I've currently graduated from my first run at higher education, landed my first full-time gig as a web application developer, and absolutely love it.

My question is that in looking for jobs I ran across many jobs that require a certain level of experience and code examples. Much of the work I am doing is both protected by a login, and closed source. How does someone, that is just starting out and needs to be building a resume, go about preparing for the next job.

(no matter how much I love my current job, I feel like it's only responsible to always be preparing)


I recommend producing some useful items to fit in any toolbox under a very liberal free software license such as the three clause BSD or MIT license.

This allows you to write re-usable code that you can actually re-use, even when working on proprietary projects. Most importantly, it gives you something to show.

This is not only the code that I've written, this is the stuff (Acme, Inc.) can start using today to solve some of the problems that we discussed.

That goes pretty far in an interview :) Most companies will gladly let you push any improvements to your public repository. Most sensible people realize that great development happens out in the open, and appreciate a dozen other people finding bugs for them. If not, just make a private fork. What is important is that:

  • You get to not only show your code, but offer it as a solution
  • The license you picked says you can do whatever you want with it

In this regard, you can have your cake and eat it too.

Note, I'm just talking about improvements to the tools that you showed them, not their entire project, when talking about development out in the open. However, you might get lucky enough to work for a completely free software outfit. If so, either permissive license is fully compatible with the most restrictive license that the FSF maintains.

Finally, if they want to take something you wrote in a whole new direction, perhaps a private fork would be best for all concerned. Or, perhaps they may realize that publishing the fork might get more customers.

Either way, you win .. and you need to do that when working specifically to make yourself more attractive to employers. I contribute to more than a few projects .. but I'm not looking for a job, or past experience to fortify me as a candidate for one .. licensing is quite incidental for me.


Every company I have interviewed for has understood that I do closed-source work, and I do not have samples of that work. They are less interested in the code that I have written than in the code I am going to write for them. This may be less true if you are applying for open-source positions.

As an interviewer, I have never asked for code samples; I have no way of knowing where that code came from, or how long it took to write. Instead, I ask the interviewee to write some code during the interview.

  • so your answer is to not apply for positions that require examples or code samples? – jondavidjohn Jan 2 '11 at 21:32
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    @jondavidjohn: I believe they call that a straw man argument. – Robert Harvey Jan 3 '11 at 1:13
  • just trying to figure out what you're trying to tell me about the jobs that do require them... – jondavidjohn Jan 3 '11 at 1:16
  • @jondavidjohn: I don't know anything about that. Maybe you've just had monumentally bad luck picking prospective employers. There's more to being a productive programmer than just writing code. Good employers know this. – Robert Harvey Jan 3 '11 at 1:18
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    @Michael: Absolutely. I generally know by the way they answer whether they really know the technology or not. Most developers can hold a reasonable conversation about a technology if they really know it. – Robert Harvey Jan 3 '11 at 18:13

If you need code examples, then the best approach would be to find a personal project to work on at home. It can be anything, but the important thing is that the project fills a need. It has to be something you have a reason to work on other than having a code example.

One option is to use a programming language that you don't currently work with, but would like to. You can also experiment with new programming techniques and technologies that you'd like to learn.

Even the fact that you're considering taking on a personal project is a good sign to the most desirable type of employer.


If you are preparing at an interview level, I don't think your employer should care a hoot if you are making a living out of developing closed source software or extending open source code to meet closed source specifications. You should be able to articulate in your resume the exact work that you did, and expect that you might be asked to write some related code.

Open source contributions in addition to what you do for closed source is for making an impact. Usually people do it out of passion, not for a raise or negotiating offers.

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