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8. Building Your Portfolio and Getting Your First Projects

October 13, 2014

Most Important

The most important thing you can do right now is to build your portfolio. Working on projects, especially for other people, will help you learn new skills, provide content for your portfolio and potentially expand your professional network (and your references).

You can strategically position yourself and your portfolio to showcase what it is you do really well.

The Advanced Beginner Challenge – I built a course to get your first job in web development, or upgrade from Junior to mid-level. All done over email for your convenience.

Sell Yourself

Whether you’re looking for a career or your next client, you will be selling yourself. Get conformable talking about your skills and how they help you do great work. Confidence is your greatest asset.

Sign up for LinkedIn and fill out your profile. Add projects as you complete them.

Build free stuff for PEOPLE

If you don’t have a portfolio how do you get clients? If you don’t have clients how do you build your portfolio? Build free projects for people to seed your portfolio with references and nurture professional relationships (reciprocity rule).

What makes a Good First Project

Always move up. Look for projects that take you out of your comfort zone and help you level up your skills. Build for someone who works in a highly visible company. They may just be a middle man, or woman, but it looks really great when you can say you built XYZ project for John Doe who worked at Tesla, Microsoft, Apple, etc.

Where Can I Find Projects?

Now You Have a Project

Ask clarifying questions to make sure they know the vision and functionality. Don’t stop asking questions until you understand the project thoroughly. Get wireframes, vision, spec doc and any other documentation the client has created.

This project is a stepping stone. Always think two or three projects out (otherwise you’ll get comfortable and won’t want to move on).


Don’t be long-winded. Keep it short enough to ask a question or to give a status update. Remove all the fluff.

Check out Team Treehouse to grow as a programmer! starthere.fm/treehouse

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  • Bethany October 27, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    Great episode – a couple of questions:

    1. What would you recommend we put as our job title on our LinkedIn profile? I don’t want to “undersell” myself but I also don’t want to be dishonest – and putting “Web Developer” seems dishonest because I’m just starting to learn and I’ve not actually fully “developed” anything. Is Web Development Student a good idea or something similar?

    Of course, I’m in the process of developing my first website – my own portfolio – I’ve got the domain already (it’s currently in transition from GoDaddy to Hover – thanks for the tip, I was hating my experience with GoDaddy!). Which brings me to question #2.

    2. In the podcast, you mentioned the great idea of using your current employer as one of your first clients and that that would be acceptable portfolio material since you did actually work with a client. Does this mean that I shouldn’t include projects that I’ve made just for me in my portfolio even in the very beginning – even if I’m providing services for free, I’m finding that people want to see a couple of examples of what I can do.

    • Dain Miller November 5, 2014 at 1:41 pm

      Hey Bethany!

      Thanks for your comments! Sorry it took so long to get back to you, it’s been a crazy few weeks. Here are your answers:

      1) I think this actually might not matter. Here’s what I mean: I would put Web Developer. You are not lying, and it is not dishonest. You are learning to be something, and if it is your goal to be a web developer and you want a job in the future, put it on your profile anytime. Alternatively, if you feel that dishonest about it I would not be worrying about LinkedIn. I wouldn’t put student, or anything of that nature. I would just focus on building my skills with every second I could so that I could put Web Developer on your profile. If you aren’t seeking a job or clients you don’t really need LinkedIn. Once you start your career, of course it becomes very important as well. Those are my thoughts.

      2) Stack your portfolio with -anything- you have done. Literally, anything that you feel is up to a certain standard. Free, paid, an employers project, your parents website, doesn’t matter. I would put everything IF it is good enough.

      Please email me if you have more questions on this dain@starthere.fm. I have a lot of thoughts and experience on getting from a to z positions in life using basically portfolio and linkedin leverage. Seems like you are interested in those topics so perhaps a chat could clear up any other questions you may have.


  • vans sk8 mid November 2, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Excellent website you have here but I was wondering if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics discussed here? I’d really like to be a part of group where I can get opinions from other knowledgeable people that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know. Cheers!
    vans sk8 mid http://www.vanssoldes.com/vans-chaussures-sk8hi-femme-outlet-8.html

    • Dain Miller November 5, 2014 at 1:47 pm

      My favorite community tool by FAR is twitter. I’ve never been much for forums. But there are a few like Digital Point, etc. Though I honestly can’t recommend any. I would say Twitter is it for me. BUT we are thinking about adding some sort of community component to our site here. We really want to do that and it has been part of our vision from the beginning. Thus far though, I’m not happy with any forum software or design out of the box. We might have to do something a little more ‘unique’. :)

      Let me know if I can help in any other way: dain@starthere.fm

  • Jason Force August 12, 2015 at 5:56 am

    Hey guys,

    You mentioned in this episode or the last a site called builditwith me. Is that builditwithme.com or builditwith.me?



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