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Stack Overflow's Developer Stories: Will it replace your resume?

Dave Fecak Principal, Fecak Inc.

Stack Overflow recently announced a new feature, the Developer Story, which lets users quickly and painlessly build a slick multimedia highlights page to replace your traditional résumé. But will it really help you land a more rewarding job?

The page can feature social media and GitHub links, a personal statement, technical preferences, links to blogs and videos, personal projects and open source contribution, popular Stack Overflow answers and reputation point totals, a photo, and the typical education and employment details commonly found on your Curriculum Vitae (CV).

This trend toward shiny résumés over the past few years has been impossible to ignore for those responsible for evaluating applicants. Infographic-style résumé samples for industry heavyweights like Marissa Meyer and creative résumé web apps have gone viral in recent months, with an appeal that seems strongest among millennials. Résumé templates used by many developers often include options for icons, graphs, and bar charts meant to help visually express their skill levels across different areas.

For a while, GitHub itself was going to be your résumé. But then it wasn’t. The résumé is rarely at the center of hiring debates in the industry (the interview has that distinction), but that doesn’t stop people from trying to reinvent the wheel, or at least putting a new gold-plated rim on it.


The utility of a résumé

The true purpose of a résumé depends upon which side of the hiring table you sit.

For employers, the résumé serves as the primary source for determining whether or not an applicant has the proper qualifications to warrant an interview. Unfortunately, a well-written résumé is merely a strong indicator of résumé writing ability, not technical chops. Writing code and writing résumés are quite distinct skills, and even seasoned hiring managers and recruiters have difficulty identifying quality candidates.

For job seekers, the résumé serves two purposes. It is the tool used to sell your qualifications in hopes of landing an interview, and once the interview starts the résumé content becomes fodder for technical dialog. Résumé writers must also be keenly aware of the multiple audiences they face, which throughout the hiring process could be an automated scanning system (ATS) that scores keywords, a recruiter or HR professional with limited domain knowledge sifting through résumés, or a software engineer conducting the interview.

Here's the question, given Stack Overflow's move into this area: Based on the résumé’s function for both applicants and hiring, does the interactive multimedia experience provided by Developer Stories really improve the hiring landscape?

Where Developer Story falls short

The primary challenge developers have with both the creation and consumption of their résumés is not formatting or visual presentation, but content curation, encapsulation, and prioritization. Frameworks and templates can be extremely helpful in steering developers in the right direction, as a checklist for what information should be included and where, but the system must be flexible. Developer careers are not one-size-fits-all, and a résumé or a visual career depiction shouldn't be either.

One criticism of the Developer Story design is the use of the responsibilities heading under individual jobs. This entices users to list day-to-day responsibilities, rather than describing unique accomplishments, and that is perhaps the most common mistake developers make when writing traditional résumés. Responsibilities usually aren’t that interesting.

If you choose to list your education on your Developer Story, the system requires dates. This feature facilitates ageism more than any of the other timeline features. Older developers trying to avoid ageism can eliminate their oldest jobs, but it’s unlikely they would choose to eliminate a valuable degree that would disclose age. This setting encourages falsifying graduation dates, which is much different than simply choosing to not share the dates.

Another missing feature is the ability to drag sections around in order to highlight and prioritize them, as LinkedIn does. The Developer Story system uses reverse chronological order, which doesn’t allow for edge cases where the candidate's most recent work is not the most relevant or most impressive. Due to a lack of professional experience, entry and junior level candidates often will list education and personal projects first to quickly catch the attention of readers, but this isn't possible with the current release.

The biggest shortcoming of any framework is that it still requires user-created input. Writing effective résumé content, and creating a compelling Developer Story both require at least some level of writing skill, and some sense as to what qualifies as signal versus noise. With its focus on showing what you’ve made instead of telling readers about it, the Developer Story represents a step in the right direction, particularly for those who are poor writers.

Reaction to the feature has so far been mixed. The initial meta post on Stack Overflow nine months ago announcing Developer Story received an overwhelming negative response (based on votes), but more recent discussions and coverage seems much more positive.

Where Developer Story shines

For hiring managers, the Developer Story is more useful than a traditional résumé when evaluating applicants, assuming that the evaluator is technical. The ability to navigate between a GitHub repo, a Stack Overflow answer, a technical blog post, and a narrated video walkthrough of a project is a feature that traditional résumés aren’t built to do.

The biggest feature of Developer Story may be what is isn’t, and this is hidden in plain sight right in the announcement. “No spam, no BS.” Developer Story’s biggest advantage may be that it’s not LinkedIn.

But from a user’s perspective, Developer Story shares many features with LinkedIn. You can create a similar profile—whether a summary, headshot, and links to code, projects, blogs, or videos—on either platform. The problem with LinkedIn is that it has been monetized for and subsequently infested by agency recruiters. In contrast, Stack Overflow is driven mostly by direct employers.

Beyond recruiter spam, LinkedIn also has had its publicized issues with password security, the amount of email LinkedIn itself sends, and more recently the implications of its acquisition by Microsoft. Being that it’s not intended to be social, Developer Story thankfully isn’t going to notify you when your friend decides to add XML to her skills. It’s built for developers first, with a secondary nod to the companies who hire them. And unlike past career-related Stack Overflow offerings it doesn’t lock out newbies who don’t have high reputation scores.

Is it a game changer? Not yet. But it centralizes the most pertinent information for those evaluating talent without imposing the recruiter spam “cost” of LinkedIn on the job seeker. That might be enough for most.


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