Of all the tools a software engineer can use in pursuit of new job opportunities, few are quite as compelling as their own portfolio website.
What is a software engineer portfolio? A software engineer portfolio is a website built to demonstrate your skills as a capable engineer. It should include both projects you've worked on and a summary of work demonstrating your leadership and your career journey. In broader terms, however, it should showcase and a unique story to drive interest and opportunities your way.
So, how should you go about creating your own portfolio? There are of course important items to include and the cluttering details to avoid, and key decisions such as where a portfolio should be hosted or who it should target. We’ve got answers to all your basic questions, as well as some boosts you might not have considered.
Why You Need a Portfolio
The demand for software engineers is high — for all levels of work experience. However, great positions at sought-after companies are fewer and farther between. Each year, more and more graduates and career-switchers are moving into tech fields, creating an ever-growing density of software engineers, web designers, programmers, and back-end and front-end developers.
In short, to get the right job, you need to get noticed. Portfolios are now the standard for UI designers and UX designers and they are becoming must-haves for all kinds of web developers. Software engineers new and old will find their online portfolio an essential tool worth building and maintaining throughout their careers.
Set Yourself Apart
Whether you are fresh from bootcamp or a tenured engineer, it can be a challenge to craft just the right portfolio website to set you apart. After all, very few people have immediate attention-getters, like years of experience at a MAMAA (Meta, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon and Apple) giant.
Using a portfolio to brand and market yourself and your skills will turn the right heads your way.
Put All Your Information in One Place
You likely have bits and pieces of your work history scattered around the internet. Perhaps you’ve just included links to multiple sites, such as GitHub and Dribble, on previous resumes and job applications. Recruiters may focus on keywords in a resume or a LinkedIn profile, but are unlikely to navigate your GitHub the way a hiring manager will.
Links to various sites or projects creates a scavenger hunt for either person. When you present a well-built portfolio as a concise, single-source of information, you give potential clients the full-picture of your unique story.
Tell Your Story Your Way
A personal portfolio works as a multi-pronged tool. It should showcase your professional experience and development skills, but also reveal information at your own pace in the order you want.
Instead of following someone else’s template, use this as an opportunity to put your strong suits up front. Perhaps your background or journey to the software engineering field is unique. Perhaps you have great references from your freelance work. Maybe you even created a software developer portfolio prior to stepping into software engineering.
Integrating your unique history into your portfolio site is the best way to illustrate who you are. This should be the hook for catching the right attention from potential employers.
What to Include in Your Portfolio
What should a software engineer portfolio contain? There are many components worth including in a solid portfolio for any level of software engineer. The top eight choices would be:
An “about me” section
Relevant social media
Education, Certifications and Awards
This is a first peek into who you are, so introduce yourself in a way only you can. Long paragraphs about your first project in middle school or the years you got each certification may not encourage a potential recruiter to keep looking for the good stuff.
Instead, think of around 5 characteristics that are half personal and half what make you a great software engineer and build those into a short intro. Here are 2 examples we pull from portfolio homepage intros:
“It’s me, Kenneth Jimmy, co-founder of Spasora. AKA Glitzyken. Software developer from Lagos, Nigeria with rock-solid experience in building complex applications with modern technologies.” — Kenneth Jimmy
“Lauren Waller. Product Manager. Designer. Web Developer. Creating beautiful and engaging digital experiences in Cape Town, South Africa.” — Lauren Waller
Both sites offer additional personal info further down the page or via a link.
The most inspired and designed portfolio page without easy and usable contact information is ultimately worthless. Keep the user intent and user experience in mind. Whether it’s a potential network contact or a hiring manager considering you for their team, make it very easy to contact you.
Relevant Social Media
When including social media links, resist the urge to include every form of social media for which you may have an account. Avoid linking to accounts you don't actively use. Instead only provide gateways to your professional networks, personal projects and work experience. To name a few, platforms like GitHub, Dribble, or LinkedIn will serve.
A key inclusion in your online portfolio are your top skills, both hard and soft, listed simply and clearly. This could be a simple bulleted list or a paragraph with links to relevant projects you want to feature.
