As humans, we don’t typically enjoy selling ourselves. It feels awkward, which makes creating a professional portfolio a daunting task. It’s hard to know where to begin, what to focus on, and how it should look. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back. Having a plan can make all the difference.
1. Set the tone. You’ll need to define your objective so you can build a portfolio that best reflects how your skills relate to the role you are seeking.
First, you need to determine your goal and how best to communicate it. And you’ll want to frame it by letting people know:
- what you’ve done
- what you’re learning
- what you want to do
This is your elevator pitch, a short summary used to quickly and simply define a value proposition. This lets recruiters know when you might be a good fit for a role. It helps your professional contacts know when to recommend a role to you—or better yet, recommend you to a hiring manager—and tells freelance clients if you’re going to be passionate about the work they need done.
Now that you know your end goal, it is time to determine the portfolio style that will put you in the best light. Seeking design-heavy roles? Then get creative and let those skills shine! More focused on the back-end? Then streamline the front end by leveraging a framework, limiting graphics and sticking with one classic font.
Search for inspiration. I like visiting sites like awwwards.com to see what other people have come up with and to get my creative juices flowing. You’ll notice a wide range of styles, which is great! You have the freedom to choose something that suits you. Just know that streamlined portfolio sites tend to perform best because they allow your work to shine through.
2. Give it substance. It’s one thing to say you have a skill, but it is so much more powerful to show that skill off in the wild.
You’ve done your research and now you know how you want to showcase your goods. But to do this you need content! The best way to reinforce your learning and prove your skills is through projects. If you’re a Treehouse Techdegree student, you’ve been building them along the way. But don’t stop there. Building a great portfolio might include:
- Contributing to open-source projects (check out firsttimersonly.com)
- Building an online trivia game around a topic you love
- Making a website for a friend or family member’s small business
- Revamping a website for a business you know and love
If you’re passionate about your projects, it will shine through when you discuss them with potential clients and hiring managers. So choose projects you’ll enjoy showing off.
As you list your projects, remember to also provide context around them. What was the goal of building or rebuilding this site? What obstacles did you overcome? What skills did you use or learn to complete the project? It’s best if you share your source code using a tool like GitHub. The great thing about GitHub is you can also take advantage of pages on GitHub Pages to bring your projects to life!
“If you’re passionate about your projects, it will shine through when you discuss them with potential clients and hiring managers. So choose projects you’ll enjoy showing off.”
3. Get noticed. Make sure you attract the right attention and that people know how to contact you once they are impressed by your portfolio of work.
Be your own gatekeeper. If there is a skill you possess that you’d rather not use on the daily, don’t list it! Be found for the work you want to do. List the skills you have confidence in—even if it’s a small and growing confidence—and that you enjoy using. Help recruiters and possible clients out by listing your level of expertise for each skill. This is your career and it’s up to you to push it in the right direction. When it makes sense, even use those skills to build your portfolio site.
Now that you can wow everyone with your proven abilities, you need to let them know where to find you. Be sure to include links like: GitHub, Treehouse profile, LinkedIn, Twitter, online resume, etc., and any events you are a part of in your local tech community. Also, consider building a “Contact Me” form into your site as well.
Now you’re done! Well, with your first iteration that is. Many developers use their portfolio site as a place they can come to time after time to play around with new tools. You’re a developer now, constantly picking up new skills and adding new tools to your arsenal. Your portfolio needs to reflect this.
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