I asked a question a while back about knowing when you're ready to look for a job and got positive replies. Now I'm working on writing up a resume to begin my job search.

The title pretty much sums up the question, what should a self-taught programmer who has nothing but personal project experience put in a resume?

PS. What I really want to ask is for someone to take a quick look at my resume(draft) but I know that's too specific here. Is there a place where I can ask this type of question?

EDIT: Thanks to everyone for the feedback. I've finished a RC version and will hopefully be entering the job market soon.

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    – user8
    May 27, 2011 at 22:39

8 Answers 8


Your resume is your resume. You can search the internet for styles/templates or you can even use Microsoft Word's resume templates.

Frankly, I hate seeing the same resume template over and over again and enjoy resume's where the applicant took the time to create their own resume.

More or less though you want to include the following:

  • contact information
    • Make sure this is current, name/email/phone, address if you want but I do not think address is needed.
  • experience
    • If you are self taught you probably do not have job experience. Personal projects or open source project contributions could be listed here if any.
  • qualifications/skills
    • This for a self taught might overlap, be the same as experience section.
  • education/certifications
    • Any education relevant cannot hurt.

Cover letter - Cover letter explanation cannot hurt to explain your situation and lack of formal work experience.

  • Would you recommend leaving off non-relevant experience? I have a lot of business experience, but I want to code.
    – Ella
    May 27, 2011 at 16:29
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    @Jack: you might want to leave off the tree trimming experience. Unless you did the tree trimming in Python, in which case ... never mind. :-) May 27, 2011 at 17:08
  • @Peter Rowell: I would think tree trimming would be easier in Scheme, but that's just my opinion. I included it for business experience as I am an owner of one company and a consultant for the other. My real question is should I leave out the business stuff entirely? I don't want to get thrown into management/marketing/customer service.
    – Ella
    May 27, 2011 at 17:16
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    @Jack: No, I would leave it in because (quite frankly) there's too many programmers that don't understand that the fundamental reason for most businesses to exist is not programming. That said, you might want to see if there's a programming spin you can put on any of it. Together with the fact that you are applying for a programming position might give them a small hint you don't want to do the business thing anymore. May 27, 2011 at 17:28
  • +1 for listing contributions to open source projects. People looking for programmers essentially want to know: 1) Can you do the work we need you to do, without us holding your hand? 2) Can you code in a team? 3) Will you fit into the team at a social level? - The first two are being sold by your CV, the third one is sold in an interview. Showing that you've worked on open source projects covers the first two, even moreso if the project work covered similar languages and technologies that your job involves.
    – Polynomial
    Feb 9, 2012 at 12:37

The most sensible approach in this situation would be to cite project you have finished. That will communicate an image of you being doer. Therefore put focus on things you've accomplished as opposed to what you have started, tried then abandoned. You can extract skills you obtained through "tried" projects and put in a separate "skills" section without mentioning those projects themselves.

If you have no accomplished projects then, well, it is a problem then.

  • What constitutes an accomplished project? The projects I have listed are "accomplished" in the sense that they are usable. However they are not in any way close to commercial quality. I'm not sure how long it would take me to create a commercial quality interpreter/charting program/genetic programming system, but I would think the time would be measured in years.
    – Ella
    May 27, 2011 at 16:10
  • @Jack Trades: What you have is fine. They are working and therefore accomplished. What I meant is avoid mentioning things like you got interest in, started but then stopped because of whatever reason there might be (little time, study, family life etc.).
    – user8685
    May 27, 2011 at 16:33

this question is likely to be closed as too localized soon, so here's a quick impression -

get rid of the blog headers and menus and footers - "pointless programming" is a cute blog name, but a terrible title for a resume. Don't give the reader anywhere else to go to but your resume (aka make it a "landing page")

for each project, personal or otherwise, state the benefit that it created - with specific numbers whenever possible. saved $X. 27.3% faster. decreased processing time by 50%. half the code of the leading brand. whatever. This makes it more real and shows that you know how to add value to a business.

if you mention your blog in the same breath as your programming projects, include traffic stats. a blog with 200 pages that no one reads is less impressive than one with 10,000 unique visitors per month [and if you have that, sell your visitors something they need!]. If your blog has no readers and no traffic, move it to a Technical Writing skill section instead. it's valuable - good communication is extremely valuable - but it's not programming per se

instead of self-employed, put "Owner". Sounds more serious

good luck!

  • Thanks for taking a look. I won't put my final resume on my blog (at least not like it appears now), that is just a rough to get some criticism. The tips on projects sound really good. I get about 1,000 page views/month on my blog. Is that notable?
    – Ella
    May 27, 2011 at 16:35
  • @Jack - I would guess most of those are not actual users just web crawlers.
    – Ramhound
    May 27, 2011 at 16:38
  • @Jack look at where your visits are coming from and what keywords people are using to find your page, this will tell you whether it's bots or not. 1K views/month is not much - see alexa.com/siteinfo/pointlessprogramming.wordpress.com# on the other hand having a regularly updated blog is a sign of commitment and follow-through and passion so it's a plus. Just keep in mind that a resume is a sales brochure and the product is you May 27, 2011 at 19:33
  • I really have no idea what percentage are bots. I get most of my views from answers I've posted in newsgroups/QA sites, but that's based only on info from Wordpress stats and Clicky. Though I do look at my stats, I'm not really writing with the intention of having a popular blog. Mostly I use writing articles as a way to help me learn about new concepts. I find that I learn best when I teach others, even if the 'others' are fictional.
    – Ella
    May 27, 2011 at 20:01
  • I gave this a +1 because metrics and accomplishments are important. It makes you appear far more valuable than "I was responsible for ..." which shows the tasks you did, but not how great you were at them.
    – Nic
    May 28, 2011 at 3:06

I suggest writing a 'Profile' paragraph at the top of your resumé that explains who you are and what you're about, in actual sentences. The rest of the document is evidence to back that up, keywords for recruiters, and talking points for the interview. To make space for the profile you can collapse all the business skills bullet points into a comma separated list. I also suggest moving the tech SKILLS more to the forefront, list your projects after. I think you're resumé's actually pretty impressive, just slightly confusing initially.

