This article was originally published on 07/16/2019

A portfolio is supposed to be a body of work that you’re proud of, something that shows off your skills and talents, plus puts you in your best light. The thing that makes a portfolio hard for a person just learning how to code is that they probably don’t have a body of work that they’re proud of yet. Instead, they may have just a few projects from tutorials, maybe a few clones of products that already exist, and a handful of math problems they have coded solutions for.

So, how do you turn this into a portfolio?

The thing to keep in mind as a new developer without professional experience is that your biggest value is most likely not going to be your technical skills. A Twitter clone you’ve built from a YouTube video isn’t going to get an employer excited, but what you do have is the ability to learn things quickly and a deep understanding of the things you do know. You are ready to roll up your sleeves and dive in and take on a technical challenge. You’ve got tons of potential, and your portfolio should be tailored to that. It should be able to answer the question, “Is this someone I want to work with who could become a great developer?” It’s not about displaying your projects, but showing employers the kind of developer you can grow into.

Tackle The Basics First

First, there are the portfolio basics: make sure to list the projects you want employers to know about, and include screenshots as well as a working link to the live project (if applicable). Make sure to list the tech stack you used. Include the title of the project and at least a sentence or two telling employers what this project is and what it does.

Give People Context About Your Work

Next, let’s provide context for each project. Start by writing a few paragraphs explaining how you built it. What were the steps involved? Where did you get stuck? What hurdles did you have to overcome? What did you learn? You should include the basics, like what the project is and what tools you used to build it, but also use the description as an opportunity to share what it was like for you to build it and how much you had to figure out along the way (showing the journey is important).

Now, let’s take this idea a step further, by turning that project description into a full blog post. Show screenshots of the different stages of development. Share snippets of code. Talk in detail about what you did and, more importantly, what you learned and how you learned it. Use the blog post as an opportunity to show off your teaching and communication skills. Being a programmer involves much more than coding — it takes collaboration, communication, and a dedication to learning. These are all things you can showcase in your blog post. Tag all the people and resources you’ve used along the way, showing your collaborative and resourceful nature. Write well and even have a friend review your post before publishing. Show in detail all the things you’ve figured out. Take these blog posts and add links to them on your main portfolio page.

Take it to the next level! Challenge yourself more!

Even with these tips, you might still look at your portfolio and feel dissatisfied. You might feel like there just isn’t enough there, and you might be right. Instead of trying to finesse your portfolio, maybe your time would be better spent doing more challenging projects, things you can write stronger blog posts about, projects that push you as a coder. It might also be time to finally take the plunge and contribute to an open-source project, and put those contributions in your portfolio.

The last big thing you can do to boost your portfolio is to try and get a paid freelance gig. It doesn’t have to be big, it doesn’t have to be for a lot of money, or even be super complex. However, the moment someone gives you money to do a project, you have more than just a pet project — you have proof that your coding skills are valued. That’s a great addition to your portfolio.

It’s tough to put together a portfolio when you’re new and don’t have a deep pocket of projects to pull from. The best thing to keep in mind is that it’s not the projects you’re showcasing — it’s you as a coder. Prove to employers just how good you could be, and you’ll do just fine.