Importance of Building a Portfolio

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If you want to learn to code, the most important thing you can do is fill your portfolio with projects. Building a portfolio is the fastest and best way to become a great programmer. In this post we’re going to talk about WHY you should build a portfolio, and HOW to start building a portfolio effectively.

Part 1: Why Build A Portfolio?

Language Choice Doesn’t Matter

One of the most common questions beginners ask is “What language should I learn!?” The answer is it doesn’t matter. If you can build a blackjack game in Python, you can build it in Ruby, PHP, and Java too. You could even build one project in Ruby, one in Python, one in C++, one in JavaScript, etc… As long as you’re filling your portfolio with completed projects, then you’re making progress. The benefit of learning more than one language is you learn the differences between them and become more flexible.

The language DOES matter if you’re looking for a job, or looking to hire. Some languages are more popular than others. PHP powers ~80% of websites on the backend, and JavaScript is used on almost every website in the front end. More popular languages have more jobs, more people to choose from, more documentation, more competition, and lower average pay. With the less popular languages it may be harder to learn, harder to find a job, harder to find employees, but will be higher paying on average.

my recommendation when starting out is to get a strong grasp on a more popular language like PHP and/or JavaScript FIRST, and then experiment with other languages once you’re getting paid.

Guarantees Progress

Your portfolio is a great way to track your progress. As a beginner you build small, simple projects, and as you get better your projects get more complex and more impressive. If you add every project you build to your portfolio you can track your progress like how you would if you were losing weight or building muscle. Building a portfolio is a great way to look back and see how far you’ve come since you started.

Building Stuff is the Only Way to Learn

When I started learning I just tried to follow along with tutorials. If something went wrong I had no idea what to do so I’d find another tutorial and follow along again. I’d eventually run out of tutorials and switch languages. You can’t learn to code by following along with other people. The only way to learn is to build your own stuff. Tutorials can help, but only to help you understand concepts, or pieces of a language that you can’t figure out on your own. You need to apply what you learn in tutorials to your own projects.

Improve Confidence/Get A Job Faster

Having a portfolio to look back on gives you something to show for all the effort you’ve put into learning to code. It shows you all the success you’ve had so far. It also gives employers and clients confidence in your abilities to complete the task assigned to you. Nobody cares about your degree, or how much time you’ve spent learning. All they care about is what you can do for them. What better way to show your potential then by presenting what you’ve already done?

Building a portfolio is a fantastic way to show employers and clients what you can do for them. By building a portfolio you’ll be able to get a job or find clients much faster than you could without a portfolio.

Part 2: How to Build a Portfolio

Start with Simple Projects

A common mistake is starting with your “Big idea” as your first project. Your idea is probably too difficult without understanding the basic building blocks. Instead, start with simple projects like “print numbers 1 through 100 to the screen” and add a little bit of complexity to each project. Start with simple projects, and work your way up.

Learn one thing at a time

Learning one thing at a time makes building apps much easier. When you come across a new technology, learn as much as you can about that technology in isolation. When you start learning HTML, or JavaScript, or MySQL, or MongoDB, or anything else, the more you can separate it from everything else, the easier it will be to learn it. With programming there’s a lot of moving pieces, and you need to understand each piece by itself before you can know how it works with the overall project.

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Add Complexity to Simple Apps

Once you’ve built some simple apps, try adding complexity and features to them to make them more fun and challenging. Here’s an example of a progressively more difficult “Coin Toss” application. First, start with a simple Text based coin toss game. Then add the following:

  • Ask for the player’s name and address them by name
  • Add animation where a coin actually flips when you press the flip button
  • Add a betting feature where user can win or lose money
  • 2 player Coin toss? (do it how you want)
  • add a database with the top 10 highest scores
  • Add more games like BlackJack, Chess, Checkers, etc…
  • Add a Chat feature to allow players to communicate with each other

We’ve just turned an un-impressive coin toss application into a feature-rich program that will impress anyone!

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Programming Exercises

Solving programming challenges or algorithms are great ways to improve your programming abilities. Put these in your portfolio because they help you think analytically and improve your problem solving skills. Check out our Programming Exercises page to get started.

Complete Your Projects

It’s important to complete each project you start. If you don’t complete a project, then you can’t put it in your portfolio. Nobody wants to see a project that doesn’t work. Finish what you start. I recommend having a personal blog/website to show off your portfolio. Hosting all your portfolio projects can get expensive, and you may want to show off to both technical and non-technical people, so you can host the source code of your projects on Github for free, and demonstrate how the apps work in a YouTube video.

Conclusion:

Building a portfolio is the single most important thing you can do to learn programming. Start with SIMPLE projects and just keep getting better. The more you code and the more you build the better you’ll get.

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