Making mountains out of molehills and rockin' some mo' skills/Butt naked beats with butt naked fills
July 8, 2012 10:04 AM   Subscribe

How do I design a personal website/web portfolio that will dazzle, amaze, or at least intrigue everyone from professional web developers to non-technical senior level types outside the field and convince them that I do indeed, have the skills to pay the bills.

Relevant History: I've got something like 40-60% of a degree in Software Engineering, depending on how you look at it. Haven't held a proper job since 2009 and thus no good references, unless I get friends to lie for me. I dream of going back to school but now, I need some actual (read: well paid) work and my best qualifications can be implied from my history with the formula:

my history → programming V web development V ¬design

So far the few web firms I interviewed with didn't seem to mind my spotty history or lack of references, but were more interested in code samples or actual work I had done, and the only thing I could show them was a rather generic Joomla website I worked on years ago, which wasn't impressive. One of them mentioned personal projects, which is where I got the idea. My other professional contacts outside the field have also expressed interest in seeing a portfolio of sorts and have made mentions on possibly offering me work.

I already own a domain in the form of and to get around the costs of hosting since I don't plan on getting many hits, I've decided to do the entire thing on Google App Engine* using either Python/Django or some combination of Java + framework or some JVM compatible language (I like Clojure because I are dork) and a few static HTML pages, with the all the code on github for bonus points.

Now for the actual question: what the hell do I put on my website? I haven't really done much programming in a while and am just brushing up on my skills with some Project Euler stuff and redoing old Comp Sci assignments in new languages. I guess I could link to a few of those, plus my current resume and contact details, but otherwise I'm stuck for actual content. Also my design skills are somewhat sketchy (hurr!) and beyond putting up my name in a big, well kerned, web friendly typeface on professional white background on the frontpage, I've got nothing. I've thought of a few flashy impressive things like backgrounds that change with the weather, some Easter eggs like a mini tetris game when you press 't' ala utorrent, etc. But I'm not sure on these.

To be honest, I don't care about flashiness as such, but would like to make something that is both visually pleasing and contains concrete examples of my skills. Basically what I want is something that any person in a hiring or business capacity can look at and be satisfied that I either match the skills they're looking for or at least am versatile enough to quickly learn.

Any other input appreciated and so on.

*GAE or Heroku? Any thoughts?
**Is using a ton of HTML5 + CSS3 a good idea? Has the world adapted?
posted by Seiten Taisei to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
an example from a blog I read. Obviously you'll have different kinds of stuff but it shows how she showcases the kinds of work she does.
posted by abitha! at 10:26 AM on July 8, 2012

This all sounds really familiar. I had an unrelated science degree, more time than I knew what to do with, and wanted to build something on the web to demonstrate that I could code and develop for web.

For me, the project was built around visualizing baseball statistics. For you, it can be anything, but it certainly helps to have an interest in what you're building your app around. If you're invested in the content, it makes writing code, generating new ideas to implement, and simply sitting down and putting in the work to make it remarkable much easier.

So figure out what you're really interested in. It could be that you're really in to consumer technology and want to make a site comparing features between the plethora of recently launched tablet devices. Or you could be into cooking and want to filter the ingredients in your fridge against a database of potential recipes to figure out what you're having for dinner. Or Kevin Spacey movies. Or indie video games. As part of a portfolio, what you decide to build doesn't really matter as long as your interest in the topic shows through.

As for the language, choose one that is often seen on job postings and that you enjoy working with. While Clojure might be fun to tinker around with, Ruby and Rails or Python and Django will probably open up more job opportunities. Again, as this is all part of a portfolio, there is no reason to think that you won't be able to work your way back to Clojure once you've created something in a more marketable language.

Heroku is awesome. Git or some form of version control is a good idea. Javascript is way to prevalent to not have a cursory understanding of.

Design skills come with practice and feedback. Obviously don't make it look like geocities right off the bat, but don't think you need to nail the design the first pass through.

Good luck. I'm convinced that my personal project not only got my foot in the door to my current and awesome new job, but helped me learn skills that I actually use and spend time honing in my now much more limited spare time.
posted by clearly at 10:55 AM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Software engineering jobs don't care about fancy HTML/CSS personal pages. And since you are not a designer, there is no reason to do so.

Just show some side/hobby projects you have done. If you don't have any, start now.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:55 AM on July 8, 2012

How do I design a personal website/web portfolio that will dazzle

Simple - Don't dazzle. Meet a need, and meet it solidly, with a clean, responsive UI.

Tech oriented people will have an idea of how you did something, and the implementation won't impress them unless you've done something truly mind-blowing. Suits have seen boring ol' Google turn their otherwise-no-frills logo into a game or instrument or puzzle on a weekly basis, and you probably can't realistically compete with Google for how impressive they can make something otherwise simple. :)

So find a need, and satisfy it.

Personally, I interview (with peers - For HR, just smile and answer the questions plainly) by describing what I've done for past employers as all-but-boring. I can write yet another integration in my sleep; I do, however, spice it up a bit by describing my coding on my own time with passion. I make it clear that I love what I do and do it well, but seriously guys let's not pretend anyone enjoys turning your customer data into reports for people who will complain more about the choice of font than the numbers themselves.

With the "wrong" interviewer, that style amounts to suicide; Most of the time, though, I can get the other side of the table to laugh and trade stories about clueless requests from other departments or upper management.
posted by pla at 11:07 AM on July 8, 2012

My personal web site contains a page about and a link to the source code (which is actually hosted on github) for the web server on which the site runs. The site is its own programming portfolio, in a sense.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:26 PM on July 8, 2012

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