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While I've done coding in the past as a hobby, I don't do it anymore and my current employer uses a private local GitLab repository, so my GitHub wall is all white squares and the code that is in there doesn't reflect my current skill set.

Recently during an technical interview I was prompted to show some of my GitHub repositories at which I went straight and told them I don't code as a hobby, but I'm an active member in the Spanish Stack Overflow community (Stack Overflow en español) which made my interviewer look and act dubious.

I ended up having an offer that I had to refuse due to personal reasons, but since then I've been wondering if just saying "I don't code as a hobby" is a "red flag" and I'm expected to have a personal side project by potential employers.

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    As a general rule, saying "I don't do X" appears quite negative to a potential employer, so should be avoided. Try to find a more positive way of expressing this, e.g. "I'm really busy with Y and Z at the moment, so don't have any spare time for X".
    – jayben
    Apr 22 at 12:06
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    @gnat partially but my question is more focused on what or how to answer when asked rather than why is it expected
    – Killbunny
    Apr 22 at 12:46
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    @JoshPart as you said, to me everything that is office/work related is not a hobby. If making a contribution to an open source project is a need of your work, then is not a hobby. If you need or want to make a tool to help you to make your job easier and is is not under your NDA it's not a hobby. I myself have made the later and put it on my github, that's why it isn't completly empty.
    – Killbunny
    Apr 22 at 22:11
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    "I've been wondering if just saying "I don't code as a hobby" is a "red flag"" → Maybe the red flag was not the GitHub thing, but the SO.es thing. You admitted to a potential employer that you like to spend time in an online forum -- one they cannot block (because no company in their right mind would block developers' access to SO). Maybe the employer didn't like the possibility of you wasting company time on said forum.
    – walen
    Apr 25 at 9:19

11 Answers 11

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Like yourself I don't code in my spare time any more - I spend 45-50 hours a week doing it for work, when I have free time I've got other things to be doing!

Personally if I were hiring I wouldn't consider it to be a negative in a potential candidate, but then I suppose I wouldn't even ask about it in the first place!

If you're concerned that an interview who does ask might see it as a negative that you don't do it then one way to flip the narrative on that is to provide a reason that plays on why (some) employers actually consider a hobby portfolio to be a bad thing. e.g.:

I prefer to give my productive focus and energy to my day job

or:

I find that keeping a variety of interests in life outside work helps keep me fresh and energised inside it

That sort of thing. If they come back at you with questions about how you stay abreast of new skills and technologies you can reply that you've never had any issue adapting or picking up new skills at work or similar.

If you have any outside interests that have transferrable attributes to work you can then bring them up but don't feel like you have to have such things. Your free time is just that yours.

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    I like this answer a lot, definetly flipping the narrative would have been a better answer than bluntly saying no.
    – Killbunny
    Apr 22 at 15:44
  • In addition to a better work live balance (both arguments kinda go that way) one can also argue that "looking into other fields helps me get a more rounded picture", to highlight soft skills and defy the cave dweller coder cliché. Especially if there is a hobby or interest that ties back to work.-> Applying for a team lead position for the first time, well the experience from managing the sports team in water polo helps with that. I.e. redirect to a different hobby based strength. (just as an addition, feel free to incorporate or not, it's just an additional variant to the answer) Apr 24 at 6:36
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I'm always interested to see if people have code on their GitHub/BitBucket/etc, or other contributions to open source projects. But I certainly don't hold it against them if they don't.

Many people who spend all their working days doing IT or writing code don't really do much of it in their spare time (especially as they get further into their careers), and that's fine.

Many people who do write code outside of office hours are still doing it for their companies, or are writing stuff that's related to their work. There are also all kinds of IP related issues that you can get into around personal coding projects (depending on the terms of your contract).

So an answer like:

I'm afraid that most of the code I've written can't be publicly shared, but I've recently been working with $technology...

Is perfectly acceptable.

This question is largely about seeing if you're still learning new things and new technologies (rather than just knowing the bare minimum tech stack that your current role requires). So the key thing is to bring your answer back around to something positive, rather than just giving a blunt "no".

