What to Put on a Programmer Resume

Joel Spolsky, founder of Fog Creek Software, says programmers should emphasize coding on their resumes, particularly when looking for application development jobs at startups and small companies.

What should be on a programmer's resume? According to Joel Spolsky, founder of Fog Creek Software and author of the Joel on Software blog, there should be less fluff and more stuff.

I guess I ought to apologize to my friend Jay Zimmerman, whose company puts on the popular "No Fluff Just Stuff" series of conferences and events for programmers, but the kind of information that Spolsky said he likes to see on a resume is exactly the stuff Zimmerman and his team bring to bear: real programming experience.

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Spolsky said as an employer of programmers he sees far too many resumes that attempt to puff up the applicant's management qualifications and experience in other aspects of the business of developing software.

Particularly for developers applying to smaller companies and startups, Spolsky said:

"Here's a tip from someone who has read thousands of resumes. When you're applying to a startup or a software company with less than, say, 100 employees, you may want to highlight the Banging Out Code parts of your experience, while deemphasizing the Middle Management parts of your experience."

In fact, Spolsky gets downright blunt, saying there are really two main things startups need: "Code to be written, and customers to be called on the telephone."

So get to the meat of the matter. Added Spolsky:

"Spare me, that's all we need, somebody running around trying to manage and optimize and architect when we just need someone who isn't afraid to write code. Here's the stuff CTOs at startups want to see on a resume:Single-handedly developed robust 100,000 LOC threadsafe C++ serviceContributes to OpenBSD file system in spare timeWrote almost 75% of the Python code running IsIt2009Yet.Com"

Geir Magnusson Jr., vice president of engineering and co-founder at cloud software startup 10gen, said when he gets a resume he looks for information that will give him a clear idea of who the applicant is and what he or she wants-well, as clear an idea as can be gleaned from one page.

But Magnusson said he agrees with Spolsky. "I know that I pause when someone is all about architecture and process and such, especially if the other aspects Joel mentioned are not emphasized or nonexistent," Magnusson said.

For his part, Spolsky does not offer specific advice on how to write or word a resume. Nor does he try to advocate for or against the use of buzzwords and other resume issues many people argue about. He just gives good old-fashioned advice on putting your best foot forward. And so does Magnusson. Give a clear idea of who you are.

Moreover, not only does Spolsky talk the talk, he has hired many programmers and interns for his software business. The "About the author" section on his blog says: "I'm Joel Spolsky, founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they're delighted."

What's on your resume and what do you hope to have on it by the end of this year? Any new skills you want to add to your programming resume in '09?