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12 Tips for Building a Strong Developer Portfolio

Hack Reactor Marketing

12 Tips for Building a Strong Developer Portfolio's Image

When you’re on that job search grind, there are so many things to think about. Is your resume in tip-top shape? How’s your LinkedIn profile? Are you networking? Wait, is your favorite interview outfit still at the cleaners?

Once you’ve figured out the above (and finally picked up your lucky interview shirt!), think about putting together a developer portfolio. According to Hack Reactor Career Coach Ben Greene, a polished portfolio can give you the extra edge when you’re applying to jobs. According to Hack Reactor Career Coach Ben Greene, a polished portfolio can give you the extra edge when you’re applying to jobs.  

Ready to start building your developer portfolio? We’ve compiled 12 tips with some help from Tim Mansfield, a Hack Reactor Program Advisor.


But first: What’s a portfolio?

To put it simply, a portfolio showcases your interests, your knowledge, and your work. While a resume provides a brief overview of these items, your programming portfolio includes concrete examples of your projects.

If you’re looking to become a web developer, a front-end developer, or a designer, your portfolio might live on a personal website. After all, the website itself is a testament to your work.

However, if you’re looking for software developer jobs, a personal website isn’t entirely necessary. A strong GitHub profile can suffice.

Ultimately, the portfolio is yours. Choose whatever format makes the most sense for your career goals.

Psst. Many of the tips below apply to *everyone*, while some are specifically geared towards software developers or web developers.

Let’s dive in.  

1) Show off your passion

Don’t just include a laundry list of projects you’ve completed. Include why you love this work and what you’re truly interested in. Whether this is on your website’s homepage or in your GitHub bio, make your enthusiasm clear with a brief bio.  

2) First impressions count

You know what they say. You never get a second chance to make a great first impression—so ensure that your portfolio is ready. Make sure there are no broken links, grammatical errors, or clunky design elements.

3) Always keep it up to date

Consistently update your portfolio with new projects and experiences. A neglected portfolio isn’t going to help your job search. Be sure to check in and add any new projects every few months. Remove any projects that don’t accurately reflect your skill set anymore.

4) Tell a story…

This applies to websites and GitHub profiles alike. Show your idea from beginning to end by explaining how you pursued it to fruition and how it does something useful. In other words, explain each project’s process, challenges, how you surmounted them, and where you’re at now. Crafting this narrative around a challenge shows off your developer mindset—and this is what hiring managers like to see.

5) …But don’t get too wordy

Keep the narrative clear and concise! You can always expand upon your work in interviews. Remember that people are skimming your portfolio, so make sure that your text is succinct. 

6) Include client work whenever possible

If you do have client work you’d like to show off, investigate ways you can showcase it in your portfolio. Oftentimes, client work is proprietary or under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). If this is the case, it’s always worth asking the client for permission. If you don’t receive permission, you may be able to remove specific information in Photoshop and include the basics on your portfolio.

7) Testimonials are always a plus

Do you have strong relationships with past clients, employers, or teachers? How about recommendations on LinkedIn? Consider including testimonials on your personal website. While they’re not necessary, they can provide an extra dimension to your site.

8) Include passion projects

Even if they’re unfinished or rougher around the edges, including projects you did just for fun shows another side of you. It displays your creativity, drive, and interests. Whether you created a new website for your friend’s business or helped write code for an open-source app, these can definitely be a part of your portfolio.

9) Keep it simple

If you have a website, make sure that the navigation is straightforward. Include an About page, Work page, and Contact page. These are the essentials. While you can always add more to your site, make sure that every page has a distinct purpose.

10) Include open-source work

This mainly applies to software developers. Contributing to open-source work shows that you’re a team player and you’ve created something that integrates into an existing framework. Hiring managers are looking for these skills!

11) Stay away from tutorial work and toy problems

This is another software developer tip. If you’re just starting out, you might not have a ton of material to include in your portfolio—but don’t be tempted to fill it with code challenges. While these self-contained “toy problems” are great practice for interviews, they don’t show real-world development skills.

12) Have another set (or sets!) of eyes look it over

This will help you avoid navigational errors, typos, and other easy fixes. Don’t forget this crucial step!


Special thanks to Tim Mansfield for contributing!

If you’ve crafted the perfect web developer or software developer portfolio, it might be time to brush off your networking skills. Check out our networking event tips.