Programmers’ CVs – 20 years behind the times?

Posted in Software Development, The Internet by Dan on October 24th, 2009

Take a programmer’s CV/résumé from the late 1980s and one from today and, aside from the content, what has changed?

Not much. Both will typically be approximately two pages of static, word-processed, black text on white A4 paper (or US Letter in North America). Maybe the text doesn’t always arrive on actual paper these days thanks to the miracles of electronic document transfer, but the format of the typical CV has not really changed since the demise of the typewriter.

NOTE:  Just to be clear, I am considering CVs and résumés to be equivalent. Wikipedia makes a distinction but I’m assuming that’s mainly an American thing. In the UK there is typically no distinction and the Latin term “Curriculum Vitae”, abbreviated to “C.V.”, is almost universally preferred to the French “résumé” (I’ve no idea why there isn’t an English word for this type of document).

Have we really found the optimal way of communicating our skills and experiences, or has the humble CV been neglected by the Internet revolution? The IT recruitment industry seems wedded to the Microsoft .DOC format. This is partly because of the ubiquity of Microsoft Office in the corporate world and partly because agents prefer to receive CVs in a format that they can easily edit (which is why I insist on sending my CV as a PDF).

Dynamic CVs

Where’s the innovation? Shouldn’t a CV be something more dynamic? And why are we still e-mailing attachments every time we want somebody to see our CVs?  Attached files very quickly become outdated. I often have recruiters that I’ve spoken to in the past phoning me to ask for an updated CV. If my CV was a URL, people would always be able to see the latest version (assuming I let them have access). We do have LinkedIn profiles, which are fine in the context of your LinkedIn network but don’t really work as a general purpose CV.

Fortunately, there are some people trying to drag the programmer’s CV into the 21st century. Ben Northrop’s provides a free online home for your programming CV. The documents are nicely presented and the timeline view is a neat way to display your own personal history. VisualCV goes even further and embraces multimedia content, though the site is not IT-specific. Maybe it’s not a good idea to have a video as part of your CV but it’s nice to have the choice.

If you are planning to break a few conventions with your CV, either on the web or in a static file, it would be useful to measure the impact of any changes that you make, so you might be interested in, which I saw announced today on Reddit. You use it to make documents trackable in pretty much the same way spammers embed 1-pixel images in e-mails in order to see which messages get read.

StackOverflow Careers

Another attempt to bring programmer CVs into the Web 2.0 age is the recently announced StackOverflow Careers.  The main Stackoverflow site has been a phenomenal success. Co-founder Joel Spolsky has had previous success with the Joel on Software jobs board and we are reminded that he wrote a book on recruiting programmers, so this kind of job-related monetisation was the obvious next step.

Voting peculiarities and reputation anomalies aside, StackOverflow is a meritocracy of sorts and it is this that Joel and business partner Jeff Atwood are attempting to exploit. A CV posted on StackOverflow Careers will be accompanied by a reputation score and a history of contributions to the programming community. The careers feature is currently in beta and is not particularly sophisticated at present but I expect it to expand over time.

I like the idea of expanding the scope of a CV to include other online evidence of programming competence. In this case it’s StackOverflow reputation but it could be Ohloh data or information from Google Code/SourceForge. However, at $99 to list your CV for a year, the current pricing is ridiculous. Most recruitment sites charge employers but let candidates use the service for free.  Joel and Jeff are taking a fee from both sides. The justification for charging candidates is that it will ensure that the only CVs listed on the service will be from people who are actively looking for work, increasing the value of the service to potential employers. It should also mean that your CV page is kept free from advertising.

I suspect that Joel and Jeff are aware that $99 is too much but it’s easier to start out too expensive and reduce the price than it is to do the opposite. The $99 figure also serves to make the introductory offer of $29 for 3 years look more reasonable in comparison. The problem with the introductory offer is that it only runs until 9th November. The site is still in beta and the functionality for employers to sign-up has not been launched yet. So, if you sign-up now to get the reduced rate, you’ll be paying $29 to list your CV on a site that is not used by any employers. It’s an unproven platform with a boot-strapping problem. Most programmers won’t want to pay money for a speculative premium service and employers are likely to be reluctant to sign-up to search a database with so few potential hires.