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    1. Often companies claim copyright on all code you write, even outside working hours. You could claim you don't post code for this reason. 2. I tinker with code as a hobby, but rarely take it to a level where it is useful to a wider world. If I were to upload code to GitHub, I'd feel a responsibility to keep it up-to-date, respond to tickets, attempt cross-platform compatibility etc. You could say it is this you don't have time for - this is how it is for me, for example. Abandoned code is about as bad as no code.
    – Bennet
    Apr 22 at 20:26
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    This is very true, they own all your creative works that did not exist prior. Your dreams, in fact. You sign it away.
    – mckenzm
    Apr 22 at 23:15
  • @mckenzm Contracts that require you to sign over IP rights on anything you do during the term of your employment in a field that they do business in are not uncommon in my experience. So yes, things you did before that job would not qualify but things you worked on during the term of your employment (even outside business hours) might be applicable even if the core predated employment. BS toxic contracts exist and just because they might be illegal or otherwise regulated in one jurisdiction doesn't mean they are not perfectly legal somewhere else. Apr 25 at 16:23
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I don't code as a hobby. What to answer when asked about my github?

Just answer honestly as you did in your interview. You never want to misrepresent yourself to a potential employer as it could cause issues later if you are hired.

but since then I've been wondering if just saying "I don't code as a hobby" is a "red flag" and I'm expected to have a personal side project by potential employers.

To some employers, who don't value their employees free time, this may be a red flag. I would not worry about this at all. Every individual has their own expectations of work/life balance. If you don't have the time or interest to code as a hobby then don't do it and don't worry about it.

What you do in your spare time is no indication of your work ethic, knowledge, and experience and any company that does not understand this is not a company worth working for.

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    Yeah, no need to sugarcoat. The red flag goes both ways.
    – jcm
    Apr 23 at 23:46
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I don't have any code repositories in GitHub.

All my code has been Proprietary Information and I can't share it with other people outside of the company (except for NDAs).

I can describe the projects that I have worked on, but I can't show the code. I can do their puzzles too.

In summary, not having a GitHub account is not the end of the world. You don't need to show your code either.

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    How does that answer the question? Apr 24 at 17:33
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    @PeterMortensen repeating the first three paragraphs verbatim would be a perfect example of "what to answer when asked about my Github?". Apr 24 at 17:56
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    @Mayou36 not everyone contributes to OS projects. Not sure what other answer you're expecting, and this answer explains it perfectly. Note that "proprietary" does not necessary mean "paid-for" or "professional". My personal codebase is proprietary and non-public, in part because I don't wish my employer to accuse me of taking code from them (of course it will look similar, the same person wrote it!) and publishing it publicly without their permission. "All my code has been proprietary information" is a simple statement of fact. So this answer is... an answer. Apr 25 at 12:59
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    Similarly, I do have code repos in GitHub and other online locations, but they are almost all private. I have a side hustle that sometimes requires me to code, and since I want to try to make money off this code, I don't make it public, so it's proprietary. I explain this to potential employers and most don't have a problem. If they do, we part ways, no big deal. Apr 25 at 17:33
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    @BittermanAndy that's a good addition! My point was that if you say all is proprietary information (without denying that you code in your freetime, i.e. implying that you write code in your freetime yet keep it proprietary) may raises some eyebrows and could need additional information. As an interviewer, I would definitely ask a follow up question for clarification on it.
    – Mayou36
    Apr 26 at 8:44
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Firstly - I agree with the accepted answer, always try to find a positive way to express the message. I would like to add that the only red flag should be against them for expecting you to do your job for free.

For example, imagine for a moment that you were a bus driver, a job that is as mentally strenuous as dev. When going for a job at a new bus company, how would you react if the interviewer asked you, "Can you tell me about all the times when you drive buses voluntarily?" Who pushes buses around all day as a job, then spends their days off driving buses for fun‽ Clearly, asking this of a candidate would be considered rude, so it just does not happen*. Why is it "OK" because it is code?