Remember to craft a list with the types of skills you either are most confident in or most want to use, with phrasing like:
Agile cloud-native developer
Front-end CSS and HTML artist
Inspired React builder
Proven team-centered leader
Successful at long-term and broad scale architecture implementations
Strong DevOps workflow experience
Showing off past projects and work is the very core of your online portfolio. Now is the time to shine. Links are good, but this section should captivate your reader. Just a few uses of website design to creatively spotlight your past and current projects might include:
Videos or animations
If you are a new bootcamp grad or lack professional software engineering experience, show off your personal projects. Whether that means a single website, freelance work, or your senior final. Examples of any kind, even if it wasn’t for a professional entity, can vividly set you apart from others.
Education, Certifications and Awards
Most hiring managers may not necessarily be concerned with a degree unless you obtained it in a related field, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t mention it! The bigger focus will be whether you have the qualifications to back you up as the best candidate for a project.
Include past certifications and feature any awards or praise you’ve gotten for your work. Verified testimonials or recommendations from a mentor work well for self-taught coders. If it’s relevant and builds your credibility, include it. If it doesn't, don’t.
Link to Your Resume
What’s the difference between a portfolio and a resume? Your resume is an important, albeit perfunctory, document listing your experience and credentials; your portfolio shows your past work visually and gives viewers — specifically potential employers and clients — a broad understanding of your skills and expertise.
Including a linked page to a resume or a downloadable resume pdf on your online portfolio makes it easy for anyone to access both.
For freelancers or remote workers who are looking to drive internet traffic to their online presence, blog posts or routine content uploads of any kind are invaluable. Regardless of how much previous experience you have, your online portfolio is a great place to share perspectives, new ideas and tips and add more weight to your skills.
Only include a blog if you can maintain it with some regularity. Inactive blogs might look negative to some recruiters. On the other hand, a quick note to acknowledge you’re taking a month-long hiatus to catch up on client work can highlight that you’re moving and shaking. Blog at your discretion.
Things You Can Skip
We’ve mentioned a few avoidable choices above, but here are a few more items you can skip when crafting your portfolio site:
Building It Yourself
It’s entirely possible you have the UI/UX skills to build and code a fully animated 3D website — but you probably shouldn’t spend that much time when it comes to your personal site. In fact, the only reason to code and build a site on your own would be if your project count is low and you need to feature your portfolio site as a completed project.
So what is a good software engineering portfolio website to use? You can buy your own domain and use customizable templates like those on Squarespace and Wordpress, both which have options for custom coding and hosting. Open source templates make it easy to craft simple, clean sites with straightforward features.
Links to Irrelevant Social Media
It’s worth stating again that you shouldn’t include links to you personal social media or online professional accounts that you don't actively use. Broken links or old content could be enough to discourage a potential recruiter from reaching out to you.
(It should go without saying that nobody needs to see your Facebook.)
Your Life Story
Remember the importance of keeping the About Me section concise. It can be tempting to share paragraphs of fun anecdotes or detailed personal stories here, but it’s better to save those for the interview — or better yet, the first days on the job!
Divisive Subject Matter
On the subject of over-sharing, it’s best to keep a professional focus on your website. Political or social commentary could backfire and lose you potential work. Unless you want to work for a specific company with a focus on social issues, most recruiters and hiring managers will want to see your work experience on your portfolio — nothing more.
Software Engineering Portfolio Examples
Below are 5 software engineering and developer portfolio examples from influencers in those fields:
2. Tamal Sen
3. Matt Farley
Know Your Goal
A portfolio has many purposes. To keep your portfolio strong, make sure your goal is clear. Is this a software engineering portfolio aimed at capturing the eye of a recruiter? Is this a professional portfolio meant to be used for networking and freelance work? A clear goal will give purpose to what you do and don’t include.
If something can be shown, instead of told, show it. Eliminate excess description or background and keep only what is essential and that serves the goal of your portfolio.
Proofread & Revise
Have several friends look over your portfolio before sending it out to potential hiring managers. If you have a mentor, ask them for their opinion on the content and projects included — they may spot something you missed. Lastly, remember that your portfolio isn’t a one-and-done project, but something you will continue to maintain, revamp and grow over your career.
Looking for Your Next Project?
Is your portfolio ready to show off? Then you are ready for the next step: finding the right client! Make it easy on yourself and join our freelancer network. Our elite community offers software engineers, developers and designers like you the opportunity to work on exciting projects geared to help you grow personally and professionally while doing what you love.