I do give a damn ’bout my reputation

GitHub forks and pulls and octocats

Back in the early Pleistocene, when dinosaurs walked the earth and people wrote things on dead trees, your printed resume was your reputation. The right schools, the right companies, presented in the right order on parchment paper in Times Roman was it. That 8.5″ x 11″ piece of paper defined who you were and, more importantly, was your calling card. It was a proxy for your skills and a representation of your reputation as a professional.

When it comes to hiring software developers, I’ll take a GitHub commit log any day over a 10-page resume.” ~ Aidan Casey

If you’re a designer or developer, however, the old parchment seems to be on the wane for an increasing number of recruiters. As far back as 2011, rumblings were already starting that GitHub was your new resume.

What is GitHub?

GitHub is an online, shared repository for code (and increasingly other types of content including terms of service documents, collaborative writing projects and even recipes). The GitHub.com site includes a variety of capabilities that enable collaboration and sharing among its community members. It’s currently one of the top 200 sites on the entire Web. It’s big.

GitHub Octocat

GitHub has three key capabilities — fork, pull request and merge — which underpin this contribution process.

Forking enables you to make a copy of a project that you can then begin to modify. (You can almost think of it as a “Save as…” for a body of code.) A fork takes a duplicate of an existing project and gives you copy that you can then modify without changing the original project.

Sometimes you tweak your copy of the project (the fork), and you think you’ve made a strong improvement upon the original. Or maybe you fixed a few bugs in the original project. In these instances, you can send a pull request to the project’s original author, indicating that you’ve made some improvements and you’d like them to be considered for integration back into the original project.

At this point, the original author typically does a few things. She looks at the code changes you’ve made. She looks at your profile page on GitHub, and takes a gander at the other projects that have accepted pull requests from you and that have integrated your changes. And, if she likes what she sees, she’ll merge your changes back into the original codebase.

TechCrunch had this to say about these three capabilities:

These three features — fork, pull request and merge — are what make GitHub so powerful…when you submit a pull request, the project’s maintainer can see your profile, which includes all of your contributions on GitHub. If your patch is accepted, you get credit on the original site, and it shows up in your profile. It’s like a resume that helps the maintainer determine your reputation. The more people and projects on GitHub, the better idea picture a project maintainer can get of potential contributors.”

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GitHub = reputation, how?

Why is acceptance of a pull request a high form of praise? It indicates that your code is believed to be sound. It says that your contribution solves a problem, and it means the original maintainer of the project thinks highly enough of your contribution to integrate your changes back into the main branch of the project. In other words, acceptance of a pull request is a nod of approval from the project’s maintainer, who feels your code will benefit the community.

With GitHub, your work is measurable and viewable by the crowd — and contributes directly to your online reputation as a Web pro.

Reputation used to solely be based on the credentials you had from some authoritative institution (such as a university or an employer). Now, your professional reputation springs from many additional areas, including verifiable contributions to communities of practice. GitHub is a community that is notable in that any project that is posted publicly can be viewed by anyone. GitHub members have a publicly viewable profile that displays members’ contributions to the community over time.

Thanks, in part, to GitHub, reputation is now a living, evolving concept, as opposed to a static snapshot captured on paper at a moment in time.

On the “credit where credit is due” front, this post was inspired by Peter Kaminski, who talked eloquently about this topic at a recent technology event I attended. Kudos to Pete!

Photo: spacehindu via Compfight cc

Christopher Carfi
A veteran of both startups and the enterprise, Chris has a deep track record in developing customer community and evangelist programs for brands such as Adobe, H&R Block and Aruba Networks while holding executive positions at Ant’s Eye View and Edelman Digital, and he was co-founder and CEO at Cerado. He currently lives in the Bay Area with his family.