Incidentally, from reading your blog I notice you have a section called 'What in the hell...' series... funny, I was planning to put exactly the same thing on my personal homepage, even called the same thing. Hope you get some good feedback for that section.

  • Thanks for the tips and sorry for the confusing format. This is a very rough draft of my resume and I'm sure it will end up looking completely different by the time I've finished. This is actually the first resume I've ever written. The inspiration for the "What In The Hell" series came from the "What the heck is" series on Squawks of the Parrot. Most were written to firm up my understanding of the concepts. Unfortunately I haven't gotten much feedback at all on my blog (good or bad), even though that was a major incentive for writing it.
    – Ella
    May 27, 2011 at 18:13

It's obvious from your comments here and from a brief perusal of your blog and code that your value proposition isn't being fully delivered by your resume. You should include a brief synopsis that describes your experience and interests. You should describe challenges overcome and goals delivered wherever possible: previous work experience, open source, personal projects.

If it's acceptable for me to link it here (mods or others, please edit this paragraph out if not), you may want to look at my resume as an example: http://reinh.github.com. Quirky formatting aside, I think it does a reasonable job of presenting my value proposition and may suggest ways you could improve yours. (Please note that I'm not looking for a job. :)

Also keep in mind that for a junior software developer with a short resume, the best thing you can do IMO is build your personal brand in your relevant communities (local and online) by giving talks, contributing to open source, and offering assistance in forums, irc and sites like SE.

Last but not least: at this point in your career, networking is very important. Your best chance of getting a good job is to do so through word of mouth, where the resume itself becomes something of a formality.

  • I did a search for value proposition and I'm not sure I understand what that means in a deep sense. I looked at your resume and did get some ideas, that was helpful. As for networking I've been trying to put some stuff out there but haven't had much success. I'm pretty hard-headed when it comes to asking for help and I'm not quite expert enough to answer many questions without researching first. Unfortunately where I live has a small tech community and I've looked for meet-ups in the area also without success.
    – Ella
    May 27, 2011 at 18:34
  • By value proposition, I mean why should I hire you? May 27, 2011 at 18:37
  • I think I understand a bit better. I have a tendency to be somewhat wordy and I find it very hard to keep everything I want to tell a potential employer to one page. If I don't at least start with a bullet-point rough draft I end up with a 50 page document that describes everything in excruciating detail. Somehow I'm going to have to find a balance for the final draft. Thanks for looking it over.
    – Ella
    May 27, 2011 at 18:54

Maybe this isn't the most honest answer (as far as the employer would be concerned) but if you can construe a project that you've worked on as having been for someone else, even if it was just a family friend (business owner, professional such as doctor, lawyer, etc) then that may look better and you can list it as a contract. Maybe you have someone like this you know who you could do a small project for, even if you don't want to charge, just write up a contract outlining what you will do and its technically a contract then. I think giving the impression that you've worked for someone, no matter how small, still helps more than not having that on there.

  • Well the pyTrade paper-trading project was written for a friend to help him learn how to swing trade. Though I want to be very careful about being honest on my resume. I already feel like I'm pushing the boundaries on some things as I'm not really a specialist in anything I've listed (hence the alias Jack Trades). I've written code for the businesses I own/consult over the years, but much of it is dirty hacks that simply get the job done. For instance I have a todo list that text messages me for bids, but I wouldn't want to show that code to anyone.
    – Ella
    May 27, 2011 at 18:23

I know I keep repeating this, but if your project is out there in the wild, there is no better reference than that. Say you claim to be a mongodb developer and you can provide a link to your checkins, this will get you jobs faster than any fancy formatting you can add to your resume.

Join a OSS project and do it the hard way! This will improve your communication/coding/testing/cr skills as well as a bonus.

  • All my projects, save for some quick hacks to get stuff done, are hosted on github/my blog. It's good to hear that this will be helpful when looking for employment. While I release all my code with open-source licenses, I have yet to join an ongoing project. I'll have to consider that in the near future. Thanks for the tips.
    – Ella
    May 28, 2011 at 20:20

Above the project work, put a short list of skills. Put the strongest skills first. Do not list skills you'd hate using for a job.

Unless you're applying for a management job, absolutely do not put "business skills" above "technical skills", and absolutely do list things like "Python" in technical skills.

Your skills section isn't so hot. It doesn't have focus, and includes things that aren't quite novel; remove those. What's currently there should go at the bottom of a resume, if at all; the missing things (Python, Scheme, Tk) should go in a list at the very top.

And just got to the bottom; move the technologies section to the very top. Move the skills section to the bottom, so it reads:

"Technologies" "Projects", to justify those technologies and show I know 'em. "Work Experience", to show I can hold a job. "Skills", to fill things out and let me tell them things my experience doesn't necessary should. Consider integrating this into the other sections, and simply let the projects and work experience have bullet points for what skills I used on that job.

  • I didn't get to read your suggestions until after I finished the first release candidate of my resume. However I still managed to incorporate many of them. I've cleaned up my skills section a bit, but I'm still not fully satisfied with it. I think moving the skills into bullet points under projects/experience would be a good idea. Thanks for the tips.
    – Ella
    May 28, 2011 at 20:13

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