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I feel that I am a creative Web Developer, but when it comes to design and meshing colors I really have no idea where to start. Should I have a very basic "Here's what I can do" website, or fill it with a bunch of useless information about me and some cool functionality?

How can I create a portfolio when my design skills are not the best?

  • Don't you have anything, neatly formatted code samples, custom jQuery plugins ect, you could showcase? IT doesn't have to be screenshots – Rarity Jun 18 '12 at 14:41
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    You might want to come up with a better adjective than "creative", as when I first saw that coupled the way you stated your inability, I thought it was a direct contradiction. When I think "creative web developer", I'm thinking "design", "layout", and "look-and-feel", rather than technically innovative. That is, for me, creative is the opposite of technical. Perhaps "innovative" or "technically innovative" Web Developer. – David Navarre Aug 14 '12 at 16:31
  • How about a blog? Articles outlining tricky challenges you've overcome (along with neatly formatted/commented code) can work both as a portfolio, and as a great public showcase of your professionalism: not only are you a great developer, you also document and share your knowledge. A couple of open-source utilities etc can do a similar job. – Jon Story Dec 8 '14 at 10:29
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Yes, you should create a portfolio site to showcase what you can do and what you've done.

But... why?

Say you want to hire someone. You really want to be sure that the guy really has the skills you want. Would you choose someone who claims he can do what is asked for, or someone who can demonstrate what he can do?

Clearly, someone who can show off his skills have larger merit. And the best way to do so is to showcase it in some kind of a portfolio with a list of accomplishments. At today's date, as a programmer, having a portfolio website is unique. Not a lot of programmers who apply for jobs have one and I've only seen a handful do it. Having one will definitely set you apart from anyone else, which is a good thing.

I wouldn't be surprised that one day portfolios among programmers will be as ubiquitous as for designers. I've seen designers sending in resumes without portfolios... and they really don't get any jobs.

Instead of making your portfolio pretty, focus on what to include in your portfolio. It can be as simple as a list of accomplished projects with associated skills and contact details. For a programmer it doesn't have to be more advanced than that.

Regarding design of your portfolio...

...you shouldn't really worry. You can always google for some simple free blog design and run with it. But if you want some practical design tips here are some:

Content

Figure first out what you want to show and convey it through your site structure. There are really two basic sections you will need: work and about me. Fill them up with relevant content.

If you find yourself thinking that some piece of information is useless then don't include it. It is simple as that.

Only include stuff that will be important for anyone getting a professional view of you. Answer stuff that is important to your prospective employer such as: What have you been doing lately? What benefits are there for hiring you? What are your special skills? What technologies are you proficient with?

Rely on communities

Don't be shy to use third party community sites to keep the data for you. In fact if you're into open source software and repositories it will become an advantage:

You can have your resume on sites such as LinkedIn or Stackoverflow Careers with the added benefit of making yourself visible to headhunters. Even if you're not actively looking for a job there are still some things you can do together with headhunters; such as giving tips about good colleagues who need jobs. It will pay off for you in the long run.

Your code can be showcased through Github, Bitbucket, Google Code etc. Knowing how to use version control is an important skill nowadays and using these sites is evidence that you can. If you're contributing to an open source project you can highlight what you've done in your portfolio site.

The thing about colors

If you don't feel comfortable using colors, just use grayscales instead. Professional web designers usually work with values first and tinker with hues later when they want to establish some kind of theme or a "feeling". Colors (or hues rather) don't really matter that much in a professional context.

The only mistake you can make with your choice of colors is that you use so many hues that they clash together. So if you want to play it safe then business is usually associated with blue hues. So stick with blue.

Long story short (tl;dr) just go with black and white. And blue if you're feeling adventurous, preferably when you're not color blind as well.

Screenshots

If you can, include relevant screenshots. They are an excellent way to give context on your work. Don't outright lie about what you've done. If you've only done work on the backend of things, please state so.

Be honest

NEVER ever outright lie about what you've done. It comes with such a huge risk that will permanently damage your reputation. Don't put stuff in to your portfolio that you never had any impact over, it is only a phone call away from getting yourself busted with disastrous consequences.

At one place I worked as a web dev on a fairly known website and we were called up as reference. A design bureau was using our site as reference for developing it. Unfortunately it was all done in-house without any involvement from anyone else. Dare I say that design bureau got busted?

More?

There is a blogpost by Tyler King that has some pointers on how to build your programmer portfolio. You can also try to google some of your favorite public facing programmers and see how they set their portfolio up.

  • Great detail and insightful tips. – David Navarre Aug 14 '12 at 16:25
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    (Fast forward 5,5 years from when this was posted): most developers have a portfolio at Github or similar. All my colleagues and ex-colleagues have one. Many of them also have a development blog, which is the equivalent to a design portfolio in a way. – Juha Untinen Feb 7 '18 at 5:05
  • "It can be as simple as a list of accomplished projects with associated skills and contact details" - But wouldn't LinkedIn fit better in that specific case? – Clockwork Jul 31 at 14:23
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If you are applying for jobs in which you create something -- be it UI design, UX design, back-end programming, or anything else -- one of the first questions you'll be asked is could you show me what you've done? or something similar. In fact, the presence of an accessible portfolio of work is often one of the first stage qualifications (in other words, if you don't list something on your CV that I can go look at, I'm probably not going to spend more time with your CV, no matter how good you might be).

So, yes, create a portfolio site.

Your portfolio site should include whatever you want to represent your work, along with explanations of the context of its creation and any other explanatory statements you feel are necessary (e.g. technologies used). If you are not a good visual designer, then your explanations (and the jobs you are applying for) should emphasize the elements of design and development that are not visual (e.g. UX design versus graphic design, functional dynamic elements versus the template, and so on).

Your portfolio should reflect your professionalism and the things you can do that might be of benefit to prospective employers; to that end, consider what information you want to provide and whether or not "cool" things are among those core features of your work (I'm as much of a fan of cool as anyone else, as long as it serves a purpose and is contextually appropriate; cool for the sake of cool can be appropriate, but can also be vapid.)

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An employer expecting to see a graphic design portfolio for a web developer candidate obviously does not understand what a web developer does. So don't worry much about a portfolio that shows what a great designer you are. Focus more on showing what you built. This is especially important for intranet-based content that cannot be shared by simply providing web URLs. If you're worried about it not looking great, ask a designer colleague to take a look and give you some advice.

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In terms of web development, showing expertise in a set of technologies is most important, so organize sample code across a few open source sites to emphasize developer specific skills like data visualization, plugin creation, automation, and API integration. For example:

Portfolio of Joel Purra

If you have written about web development, listing tutorials and articles can be a good way to showcase your knowledge as well:

Guides and Articles by Cody Lindley

If you are a speaker or in a leadership position, links to presentations or critical thoughts may suffice in lieu of a portfolio:

Zaach Carter speakers who want a platform repo

References

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