Employers should be interested in your experience, whatever form that takes. It is perfectly acceptable for them to ask you, "Can you tell me a bit about your experience?" At that point, how much you were getting paid should be irrelevant. If one chooses to code for fun, that is fine, but there should not be the expectation that one would want to be code obsessed.

*Side note, I have been a bus & coach driver, as well as a software developer.

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  • One simple answer for "why should software developers code outside of work, but not bus drivers" would be: "software development as a career is constantly changing, bus driving isn't". But that's a topic well-covered in other questions. Apr 24 at 17:59
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    @BittermanAndy My main point is that very few professions expect you to do your job for free, so software development should be no different. Apr 25 at 12:22
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    I did say that if one chooses to do x in ones own time, then that's fine. I am merely suggesting that the expectation that candidates ought to do x in their own time is arguably a toxic one. Apr 25 at 13:43
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    Rocketry and nuclear physics and automotive engine design and any number of other industries change and "keeping up" would benefit someone's career in that field but asking: "What kinds of rockets have you made in your home time and how far did they go?" or "Can you show me your home-made nuclear plant?" or "Can I test drive your hobby built cars?" and other such questions are off topic. I'm not saying developing software in your spare time is bad but expecting that it should be done is not universally appropriate (as James said). Apr 25 at 16:29
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    But that is getting into the wider issue that overtime for free, doing basically your job outside work on different project(s), and other issues like those are part of standard practices/expectations in way too much of the computing and tech industries when other industries would be criticized for doing the same. Apr 25 at 18:32
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I can't speak for every interviewer, but I ask about candidates' GitHub accounts not to judge them on whether or not they code outside of work, but because a lot of people express frustration that live coding exercises aren't representative of their actual skills.

If you don't have any code you can show me, that's fine. There will just be more weight placed on your interviewing skill, which is a good thing for some people and a bad thing for others.

As far as what to answer, I think the most important thing is not to act evasive or defensive. If you think it doesn't affect your ability to do the job, act like it. Maybe get in front of potential concerns by mentioning other ways you keep your skills up to date:

I don't have a personal GitHub account, but I watch conference talks to stay up to date, and my current employer pays for the occasional Udemy course.

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    I'm not in a hiring position, but I know we ask about github access and similar as an alternative to completing code challenges.
    – Odalrick
    Apr 26 at 13:42
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If you don't want to code in your spare time, reframing it the way suggested in the accepted answer is fine.

But I feel that by saying "code as a hobby" is missing the point of that question (or at least the reason I ask it), and everybody is tacitly accepting or even actively reinforcing that framing with phrasings like "your outside/leisure time is your own".

When I am interviewing a candidate for a software engineering position I am looking for someone who can solve problems with technology.

And the easiest/best problems to solve are frequently ones that we personally experience.

I have all sorts of problems in my life that can be solved by writing code. Not work problems, my problems. Work does not care that I want my iTunes music playlists from my MacBook to work on my Android phone. Task automation scripts. Development machine provisioning. Data format conversions. Dotfiles.

I don't put stuff on GitHub for fun, or to impress potential employers. I write it because I need it, personally and I put it on GitHub because it's convenient.

Now, GitHub is not the only form of proof I'll accept that you know how to solve real problems with code, but holy @#%$ is it a better option than a leet code challenge on HackerRank, which is itself a better option than an artificial interview-y question like "tell me about a time when your boss came to you with a problem and you had to deliver a solution".

But you'd better have some way to sell me in the interview that you know how to solve problems with code.

So I challenge you and the other readers of this answer, if you are privileged enough to not have to spend all of your waking hours meeting obligations, to spend some time thinking about something you'd like to be better/less inconvenient in your life, and how you might write some code to make that happen.

And then, if you want, put it somewhere like GitHub.

