I am applying on multiple new careers, and I came across a question on one of them titled "Work References":

Worked Together At:

Now these are limited for me (unless I use multiple persons from the same employer) so naturally I filled in what I could, and continued on. (Possibly going to hurt in the long run, but it's what I have at my disposal.)

My question is: as a contributor to an open-source project(s), can I use one other contributor / maintainer as a work reference? Is that an appropriate response to this particular hiring question? I am speaking of non-superiors in regards to the context of the hiring question asked. I.e. coworkers, etc.

More context: the project I'm interested in using affects multiple users (at least more than one) and has the possibility of becoming more popular in the future. It also demonstrates knowledge of and experience with vital technologies to the particular field I am applying for, and, as I have been directly responsible for closing multiple issues on the GitHub repository, demonstrates that I have an intimate relationship with the project (and other users).

We also (regularly) communicate through a Stack Exchange chat room which we use for white-boarding, brainstorming and discussion of the task at hand, besides the GitHub issues/commits. However: I have never had face-to-face or direct verbal communication with them. We have also never done pair-programming. We have worked on the same portion of code at the same time and merged each of our work together through the chat room, commits, issues and pull requests.

The problem is, if this is acceptable, how do I fill out the form (considering I am in the United States, and some of the possibilities may be in other countries)?

Name: An Awesome Contributor
Phone: xxx-xxx-xxxx
Worked Together At: Awesome Open Source Project X

I only intend to include one Open-Source Software Contributor in my work-references, until I build a larger list of them. I can get two others very easily via previous employment, but the third would have to come from one of the two same employers. (This would mean that I would have two references from company Y, and one from company Z.)

  • Have you ever talked to or worked directly with your fellow contributors? Or is all communication done through github comments & issues?
    – Erik
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 7:33
  • 11
    Some related advice: never provide references before you've had at least one interview. Normal companies won't care as they typically only do to get administrative stuff out of the way early. Bad companies will call references too early or abuse the information, as will fake companies. When you provide references you should be giving them a heads-up which is annoying to do too early in an application. In a similar vein: scrap "references available on request" from your application materials, that's assumed.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 14:10
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    @Lilienthal The problem with that, is that in this case, the form fields are required for all three work references. Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 16:38
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    @EBrown Knew I forget something: required fields in submission forms are the only place where you still write "available on request" or a bunch of slashes (/). Sadly such form applications are common these days but any company that doesn't realise that references shouldn't be asked that early or who don't approve of the standard practice for candidates to leave those fields empty is not a company I'd want to work for.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 8:57
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    I think you'll find any company that doesn't recognize your contributions to an open source project, isn't going to be a good fit for you anyway.
    – user8365
    Commented Dec 21, 2016 at 12:27

3 Answers 3


You can add these people. In fact, you can add anyone you like as a reference, doesn't even need to be in the same field. I've been a reference for a friend who wanted an IT-job, even though we've only worked together as volunteers on something completely unrelated.

The key points to keep in mind when selecting a reference are:

  • (does this person want to be my reference, obviously)

  • does this person know me well enough to answer questions about how I work

  • can this person give insights into why I'd be a valuable addition to the company

  • does this person know anything about my technical skills and suitability for the tasks I'll be hired for

  • Will this person not be obviously biased (this is why you don't add your partner or parent, even if you've worked with them)

Ideally, you'll pick people who match all of these: previous colleagues or managers from the same sector are the best matches for that reason. (Additionally, some people weigh paid work more highly than non-paid work, so that also factors into why previous colleagues are seen as best)

But sometimes you can't fill the list with those, because you're new to the field, or just starting your career, or whatever. In that case, you can add some people that miss one of the points (your online collaborators miss out on point 2, while with my volunteer friend I missed out on point 4) as long as you make sure that you have at least one reference on each point. (It'll look bad if none of your references have ever worked with you, or none of them know your technical skills.)

Just make sure you disclose this information when you give your references. It looks really bad if they ask this guy "so, what it's like working with him" and they then find out he's never met you. But if they know this is going to be a technical-skills interview, they can ask different questions and still learn a bit more about you.

  • I think this makes the most sense - I can get by having them fall short on point 2 considering the two other references would meet that criteria. I'll just make sure to put this person last on the list, to help alleviate the chances of them being contacted (should they agree to it, that is). Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 8:03
  • You've missed the most important point when selecting a reference: "Does this person like me?" (or at the very least "... actively dislike me?" Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 15:20
  • @MartinBonner Heh... yeah I assumed that would be a given.
    – Erik
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 15:23

Sure you can, it's not worth as much as 'real' work, but it's a lot better than nothing. Try and get some of the skillset required to do your part included, because that is the important bit.

  • 3
    Could you elaborate on why? I feel that an Open-Source project has the possibility to be just as valuable, in the case that the project touches many users, and requires approval / interaction of other users to work appropriately. It's also a very public timeline - potential employers could easily determine how "valuable" my contributions were via the tracking of the project. Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 6:57
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    @Draken I guess the problem that I have with that ideology is in two parts: first, this particular open-source project is very public and very easy to validate the legitimacy of, and uses a great deal many features of specific language(s) that I work regularly with; second, it wouldn't be terribly hard to spoof "legitimate" employment (and recommendations) from a "real" (fake) company: "sorry, but I cannot disclose any information regarding app x, as it is an internal app which is unavailable even for discussion to person not members of this company." Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 7:26
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    It's less value for several reasons, it's harder to prove, and it's volunteer, which means you worked on your own time without supervisory authority over you and a host of other reasons which don't advertise you as a good 'EMPLOYEE' which is what employers are after. Tech skills are not everything, plenty of solid employees have proven tech skills, proven social skills, proven work ethic etc,. It's still another asset you can use though just of lesser worth than an actual solid job history.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 15:50
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    I find it rather sad that some people consider OSS contributions as not "real" work. I own an OSS project that covers a MUCH wider area of knowledge than every single "real-work" app I've ever worked on (which, honestly, are more often than not nothing more than more or less sophisticated CRUD apps). Not to mention, any contributor's specific contributions are all public on GitHub - IMO it's much easier to spoof work on some in-house proprietary app project that nobody will ever see, than on some public OSS project where all your individual commits can be consulted by anyone. Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 17:19
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    @Mat'sMug - I think technical knowledge and even the ability to show some horse-power by doing a certain amount of work, can be demonstrated in an open source project. What you can't do, and unfortunately many jobs require, is also a willingness to show up on time, act appropriately, attend meetings, respond to email, provide documentation even when you think it is worthless, track your time, and put up with your boss's crap. As a work reference, I could vouch for someone being able to do all the aspects of a job and not just the programming.
    – user8365
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 19:32

Yes you can and should list interesting open source projects you have worked on, and if you have contributed significantly, and really worked as part of the team, then feel free to list them as references.

Opensource projects on a resume have more value to me then closed source projects listed. I can look at the code, and complexity of the team and see that you can write code, and that you can handle tasks related to the politics of submitting a commit on a large project.

Often times, I ask for, and am asked for, GitHub profiles. It's a good way to get a glimpse of how you work. I can do a quick code review, see your coding style, and see how well you conform to the groups coding style. There are of course caveats, but it's far better then nothing, or a take home "mini-project", or "skills tests".

As for format list it like you would anything else. For the reference, how you have it in your question is totally fine. Just keep in mind that people still call references, and you don't want your reference to say "Who?" so you better give them a heads up (as you should with all your references).

  • I have listed multiple open-source projects on my Resume, and my GitHub itself. This project is not (yet) one of them, but it will probably make it on there to help solidify my participation with it should I proceed this route. Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 17:37

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