Online Portfolios

This blog was written by Eilidh Macdonald, Industry Employability Champion, Department of Computing, Goldsmiths and is intended to encourage students, no matter what stage of their studies, to work on creating an online portfolio.

COVID-19 is already having a huge impact on the graduate recruitment market. One way students can help strengthen their career prospects is to build a really compelling online portfolio of their work. To help students we spoke to alumni, staff and employers to gather some top tips on creating a portfolio to help our Computing students stand out.

An online portfolio is essential for students

“These days an online portfolio is expected by many employers, if you haven’t got one then it could ring alarm bells, perhaps you’re not cutting edge” (Glassdoor)

“An online portfolio is essential for coders and artists. Showreel for animators and VFX artists” (Andy Driver, Aardvark Swift)

“We won’t even read an application if there is no portfolio included”, James Walker, Goodboy Digital

“The ability to view examples of work puts a candidate to the top of the pile”, Jessica Luck, Gradcracker

Some key points to remember:

  • Many employers now won’t even look at your application if you don’t have an online portfolio
  • Don’t make your portfolio hard to navigate – people will give up!
  • Show your passion
  • Your portfolio needs to reflect the kind of work you are looking for – in terms of skills demonstrated and passions
  • Provide some context about how you produced this work – how you developed and iterated the work

There is a range of advice below. All of these people work in slightly different fields, so there are some differences according to industry, but also lots of common ground to consider.

James Walker, Managing Director, Goodboy Digital

Goodboy Digital are a team of creatives who blend code, design and interaction to make meaningful experiences. Clients include the BBC, Lego and Sega.

“For us we specialise in visual development so a portfolio for developers is definitely just as key as it is for designers, not only does it show their skills and capabilities, it also communicates passion, proactiveness and autonomy in the areas we most care about too.

We won’t even read an application if there is no portfolio included, so for a smaller independent company such as ourselves it really is essential.

Other things that excite us are:

  • Prototypes and Experiments in emerging technologies – This can indicate additional value to us if they have explored areas we may not yet have got to ourselves
  • Collaborative projects mixing disciplines – this shows they are capable at working in teams of other people with differing skill sets and have the drive to get things off the ground as a collective. We are visually focused so look for creative coders who can share an open dialogue with designers too
  • Contributions to OSS – this is a big yes for us as it shows coding is their passion, not just a job. We look for people that live and breathe the same things we do and fortunately it’s very easy to read this from a person’s portfolio
  • Finished things – The hardest part of development. Any developer can do the first 50% as it’s the fun bit! Very few have the grit to drive something through to 100% commercially shippable standards as it’s really, really hard – evidence of this is impressive. On the flipside portfolios full of half-finished ventures is a warning!
  • Games – developing a game is hard and requires a broad range of knowledge and skills to accomplish. For us these show off creative code capabilities more than anything else
  • Working with tech most relevant to the companies you apply for – for us we are all about javascript and web technology, so portfolios showing work in this area have a huge advantage to us compared to say a pure Unity portfolio. The tech will differ per company of course, but you’d have a big advantage if you can match up at portfolio stage”

Sumit Paul-Choudhury, writer, technologist, entrepreneur & Visiting Research Fellow at Goldsmiths

Between 2011 & 2017 Sumit edited the New Scientist, the world’s most popular science weekly. At Goldsmiths he is exploring the commercial, scientific and recreational applications of creative computing. He is approaching online portfolios from the point of view of someone commissioning art for commercial purposes.

“Two points that might be worth making – the first being that New Scientist might not sound like an obvious market, but we actually commissioned a great deal of art and photography – and because the subject matter often defies literal depiction (you can’t draw dark matter, or consciousness) but also needs to be precise, it made for challenging briefs.

The other thing is that is that I would not want anyone to think I’m unaware that people have lots of different reasons for creating online portfolios, and lots of different impacts they might want to make. If you’re trying to get hired to make whizzy websites, then of course you might want a clever navigational system or something.

Re. portfolios, there are a few initial thoughts from the point of view of someone commissioning art for very straightforwardly commercial purposes

  • People in my (former) industry are often working at speed. Don’t make your portfolio hard to navigate: I am more likely to move on than to spend more than 10 seconds figuring out how to browse your portfolio. If it breaks in my browser, it’s a non-starter
  • Present yourself, not just the work. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean your biography, but the kinds of things you like to work on, a suggestion of your approach. etc. (Be honest. Some people want lots of collaboration and discussion, some want to fire off a request and forget about it until it’s due. Don’t assume one or the other.) That’s often useful because –
  • Presenting yourself as able to do everything has its virtues – for example, where you’re applying for the only creative role at a small firm. But if you’re going to be pitching for individual gigs, it can help to point out what you’re really good at or engaged with, in terms of subject matter or execution. Consider theming your portfolio in a way that makes sense to a commissioner, not according to your own conception of your work (“here is editorial photography I have done”, not “this is my series JUXTAPOSE i-iv”)
  • Try to provide a bit of information about the circumstances of projects you’ve done, not just the beautiful final work. Consider showing how you developed and iterated a work – your first commissions are an act of faith on the part of the commissioner, so try to give them confidence that you will deliver something appropriate on time and can work with feedback”

Nathaniel Okenwa, graduate of BSc Business Computing last year, now Tech Evangelist at Twilio.

“Having content online is a great way to stand out when you are looking for a job in these times. It’s always good news for an employer if they google your name and see that you have great content and a following online. So, get out there.”

Jessica Luck, Gradcracker

Gradcracker is a careers website for STEM students

“The ability to view examples of work puts a candidate to the top of the pile. Having work of any ability publicly viewable on ‘GitHub’ or ‘BitBucket’ shows the interviewer they know how to use Git and they are applying what they have learnt. Uploading any coursework or hobby projects also gives the interviewer something to talk about with the candidate and backs up what they have said in their CV.

Our employers will mention the coding languages they look out for in an application so if they show off any knowledge of that, it always goes a long way.”