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  • I agree, it’s not only about hobby. I frequently use GitHub for work related research, I connect with the communities this way. Some employers look for that. But it does not hurt to admit that you are not this person. For that reason I would not invent a justification like „I give my full time to my employer“, that sounds awfully cheese. What you can do is, if you have any open source contribution like patches or mailing list you can name them „I contributed to..“. If you did not, then.. well.. you did not. Most of the developers don’t.
    – eckes
    Apr 24 at 19:45
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    @eckes exactly, most of my coworkers, even some of the best ones, are not active on Github or SO or hacker news or any of those places. Apr 24 at 20:20
  • Interesting. My approach when things don't work in iTunes the way I want is to send a bug report to Apple.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 25 at 13:10
  • @gnasher729 I don't see Apple devoting much in the way of resources to make their product export conveniently for a non-Apple music player on a non-Apple mobile platform (especially with the big push for cloud, I'm a bit of an anachronism liking my music to be local files) but I certainly won't complain if you go prove me wrong! Apr 25 at 14:13
  • Most of my important problems outside of work have absolutely nothing to do with code, can't be solved with code. I'm not talking about run of the mill life issues. I work on lots of things outside of work such as: welding, machining, diesel engine repair. If anything that should rank HIGHER since it shows I can learn completely different domains on my own.
    – bearrito
    Apr 25 at 15:08
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I used to code a lot as a hobby before I did it for my day job, I'm on the hiring rota now and while it's really lovely to see someone who loves code so much that they have an interest in it outside work it's certainly not a deal breaker (not to me anyway).

I wouldn't overthink it to be honest, especially as there are so many opportunities out there now.

The answers to the questions you're asked and any technical tests should be enough to get a good idea.

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Different employers will have different expectations, and in fact, different interviewers within that organisation may have different expectations.

Some employers will expect candidates to live and breathe code. Spending every waking moment doing something to do with their profession.

Others will be looking for solid 9-5ers, who will come in, and do a solid days work without too much fuss.

Some may want people with grand ambitions about what they want to do in the industry. Who may outgrow their role and move into a FAANG company at some point. But in the short term, will do amazing work.

Others may hope that they get someone that does good work, and will hang around.

And there are of course many many factors.

There are plenty of successful people that don't have portfolios in some form of another.

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I actually do write code for myself for fun. I don't do free work for others. As a result, none of my hobby code is published. I don't have a "GitHub". I have backups, so nothing will be lost. Well, it's less likely to be lost than on GitHub.

So the answer is "I write code just for fun. None of it goes on GitHub. And since it's written for fun, it is nothing like my professional code. And I wrote code to learn things. That code does nothing useful, it's for learning". If they can't live with that, they can go away.

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As a software developer, it's usually a good sign of a good software developer if they have some sort of community engagement in their area of expertise.

It's not necessary to have github repositories per se, but you will find that many of the best software developers indeed do so.

If you don't have github repo's of your own - instead refer to some other forms of community engagement that you do with the broader software developer community.

Do you do meetups? Have you spoken at conferences? Have you run a "coding camp" at the school for the kids?

Refer to anything you can that shows community engagement.

I think that you referred to stackoverflow en espangol was a great answer. Did you go on to talk about it, and show your passion? I think any interviewer hearing you talk passionately about your community contribution should be happy to hear that, and lack of a github repo is not so important.

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    Do you have any evidence in support of the idea that "many of the best software developers" have community engagement like you describe? Anecdotally, I've worked with one extremely good developer who spoke at conferences, and dozens of extremely good developers who never did anything like that; the best two developers I've ever worked with (who I consider world-class) certainly didn't. I'm curious whether you know of any research along these lines. Apr 25 at 11:23
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    I have community engagements. I do a lot of work in the village where I live. It's fun, and it helps people. That's my community. Strangers writing code are not. And "Coding camps at the school for the kids"? Heaven save me from having anything to do with British school children.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 25 at 13:04
  • @gnasher729 okay, fine. I'm getting a "its just my job" rather than "its my passion" vibe here - I understand why an interviewer wouldn't react positively. Apr 25 at 13:21
  • No, vikingsteve. I have passion for my job, every day, and I get paid for it well, which my wife loves. Outside my job, there is another life, which i am also happy with. And my last interview took 30 minutes :-) Knowing exactly how their patented technology works probably helped. (And it’s bloody clever).
    – gnasher729
    Apr 25 at 22:26

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