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The Green Dot Illusion


What Your Github Profile Says (and Doesn't Say) About You

If you've ever looked at a Github profile (including your own), you've probably noticed the little green dots on the activity chart. Each dot represents a day with some Github activity, like commits, pull requests, or code reviews. At first glance, it's tempting to think that a sea of green dots indicates an active, experienced developer. But is that really the case?

I joined Github back in 2016, and for a few years, I churned out my share of green dots. But there are other times, entire year in fact, when I was working full-time on projects that were hosted on BitBucket and GitLab, not Github; or that were on Github but in private repos because the code was for a real client who really didn't want the world seeing their code. So, during that time, my Github activity chart became a desert, where not a single green dot ever sprouted... even though I was still a busy bee, constantly making PRs, doing code reviews, creating new branches, and merging them. So, what does that say about the green dot's reliability?

In the larger context, let's look at what your Github profile actually tells the world about your experience as a dev and, more importantly, what it doesn't say.

If a Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, What Are a Thousand Green Dots Worth?

Let's take a step back and talk about why people even care about these little green dots. It's because they represent something intangible: your commitment to a craft, your dedication to improving your skills, and your willingness to contribute to the open-source community. But there are other ways to demonstrate these qualities, right?

Well, as it turns out, a Github activity chart with a lot of green dots can be an indicator of an active developer, but it's far from a guarantee. There are numerous factors that can contribute to a less-than-impressive activity chart, like:

  1. Working on private repositories
  2. Using other platforms (BitBucket, GitLab)
  3. Taking a break from coding (e.g., parental leave, vacation, changing careers)
  4. Focusing on non-coding aspects of a project (e.g., design, project management)
  5. Simply having a life outside of coding

The key takeaway here is that there's more to a developer than what the world can see on Github.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of Repos

Your Github profile showcases your repositories, which are a visible part of your coding portfolio. A well-maintained repository can tell a lot about you as a developer, such as your coding style, your ability to collaborate with others, and your commitment to writing clean, efficient code.

Here are a few things that people might infer from your repositories:

  1. Popularity: A repository with many stars, forks, and watchers can indicate that your project is popular and has caught the attention of other developers.
  2. Commitment: Regularly updating your repositories shows that you're actively maintaining your projects and are committed to keeping them up-to-date and functional.
  3. Collaboration: If your repositories have multiple contributors, it demonstrates your ability to work well with others and your openness to accepting contributions from the community.
  4. Language Proficiency: Your repositories can give others an idea of the programming languages you're proficient in, based on the languages used in your projects.
  5. Documentation: Well-documented repositories show that you care about making your code accessible and understandable to others, which is a valuable skill for any developer.

But, just like the green dots, repositories can be deceptive. Someone might have a popular repository because they created a simple tool that happened to gain traction, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're a coding genius. Similarly, someone with fewer stars and forks might have less visible but highly complex and innovative projects.

Or they might work for, ya know, like the government or some shit.

Contributions === More Than Just Code

Another aspect of your Github profile is your contributions to other repositories. Contributing to open-source projects can be a great way to showcase your skills and learn from others. But contributions come in many forms, and not all of them are visible on your profile.

For instance, you might be:

  1. Reviewing code: Providing constructive feedback on other people's pull requests is an essential part of the development process, but it's not always visible on your profile.
  2. Helping with issues: Assisting others by answering questions or suggesting solutions to issues can be a valuable contribution, even if it doesn't result in a pull request.
  3. Writing documentation: Contributing to a project's documentation or creating tutorials can be just as important as writing code, but it might not show up as a contribution on your profile.
  4. Participating in discussions: Engaging in meaningful conversations about a project's direction, priorities, or design can be an essential part of its development, but it might not be reflected on your profile.
  5. Astounding your coworkers with your intellectual prowess: Illuminating the darkest corners of ignorance for your wide-eyed teammates, which is just what you do, but of course no one ever recognizes it and it sure as hell doesn't show up on your Github profile.

It's essential to recognize that there's more to being a valuable contributor than just the number of pull requests you've submitted.

The Bigger Picture: Your Online Presence

While your Github profile can provide some valuable information about you as a developer, it's essential to remember that it's just one piece of your overall online presence. Your personal website, blog, social media accounts, and participation in online developer communities can all contribute to painting a more accurate picture of who you are and what you're capable of.

Most importantly, don't let a lack of green dots or a sparse activity chart discourage you. There's more to you as a developer than green dots.