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Joel on Software

Another resume tip

by Joel Spolsky
Friday, January 02, 2009

Are you a software developer applying to a small company?

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.

When a startup CTO sees a resume that says things like:

  • Responsible for $30m line of business
  • Architected new ERP platform
  • Managed team of 25 developers
  • Optimized business processes

they think, “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++ service
  • Contributes to OpenBSD file system in spare time
  • Wrote almost 75% of the Python code running IsIt2009Yet.Com

If you’ve been in a large company for too long, you may feel that you put in your time, with all those years working your way up the hierarchy from the $50,000 coder jobs to the $250,000 Senior Vice President in Charge of Long Meetings With Other Senior Vice Presidents, and you’re kind of enjoying the nice parking space and the personal assistant and stuff, and coding? not so much, so now you’ve found a cool startup or small company, and you’re thinking, maybe now’s the time to jump ship? So you send your resume with your ERP stuff and SAP stuff and Vice President stuff to the startup, and it gets tossed.

Those VP jobs just don’t exist at startups, and the few VPs they have are the founders and a key early hire or two. Not you. And startups certainly don’t need extra middle managers. To a startup founder, middle managers just seem like added expense without more code getting written, and the only thing we REALLY need is

  • code to be written, and
  • customers to be called on the telephone.

Now, there’s a lot of resumes I see where, actually, I suspect that the candidate may have been (ahem) slightly overemphasizing the management/leadership/“architect” parts of the job, and slightly underemphasizing the banging out of code. And that’s fine if you’re looking to jump to a management position at a big company that, inexplicably, doesn’t have anyone to promote from within.

But for startups, everything about your resume has to scream getting your own hands dirty. Otherwise your resume makes you look like you’re looking for the kind of job where you can call meetings that take people away from coding all day long, which, to a startup, is about as useful as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

(More resume tips, and, if you’re really looking for a job, don’t forget the job board).

Have you been wondering about Distributed Version Control? It has been a huge productivity boon for us, so I wrote Hg Init, a Mercurial tutorial—check it out!

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