Saturday, January 16, 2016

Get Hired as an IT Newbie Part 1 - Have a Good Portfolio!

I participated in a focus group this past week at SAIT where we discussed their 'Web Developer Fast Track Program' and its relevance to the industry.  The goal behind the meeting was how can we make the course more relevant to the changes and continual evolution of technology that is happening in the industry so students are more prepared for positions when they leave.  The discussion was engaging and took some interesting turns.  Here's what I took away related to portfolios:

Student Portfolios
15 years ago I had gone through a similar IT fast-track program and we had to do portfolios of our work for potential employers.  I wasn't aware of a single employer who looked at my portfolio and as
a result I haven't placed much emphasis on it in my classes.  BIG MISTAKE.

It turns out that prospective employers for SAIT students DO look at their online portfolios.... and generally weren't super impressed.  Here's why:
  • Industry attendees said that a student's portfolio should reflect the position or career track that the students are looking to get into.  There should be evidence in the portfolio that the student tried on their own to investigate, explore, and work with technologies and code that interests them.  Posting student projects (with every student having very similar projects) doesn't help anyone in making a hiring decision.
  • Prospective employers are not just interested in the technologies that students used, but also: 
    • Thought processes that the students went through in completing their projects - why they chose to make certain decisions (for example, use a canned WordPress theme instead of design/develop their own)
    • Challenges students encountered in design and development and how they overcame those problems in their journey to the completed project - Employers are interested in soft skills like perseverance,  the ability to google a problem and uncover a solution on your own, the ability to asking for help when you are stumped (not before you've tried googling the problem)... etc.
    • Is the student willing to go the extra mile, put in some extra effort and explore interesting tools and technologies outside the classroom?  The industry was quite clear that this was one of the main things they were looking for  - a motivated individual with the right attitude.  This kind of motivation should be clearly seen in a student's portfolio.
There was also some suggestions during the focus group that students should be given the opportunity to provide constructive feedback to their peers on their portfolios.  A good critique is a gift.  Can students accept constructive feedback and use it to improve?  Could providing peer critiques give them a better perspective and more experience with what is good (design, code, functionality, etc.) versus what is not good.  We thought so.

Finally, here's a couple of links to student portfolios that 'make the grade' so to speak, in my humble opinion.  One was a student of mine this past semester, the other is a current student at the University of Calgary:
- Gary S. Jennings (former SAIT student)
- Carrie Mah (U of C student)

No comments: