Build a winning software developer portfolio

As the software development field has gotten more popular, companies, especially large-scale ones, now receive a lot of applications for every vacancy. Hence, companies' strategy for recruiting software developers has drastically changed in recent times. For example, they now use different assessment tools to weed out weak candidates. Additionally, many companies now ask to see applicants' previous development work.

Looking at an applicant's previous work, technical recruiters and hiring managers can deduce many aspects. Hence, it has become crucial for developers to build a strong portfolio of work that showcases their skills and interests. However, simply creating a directory of all our work isn't enough. We need to strategize how we create a developer portfolio so that it impresses recruiters and other developers who will see it during the hiring process.

What is a developer portfolio, and why do you need one?

A developer portfolio is a collection of applications and other kinds of software that a developer has built. The main aim of a portfolio is to present the developer's development skills, what kind of work they are interested in, and their self-learning capability. One example of a portfolio can be a video game developer creating a website that hosts all the games they made as personal and/or work projects. 

One thing to note is that a developer portfolio differs from a resume or a profile on an online platform. Developers directly communicate their technical background, skills, interests, and achievements through their resume and online profile. But on the other hand, a developer portfolio is proof that the developer has the said technical expertise and interests.

With a solid portfolio as part of our application, we can immediately stand apart, especially when we lack professional experience. After all, not all developers go through the hard work of creating a portfolio and lose interviews because of it. Hence, a collection of personal projects is the best way to show our existing skill set and our inclination to grow it further.

What developer profile is it for?

When crafting a solid portfolio, remember that not all developer portfolios look the same and shouldn't. After all, various software developers are currently working, each building different things and solving different problems. Hence, a solid developer portfolio must complement the developer profile it will become a part of.

Take the example of the difference between a frontend engineer and a backend engineer's portfolio. While both count as developers, the former focuses more on visuals and user experience, while the latter focuses more on system design and infrastructure. Hence, their respective portfolios will follow different strategies. 

A frontend engineer's portfolio should showcase examples where they smartly and skillfully implemented UI/UX designs and ensured a smooth user journey. On the other hand, a backend engineer should feature applications and explain how they implemented the databases, APIs, and features. Both need to highlight the tech stack they used to create applications, and in the front end's case, they should especially mention the frontend frameworks.

How to build an attractive developer portfolio?

We now understand what a developer portfolio is and what it should accomplish. Hence, we can start building an eye-catching developer portfolio for ourselves. The most popular way to build an online developer portfolio is to create a dedicated website or a GitHub repository. 

The choice between the two would boil down to personal preference and the kind of projects in the portfolio. For example, a UI/UX designer like Matt Farley chose to create a website as a portfolio since it can showcase their skill of creating a smooth user journey. However, one can also opt for both by showcasing a usable version of the portfolio on a website and providing a GitHub repository link containing the codebase. 

What should a portfolio include?

Every developer portfolio should have the following sections:

  • About Section: This can be an abridged version of our resume where we tell our technical, educational, and professional background. Most developers also attach a professional-looking picture in the About section.
  • Projects section/page: This is the highlight of the portfolio and, therefore, should have its section or own webpage. After all, we must attach information like descriptions, instructions, and details to the projects.
  • Contact Page: A contact page is crucial and should be smartly integrated into the user journey so that users know how to reach us if they are impressed and want to connect. This page should always have updated contact information.

Common mistakes to avoid when creating a portfolio

Not every developer will get their portfolio right on the first attempt, and that's okay. However, when creating or trying to improve our portfolios, we should ensure to avoid the following mistakes:

  • Leaving the developer portfolio disorganized: The portfolio should be easy to follow, and all sections should be logically organized. A disorganized portfolio with no heads or tails severely impacts the viewer's impression, even if it contains solid projects.

  • Not keeping the portfolio updated: We have to ensure that all information and projects in the portfolio are updated. Hence, we must keep checking that the projects are still functioning, and any contact information is not outdated.
  • Not optimizing the portfolio for search: Search engineers have become our go-to tools for looking for anything we need. Hence, we must ensure that our online developer portfolio appears during a relevant search and that viewers are drawn to our listing. We can get many opportunities by ensuring this.
  • Leaving the About page inadequate: The About page is crucial because it tells visitors more about us. If we don't provide the relevant context in it and what we have expertise in, visitors may end up doubting our credibility.  

