I was born to immigrant parents. My mother's family left Algeria looking for a better life in Syria and then Jordan (where I was born). On my father's side, his family fled the war in Palestine to Syria and then settled in Jordan. My father's family was so poor that he had to sleep with ten other children in the same room (his brothers and his brothers' children). Luckily, Palestinians, for whatever reason, valued education above everything else, so they made sure to save up to send my father to Turkey (because there were no universities in Jordan at the time) to study to become an engineer.
When my father came back to Jordan, he worked for the government as an engineer. There, he faced discrimination because government jobs were typically reserved for natives. Despite all this, he rose in the ranks for years until he became the city manager of Amman, the capital of Jordan. My father's journey taught me that as someone who's underprivileged or discriminated against you need to work ten times harder than the next person to get ahead. You need to leverage whatever tool you have to signal that you're great at your job. For him, it was his reputation. In a country ravaged by corruption my father had a reputation for being so straight it baffled people (but it also meant that we wouldn't get to see any of that corruption money, and we had to grow up on a measly government salary).
Which brings me to the recent debate in the developer community on using GitHub as a résumé. While I try to stay away from debating hot topics because it takes time to form an informed opinion, this was a subject that's near and dear to my heart, so I had to write about it.
It all started with this tweet claiming that GitHub is the only way that employers can validate talent.
10/ GitHub is the de facto source for validating top talent the world over.— Joe McCann (@joemccann) June 7, 2018
Résumé or CV?
Show me your GitHub profile, commits you've landed, projects you've forked, code you've released.
While I disagree with this statement, I found myself also disagreeing with people on the other side of the debate which, in my opinion, are also staking out an extreme position. They're saying that GitHub is not only a "useless signal" but is also discriminatory by nature. (I found myself agreeing more with moderate positions like Kim's here saying that basically, employers are shooting themselves in the foot by excluding people with no GitHub profiles).
Starting with the assumption that employers would want to hire the best candidates for the job, we can observe that they're merely trying to navigate the problem of "adverse selection," which occurs in any market where there exists an asymmetry of information. Because candidates can deceptively spruce up their resumes and maybe even rise in the corporate ladder by being gifted at office politics, and because most good programmers are not in the job market (they either have a job or get headhunted before they enter the market), this leaves employers in a tricky position with an insufficient set of tools to evaluate candidates (see The Market for Lemons for an interesting discussion on adverse selection). GitHub, on the other hand, cuts through the bullshit (for the most part).
You can fake a resume, or end up with a good one simply as a function of your privilege. For example, if you're born into wealth, your parents can probably call in favors to get you jobs at prestigious companies. But can you really fake GitHub profile? It's tough to do so, and that's because the "screening", as it were, is done by OSS maintainers. You can't bullshit your way into getting pull requests landed. And no matter your parent's standing in society, if your code stinks, you can't contribute. This makes GitHub a precious tool for recruiters.
Because open-source is good at cutting through the bullshit, it also makes it an equalizer. If you come from an underprivileged background, you should absolutely use GitHub to get ahead. That's exactly what I did. I owe my entire career to open-source.
Back in college, I didn't have a personal computer, and I was always on the
move -- from campus to the office, to home. Which made it tough to code
on projects, or solve homework because every time I got my hands on a computer, I
needed to setup the development environment. So I started dreaming about a world
where I can open a browser tab and start coding, in any language,
anywhere. Which started a multi-year project to build an in-browser repl. The
first thing I did was put a textarea with a button that
able to program on my Nokia phone and work on problems on the go. But I wanted
this experience to be better and to work for more languages.
Long story short, years after I had the idea for an online repl was I able, with help from friends, to build the first polyglot in-browser repl along with a web terminal implementation. I tried to start a company around this idea, but nobody would fund me. Luckily, everything was open-source on GitHub and soon after we released the project I saw that not only one, or two, but more than a dozen companies in Silicon Valley started using our software.
Although I had applied so many times to work at Google, Facebook, and many others, I never got a response back, let alone an interview. Open-source became my ticket there. I joined Codecademy as the #1 employee and helped 10s of millions of people to learn how to code.
Afterward, I joined Facebook to try and work at the team behind React.js. But I was stuck working on the photos product (which I couldn't care less for) because the React team was one of the hottest teams at the company. So I started contributing to their open-source projects. I know it sounds crazy and roundabout, but I was able to prove myself more via my GitHub contributions than my day job. I think that played a big part in letting me in the team where I worked on React Native.
Today, I'm trying to pay it forward. At my new company, Repl.it, we believe that programming is a great equalizer. We've seen our product used by refugees to learn how to code. By people to upgrade their careers and land tech jobs and to teach low-income high-achieving children how to code. Or by homeless people who only have access to computers at the public library. At this point, we've heard enough "rags to riches" stories in programming that it becomes difficult to dismiss this as simply "survivorship bias".
To conclude: if you come from an underprivileged background then the unfortunate reality of the situation is that you're going to have to work harder than everyone else. And you're going to want to use any tool at your disposal, like Github, to signal that you're you going to be great at your job so you can land great jobs.
If you need advice, I'd be happy to help, my DM are open on twitter.
: It's still a safe assumption to start with, even if it's not entirely accurate. Even if you believe that bigotry (or unconscious bias) plays a big part in excluding people, I think that from a first-person point of view, you can't control that. For example, it's hard for me as an individual Muslim to change the fact that some people hate Muslims, so it's better for me to focus my energy on things that I can control. This, however, doesn't mean that as a society we shouldn't discuss issues of discrimination.