Should portfolios replace in-tray coding exercises?

I’ve been using tools, and code to support my testing for years, from classic Web and API automation, to more ad-hoc tool smithing. But I don’t have much of a portfolio, yet, to show this off, because it’s all been for private companies.

So, this year I’m intending to gently make a start building a Test Automation portfolio, and I’m drawing on experts like @angiejones and @bethtestleadleeds who have both put great material out there, in blog posts and at conferences.

My question is, once I’ve got a portfolio, can I expect it to be used in place of a coding interview or “in-tray” exercise? I’ve done a bunch of these before, the ones based on arbitrary code tasks using tools such as Hacker Rank, are demoralising and painful, while being totally irrelevant. The more informal challenges “test this site/app, use these tools (or select your own), cover xyz”, these are often quite fun to be honest, although if I was applying for many roles at once, they would become a burden really quickly.

So, do you have a portfolio? Has it helped you get a job, and did it save you a coding interview?

What about hiring, would you trust a candidate who can show off portfolio projects, without making them jump though your normal hoops?

I can’t wait to hear what you all have to say on this one!

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When I was hiring programmers we did a code test, which was not that useful. But during the interview we asked for projects they could share and asked them to walk us through it instead which was way more useful. So at that place you would be in a way better shape with a portfolio. We also did not ask anyone to code live during the interview since it is a high pressure situation and that is not a good activity for anyone. And I think the Code test was more “Google does it” than something we found to be smart.

I have no experience in hiring for Automation alone, but if you have developed a util for Selenium I would be more inclined to believe that you are well versed in the technology over someone claiming to do it in a CV.

One little tip on the way, a colleague of mine developed a toolset for Model Based Testing, and then at every place they worked they tried to push for this toolset, which sometimes is great because you get both a competent person and a toolset. But sometimes it was to pushy to try to push your thing on the organisations. So I would favour a toolbox with stand alone utilities over a full “solution”.

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I am a fan of portfolios, but not at all for the reason you posit (is posit a word still?)
Anyway, ever since before the big lockdown I have been instructing young people interested in software engineering to make portfolio. A simple github is a good start. Why? Well as a kid I remembered seeing how the art class kids carried this huge folder thing around to classes, and in a way that’s what your github needs to be a huge place where you can demo your best. What? Blogs and ittch.io and so many other platforms exist, it’s dead easy to create an online portfolio. Choose a platform you are comfortable with and stick to it, don’t change your mind, your portfolio needs to retain as much history as possible, remember the idea is to show progression and passion and your preferences, not your skill. When well that is easy, start young, and that’s why I have been encouraging young people to start online portfolios.

But my ulterior motive is actually to get them thinking about how to present themselves and their passions in an interview situation. Building a portfolio forces you to very convincingly frame who you are selling. Because ultimately you are selling your skills to an employer. The mere act of curating this “storefront to brand-me” (a thing I advise we don’t get too carried away with) will force you to see the positive and good things that you want a potential employer to see. Now for the kicker. You don’t need to spend money on a fancy TLD domain, because employers will likely not look at your portfolio, so for me the value is framing of your own story, and owning it.

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I feel these days everything you contribute towards public forums becomes part of your portfolio, from blogs, linkedin post, github etc. Personally, github i tend to use for learning, training and code snippets / tools i’ve found useful.

I tend to think of portfolios in terms of coding portfolios but i guess there could be other types. Portfolio of Bug reports, test reports, test notes, strategy etc. Someone like Gleb i’d say has an amazing portfolio of coding solutions and libraries but a lot of devs do i guess. Link. So maybe a portfolio of contributions is far more powerful than side projects? What is a good portfolio for testers?

Also i think coding portfolios only really showcase technical ability, and are useful if you can showcase bodies of work you’ve done or your creativity, difficult with testing. A nice body of work could be a framework of tests that run, generates a nice report, is integrated with a pipeline, sends message to slack etc and tests something interesting, that would be nice but i’m not sure without them demoing this if you’d get the full picture.

Even with the above it’s still only a small picture of the candidate. Also not sure what a HR, Hiring manager, CTO etc view of a portfolio would be. They’d likely just check the CV , so maybe mainly engineers or engineering manages might checkout such portfolios.

With myself I haven’t had someone use an online project i’ve done during an interview before but have been asked about an article I wrote or my photography during interviews. They’ve added interesting discussions to interviews.

I do like the challenge of coding tests, especially when you pair with someone. You both get the feeling of how it would be to work together. I always talk through my thinking so whether i complete them or not they still get an insight into how i tackle problems, question things and how i take notes i feel.

From a hiring point of view, I do check out peoples repos/portfolios when they share the links in their CV. Usually they seem empty, which makes me wonder why they even shared it in the first place. But i do check them and have suggested that people either show their portfolio or do a test during hiring and majority seem to pick the test. I guess because majority don’t have great portfolios maybe.

Going back to the question of Portfolio vs Coding interview. I’ve tried both with candidates. Portfolios i tend to see more as part of someones cv, talking point. I’ve also made wrong assumptions about peoples coding level because the code they had on their github wasn’t great, but they did fine on the actual assessment, when asked to improve it.

To date, i prefer coding interviews /Task based interviews. These have been better as you get an insight into :

  • how the candidate tackles challenges,
  • their thinking behind actions and decisions.
  • How they handle confusion,
  • You get to talk to them through doing an actual task
    etc

Also if the role is for like a Head of / Test lead / People co-ordination type role, not sure if a portfolio would be valuable. So maybe its mainly useful for hands-on technical roles. I also get the feeling not many engineers have portfolio yet, so until more people do it, not sure if its a thing yet. So might be a bonus if its good. I don’t think hiring decision would be based on having a portfolio though. Its more extra points to be considered

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I wish I could give extra ninjas just for that insight, great inspiration @rforjoe :slight_smile:

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@bethtesterleeds spoke on SheCanCode’s ‘Spilling the T’ podcast.

Listen to the episode: Testing portfolios - should we all be creating one? :headphones:

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After following the entire discussion I feel I’m not particular with both.I’m flexible and open to anything but the candidate should exhibit his skills.

This is all that matters to me.

Because both can be deceptive.

Not a huge fan of portfolios but maybe I will consider it for the future.

Also, I feel portfolios should not be only for automation. They should also show their knowledge in testing.

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A bit late to this but I have recently started to create my own portfolio on GitHub.

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I’m with you on this @mtest , have a portfolio, but at the end of the day the portfolio is to help you grow your network, not to save time in interviews. For new or young engineer roles I am more keen for interviews to focus on who you are and your energy and current interests, than on technical ability that you have today.
It’s a bit like not buying a lottery ticket if you don’t have a portfolio. It acts like a instant-CV that you personally control instead of letting (insert social network name here) being the thing that describes your brand for you.

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