Apply to TOP tech jobs with your Rviewer Portfolio

When you register as a developer on Rviewer, you will find a very easy-to-customize and visual profile that will allow you to add all the information you need for your job searching needs.

In fact, you will be able to use it as a portfolio to apply to job offers you are interested in. Check this Rviewer Portfolio example:

Useful tools for creating a developer portfolio

Since developer portfolios are becoming more commonplace, various online tools help simplify creating a solid developer portfolio. Here are some prominent ones: 

  • GitHub Pages: Developers can create websites and portfolios on this platform, and GitHub will handle all the hosting. It comes with templates, so we don't worry about formatting. Uploading projects and other material becomes as easy as uploading them to a repository.

  • Website generators: Many website generators are available that handle all the technicalities of creating and maintaining a website. Services like Namecheap provide domain names too, so that we can have a dedicated domain for our portfolio. We can customize and design our portfolios to our satisfaction this way.

Tips for building a new app/project for your portfolio

Now we know how important a good portfolio project can be for a developer's profile. So here are some important things to bear in mind when creating a new portfolio project:

  • Ensure a smooth UI/UX: We have to ensure the application delivers a smooth user journey that doesn't assume the user has a technical background. There shouldn't be a login page waiting to greet the user since that feels limiting. A good UI/UX shows we planned the application smartly.
  • Ensure the app's functionality: When working on the application, we must ensure each feature and functionality is working. Just having an application in the portfolio is not enough; it needs to be usable. Hence, we should only include a running version of it.
  • Ensure a properly formatted code: Technical individuals going through our portfolio would want to go through the codebase to understand the application better. Hence, the code should be formatted, readable, and follow best practices. 

  • Ensure the application is mobile responsive: We cannot guarantee that viewers will only view our portfolio on certain devices. Therefore, we need to make it mobile-responsive to leave a good impression.
  • Attach a well-structured and informative README: Every portfolio project needs a README that explains all the important details. It should be concise, well-structured, and informative. We should attach pictures to ensure the reader understands everything better.
  • Don't use tutorial apps: Many developers simply create a portfolio of applications they made during a certification course or by watching a tutorial. Such projects will fail to catch recruiters' interest since many other portfolios will have them too. Hence, portfolio projects should preferably be original to stand out.

  • Write tests for the application: To show that the portfolio belongs to a well-rounded developer, we should include tests for the application. It shows that we understand the importance of testing applications and know how to do so.

  • Ensure a good Git workflow: If our portfolio is hosted on GitHub, anyone viewing the project will also see the commit history. We must ensure that such details show that we follow best practices using Git while developing and are careful with our commit messages and branching practices.

  • Ensure the application is mobile responsive: We cannot guarantee that viewers will only view our portfolio on certain devices. Therefore, we need to make it mobile-responsive to leave a good impression.

How to use a portfolio to apply to your dream company

If we aspire to work at a specific company, a solid developer portfolio can significantly increase our chances of making an impression during the hiring and even getting in. In such a case, we can try two strategies:

  • Show our expertise with the company's tech stack: Every tech product has an associated tech stack. When looking for talent to work on them, companies prefer developers who have experience with the stack. Hence, we should create a dedicated portfolio project using the company's tech stack. It will show how interested we are in joining the company and that we can learn technologies independently without guidance
  • Implement a potential new feature: When hiring developers, companies seek individuals who understand their products and are excited about working on them. A portfolio project that implements a new feature for their product will surely catch any recruiter's eye and make them realize that we have a vision for it.

With such tactics, we can express to recruiters that we are motivated individuals who can work when we are especially interested in a company. While both ways mentioned above will take time and patience, their payoff will be worth it.

Wrapping up

With a developer portfolio, we can increase the chances of leaving an impression on recruiters. Furthermore, by hosting a solid developer portfolio online that is SEO-optimized, we can expect recruiters at top companies to find us when they are looking for a role. Hence, while creating a dedicated developer portfolio will take planning and effort, the advantages that come with it will ensure it pays back.