Software Engineers Are In Demand, And GitHub Is How You Find Them

by Anthony Wing Kosner

GitHub, the social coding service, has been plagued by two days of distributed denial-of-service attacks. No report yet on who is behind the attacks or why, but it must be some sort of geek infighting, because GitHub is the preferred clubhouse of the open source community. Not exactly the enemy of Guy Fawkes. As web designer Freddy Montes put it on Twitter, “DDOS attack to @github is like hiting your mom on Mother’s Day.”

On the positive side, GitHub’s rapid adoption by coders means that it has become a one-stop shop for people looking for talent. Andreessen Horowitz partner Ben Horowitz told CNET this summer, ”I was talking to my friend [who] runs a tech screening process for looking at engineers. I said, ‘What do you use for recruiting?’ He said GitHub. I said why not LinkedIn? He said, ‘why would I look at their resume when I can look at a body of work?’ And since he said that to me, I ask everybody [what they use] for engineer recruiting, and everybody uses GitHub. That’s a big deal. It means if you’re an engineer and you don’t use GitHub, you don’t exist.”

It’s not surprising that Horowitz said that, since a couple of weeks before that interview Andreessen Horowitz invested $100 million to help grow GitHub. (Maybe there are reasons for those DDOS attacks?)

Om Malik, venture capitalist and founder of GigaOm, argues that the internet is changing the ways people are hired. “We need to put more weight on one’s demonstrable capabilities than college degrees,” he writes. “This ‘experience’ in the past used to make up a big portion of our resume. With the emergence of Internet as a platform, we are entering a phase where these capabilities will be on full display for others to see.” He goes on to add, “I know of a dozen startup founders who regularly spend time on GitHub, looking for engineers and programmers they can add to their team.”

Part of what makes GitHub useful to programmers is the same thing that makes it good for recruitment. People grow their reputation through the number of “commits” (updates to code that they authorize) and “forks” (copies of existing projects that they take in an alternate direction) in their “repos” (code repositories). Commits made in their forks can then be “pulled” back into the original project repository. They gain followers and have their repos starred based on the quality of their code, number of pulls as well as the quality of the collaborative projects they choose to work on and the people they choose to work with.

Tom Preston-Werner, the founder of GitHub, says that, “Half of the people who work for GitHub don’t have college degrees. A commit to GitHub matters lot more to us than the resume.”

Malik’s colleague Mathew Ingram calls this proof of capabilities the web of reputation. But hiring will never be equally transparent in all fields. Designers, writers, musicians, filmmakers, all these “creative” are used to being judged by their portfolios as much as by their resumés. It is the advent of open source programming and the web that has opened up this idea of a visible portfolio for coders and engineers, whose work never used to see the light of day.

GitHub is a version control system based on Git, an open source project started by Linux creator Linus Torvalds. Technically, it can be used to keep track of any sort of file, but not all lines of work can sustain having their internal documents posted in public. The web is different because most of the code that runs public facing websites can be viewed by anyone with a web browser. Whether they will know what they are looking at is another matter, but technically it’s all in the public domain. Much of the underlying software that runs mobile apps, as well, is open source and publicly accessible, most of it now through GitHub.

So if you need to find a programmer or engineer for your startup or you ned to staff up the technical side of your company, don’t spend too much time on LinkedIn. Fork your search over to GitHub instead.

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