A Guide to Vetting Tech Talent Through GitHub and Stack Overflow

Technical recruiters have a difficult job – especially if they don't have those technical skills themselves. Sorting through a pile of resumes or a long list of LinkedIn profiles to find the right developer can feel like an impossible task. It's not just the jargon, but also the fact that resumes and LinkedIn profiles rarely properly showcase developers' true skill sets.

Fortunately, technical recruiters can often turn to sites such as Stack Overflow and GitHub to get a better picture of candidates' skill sets in the tech industry.

"Although developers don't use their public GitHub or Stack Overflow profiles for the express purpose of finding jobs, both profiles allow developers to highlight their technical abilities without having to complete any unnecessary fields like an executive summary or a job-by-job outline of what they've done," says Rich Moy, developer hiring expert at Stack Overflow.

It's All Greek to Me: Parsing Candidate's Profiles on GitHub and Stack Overflow

Because these sites were not designed to connect recruiters and developers, recruiters may not be quite sure how to read and assess a candidate's GitHub or Stack Overflow profile. Here's a quick primer:

The first thing a recruiter will probably see on these profiles is a lot of code and technical jargon. That's not what the recruiter should focus on, according to Moy. Instead, Moy recommends technical recruiters look to the following four areas of a profile to find the information they need on candidates:

Top Tags/Badges (Stack Overflow): "If these technology tags and their corresponding programming languages match your tech stack, this is a good indication that this person can hit the ground running from day one," Moy says.

Reputation Points (Stack Overflow): "When a developer's question or answer on Stack Overflow is upvoted by other community members, he or she receives reputation points. A high number of reputation points indicates that a programmer's peers have validated and trust their knowledge," Moy says.

Forks and Pull Requests (GitHub): "This indicates a developer's passion for contributing to the developer community – and if your team is collaborative, this is good to know right off the bat. Still, take this with a grain of salt and compare the number of forks and pull requests to that developer's overall activity on the site," Moy says. "Occasionally, you'll find that a programmer has forked – or copied – a lot of other repositories to inflate their profile. This makes it important for recruiters to look at activity, and not just the total number of repositories on a developer's profile."

Additional Links: "Developers tend to include links to their personal websites or blogs [on their profiles]," Moy says. "Reviewing these is an easy way to find out what they're working on and care about."

That said, a developer's code can't be ignored entirely. Rather than trying to interpret it themselves, however, recruiters should partner with their engineering managers to get the job done.

"It's not the tech recruiter's job to evaluate code by his- or herself, and most hiring managers are empathetic to that," Moy says. "If you're unsure about a candidate during the resume-review stage, recruiters shouldn't be afraid to ask [hiring managers or engineers] for additional feedback. Over time, you'll start noticing trends about how they evaluate programmers and what they're looking for. At the same time, it's important to maintain that level of rapport with your engineering managers and ask for clarity whenever you're unsure about something that you see on a candidate's resume."

One other important thing to note is the existence of Stack Overflow's "developer story" feature. This feature allows users to opt in to hear from employers and recruiters using Stack Overflow to recruit programmers. The stories themselves give recruiters insight into things that matter to the programmer, like particular projects, blog posts, and previous jobs.

Behind Closed Doors

Coding is a passion for many developers. Thirty-seven percent of developers consider open-source contributions to be an important part of their continuing education, while 81 percent contribute to open-source projects or code as a hobby, according to the "2017 Developer Hiring Landscape" report from Stack Overflow.

That said, many developers aren't actively involved in public, open-source communities. It would be a shame to miss out on these candidates simply because they aren't as active on Stack Overflow or GitHub.

"Some developers work for government contracts or large, secretive enterprises, and legally cannot share information publicly online," says Moy. "Others simply are just not as active as their peers. That doesn't always indicate a lack of passion or talent."

In these cases, Moy recommends looking to see if a candidate maintains a personal website where they post code or write about their work or industry.

"Public GitHub and Stack Overflow profiles are a good way to quickly identify promising candidates, but shouldn't be used as a negative filter to rule out candidates," Moy says.

In other words: Just because a candidate isn't on these websites, or their profile is less than thrilling, that doesn't mean they won't be a perfect hire.