While startup, which admired his portfolio and recognized his

While on a road trip with his girlfriend,
27-year-old Jeffrey Walsh came up with the idea for what he then called “Travel
Buddy,” a social network for backpackers. The idea stuck, and as his initial
excitement continued to grow, he finally said, “What the hell: I could at least
try to make a website!”

At the time, Walsh was working as a phone
salesman, making half his current salary.”I needed an out, which I think is a common
theme among web developers. Very rarely does anyone say, ‘Ah, I love my current
high-paying position with immense satisfaction. I wonder what making a website
is like?'”In one year’s time, Walsh went from phone
salesman to lead full-stack developer for an educational technology startup in
London, where he programed applications with HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and
MySQL. He also hires and trains junior developers, parcels out work to the
team, and deploys the company’s software into schools.Walsh is an excellent example of someone who
not only committed himself entirely to the craft of coding, but who was always
looking for ways to enhance his value to an employer. I had a chance to speak
with both Walsh and Dominic Magnifico, a senior developer at the web design
agency Zenman. Our conversations yielded some excellent advice for developers
looking to give themselves an edge.1. Build A PortfolioOnce Walsh made the decision to teach himself
web development, he quit his job, flew to Colombia, and spent five months doing
nothing but studying. He then built a portfolio page with everything he’d
developed during those five months, such as Vagabonding, the latest incarnation
of “Travel Buddy.” Proud of the work he’d done and eager to help other
prospective developers, Walsh made a post on Reddit in which he outlined his path
of self-education. The post attracted attention from a growing startup, which
admired his portfolio and recognized his potential value as an employee. He was
hired later that evening.”I think if you can prove you can use some of
the tools a company is working with, then you can find a job,” Walsh said. “My
inbox was flooded with people who said they have been teaching themselves and
want to know how to know that they’re ready. Almost all of them were stuck in a
sort of perpetual limbo of having acquired some skills, but not having made
anything with them.”

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Making things is a developer’s bread and
butter, and Dominic Magnifico cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is for
developers to do just that. As a senior developer, Magnifico is often asked to
make hiring decisions for his company, and a solid portfolio is at the top of
his criteria.Dominic Magnifico, Senior Developer at Zenman “The first and foremost thing I look for is if
that person has a portfolio,” says Magnifico. “That’s paramount. If you don’t
have a presence on the Web, then I have no way of looking at your code. Having
a portfolio site is you on the Internet.”2. Never Stop LearningWalsh’s one-year ascent from phone salesman to
lead full-stack developer was not exactly typical. He put in 16-hour days of
nonstop studying, obsessively developed web applications that no one ever saw,
and traveled around the world — twice. But at the core of his motivation was an
intense eagerness to learn, something common in successful developers.”I learn every day,” Walsh said. “I think
every developer has to, otherwise your worth remains a constant, while new
technologies and clever hacks get written around you instead of with you.”Walsh has also had to make some hiring
decisions for his startup. He recalled one candidate who only had one month of
real-world coding experience, but who showed such incredible determination that
Walsh chose to give him a chance. Walsh said that if the job market were
better, he might have opted for someone more experienced, but as it’s currently
a developer’s market, personal qualities have never been more important.
Experience is valuable, but it isn’t everything.”Now is the time to prove you have the
enthusiasm and attitude to do it,” Walsh said.Magnifico agrees, and looks for largely the
same qualities in all prospective employees. “I start the interview by asking
them what they’re really passionate about,” he said. “Do they have that
eagerness to learn and to continue growing? They don’t necessarily have to be a
master of everything, but this industry evolves very rapidly, and having that
knowledge to draw from, to know what technology is right for a certain
scenario, that’s huge.”An eagerness to learn increases a developer’s
value because it increases a company’s value. Existing technologies are
advancing and new technologies are continuously emerging. Having someone on the
payroll who keeps up with these trends helps companies stay on the cutting
edge.3. Participate in the CommunityJust as a portfolio showcases your skills in
action, community participation tells employers that you’re invested, that you
care about advancing the craft, and that you play well with others. Open-source
platforms like GitHub and Bootstrap top the list of web developer stomping
grounds, but even Q sites like Stack Overflow are on an employer’s radar.
Answering questions, contributing to the community, and generally maintaining a
positive online presence go a long way in demonstrating your commitment to your
work.”A big question I like to ask,” Magnifico
said, “is ‘Do you contribute to any open source projects? Have you worked on
some sort of JavaScript or PHP plugin that you use and maintain and offer up to
the community as a service?'”Magnifico doesn’t put as much weight into the
number of followers you have, or how fully fleshed-out your profile is, but if
he sees that you’re involved in the community, it definitely piques his
interest.Participating in these communities also helps
you grow as a developer. You can learn something from everyone, and by
collaborating on projects, helping to resolve glitches and bugs, and exchanging
ideas on any level will only broaden your knowledge and sharpen your skill set.

“Any extracurricular projects are a good idea
in any form,” says Walsh. “It makes you a better developer and that’s what
does, for sure, make you more valuable.