Sunnia Ye

Oct 3, 2018

4 min read

Building up your tech résumé from scratch

You want a tech job someday, but you don’t have any coding experience. Where do you start?

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Before I begin, I want to clarify that I’m not (and never have been) directly involved in hiring, so all this advice is just from my own experience.

I also want to reassure those of you that are just starting off that it’s completely normal and understandable to not have a fancy résumé in your first year of learning CS. I didn’t have any practical skills until sophomore spring of college (and even so, just barely), and I didn’t have a resume I was proud of until junior fall. So it’s totally doable to build your portfolio from the ground up, no matter how daunting it seems right now.

Getting started with personal projects

The easiest and simplest thing you could do is start with a static website with name, resume, contact info. Then, polish it.

One of the first things I ever made was a simple portfolio website in my sophomore year, built using just HTML and CSS. It involved minimal coding skills but looked cool because I had good visuals. (Thank you, AP Art.)

This initial project has now morphed into my professional website, which basically just embeds a snapshot of my résumé with links to my professional social media.

then vs. now

Websites like Github make it easy by allowing you to host your website for free and publish your changes easily. Same with Bitbucket. (What is Github? What is Bitbucket?)

This article has some great points about the do’s and don’t’s for a personal website, and I highly recommend you read it before you begin. The only thing I’d add is that you should be careful when trying to make your website too fancy or detailed, lest it become hard to maintain. There is real value to having a minimalist website with just name, résumé, contact info — so long as it looks polished.

Once you have your personal website, you can add links to all your projects. The projects you build for class count, as do side projects. Here’s an article on how to come up with side projects.

With all the hype about hackathons in recent years, I also want to remind everyone that it’s okay to not attend hackathons, if that isn’t your thing. Personally, I’m more suited long-term projects broken down into small chunks; at hackathons, I often burn out. If you enjoy hackathons, wonderful! If not, no worries; stick to the small, long-term stuff. The point is to have fun creating something you’re proud of.

Building up your résumé

First, you’ll want to keep your résumé to one page. Recruiters don’t really read your résumé; they do a 15–30 second glance over to see that you have the right requirements, and then maybe they’ll read more thoroughly. When your resume is too long, it just dilutes your best stuff.

Your résumé should make it easy to break down the information visually. I have two-columns. On the left, I have a section for education, skills, and coursework; on the right, I have work/research experience and side projects. This way, a recruiter’s eyes are immediately drawn to whatever they’re looking for.

At the top, I have my LinkedIn, Github, email, and website. You do not need your address or phone number. (And honestly, I find it creepy when a company asks me for that info before I’m hired. It gets saved in their system for years.)

I do NOT have a tagline like “student looking for a job in machine learning”. Basically, if you applied for a job, the company knows you want that job; no need to waste valuable résumé space. You can, however, put a tagline on your website.

You do not actually need your GPA. I have never seen anyone in industry care much about grades.

For the programming languages and tools you know, you might want to list proficient vs. familiar to distinguish between things you can be tested on in an interview vs. things you can easily ramp up on.

You’ll also want short bullet points — one to two lines. What I do is high-level description, detailed description, and result. For one summer research project, in my first bullet point, I wrote something like “I built tools to measure performance”. In the next bullet point, I have more detail: “I wrote python scripts that ran on Linux machines to automate tests and collect metadata”. If possible, try to quantify your accomplishments, e.g. “the algorithm I wrote had an accuracy rate of [blank]”.

For projects, you’ll want to have your top 3–5 projects, preferably with links to the Github repo (or a website if it’s a web app). These can be academic projects or independent projects. The repo should be clean and well-documented. If it’s a website, the website should work. (I say this because my project websites have gone down before without my notice. Oops.)

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Other miscellaneous things:

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That’s all I have for today. Please 👏🏾👏🏽👏🏼 (up to 50x) if you found any of this helpful, and please let me know in the comments if you have any questions!