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How To Make A Portfolio When You Don’t Have “Enough” Work To Show

04/17/2023
6 minutes

Your portfolio is supposed to give hiring managers and potential employers a snapshot of your greatest hits — but that can look very different depending on your career and experience. A seasoned dev’s portfolio might include impressive product launches at well-known brands, while someone who’s new to tech only has practice projects to pull from. 

When you’re putting together your very first portfolio, it’s tough to determine whether you have enough projects and work to show that you’re legit and ready to get hired. In general, your portfolio shouldn’t be a laundry list of everything you’ve ever worked on. It’s a good idea to have 2-5 of your best projects in your portfolio that are the most relevant to the position you’d like to pursue. Be selective, and aim for quality over quantity. 

Learn something new for free

You’re probably sitting on some projects that you’re super proud of and ready to show off, either in your portfolio or somewhere else. Here are some tips for building your portfolio from scratch, getting involved with group projects, and finding inspiration for your next project. 

Be inventive

The projects that you highlight in your portfolio can be just-for-fun hypothetical projects that you build for the sake of coding something. Especially when you’re early in your career and don’t have work experience to draw from, it’s okay to just create a pretend project that’s connected to your skills. (Our catalog of projects is a great place to start practicing your skills or preparing a portfolio.)

Instead of coding the same old calculator app that everyone tends to make, why not create something that’s unique to your interests? Like a video game that’s based on your life story or a Python machine learning model that analyzes the lyrics to songs by your favorite musician. Not only will you be more motivated to work on projects related to your passions, but it’s also an additional way to weave your personality into your portfolio.

Team up with another job seeker

Learning to code on your own can often feel like a solitary activity, but there are lots of ways to connect with other aspiring developers and work on group projects. Take a look at Codecademy Forums to see the types of projects that learners are building in our courses and beyond. You can also attend one of the virtual meetups hosted by fellow Codecademy learners to practice building a project live or get some inspiration for what to make next. 

Participating in hackathons is another opportunity to get hands-on experience collaborating with a team on a programming project, and you can totally include these projects in your portfolio. Be clear about the role you played in the group hackathon project, how you contributed individually, and what you learned. Don’t forget to include any prizes or awards you won along the way. 

Read job descriptions

In job descriptions, hiring managers list out the types of skills and technologies they’re looking for in a candidate. These are helpful clues that you can use to determine the type of projects you take on for your portfolio. 

For instance, the requirements on a Data Analyst job description might say: “Use data visualization tools and programming languages like Tableau, R, Python, Excel, and other internal tools to work efficiently at scale.” In that case, it’d be wise to include a project using those technologies in your portfolio. Need a refresher on how to understand a job description? Read this blog with tips for tailoring your resume to a job description. 

If you’re applying to a job in a specialized field, tailoring your projects to the line of work you’re interested in is a great way to show your enthusiasm and commitment. That’s how Tom Bliss, the National Football League’s Football Operations Data Science Manager, landed his first internship with the league. He made two projects related to sports analytics, one using the NFL specifically. “I was able to show up to the interview saying, Look at what I’ve already done,” he says. “I was able to show both my ability to do data science and my ability to know sports well enough to ask interesting data questions.”

See what other people are making

It’s inspiring to check out the diverse projects that other programmers and code enthusiasts are building in their daily lives. That’s one reason why we launched a new project showcase to help learners get their projects seen by millions of peers and beyond. Each month, we’ll spotlight the standout projects on our website for 30 days — and we’ll archive the previous winners so you can browse them at any time. 

Take a look at our criteria and rules to get a sense of what we’re looking for, then submit your project (or multiple projects!) to be included. 

Brainstorm ideas using ChatGPT

You can find inspiration for coding projects anywhere — just chatting with a friend about their frustrations and anxieties could inspire at least one app idea. If you’re having trouble getting your creative juices flowing, you can use the AI tool ChatGPT to generate a handful of out-of-the-box project ideas. 

For example, you could ask ChatGPT: “I’m applying for an entry-level Junior Web Developer position at an exciting tech startup. What kinds of projects would help my portfolio stand out? Include 5-7 ideas and examples.”

This is just one example of how developers can use ChatGPT to be more efficient and creative in their daily lives. Check out our new course Intro to ChatGPT to learn more about the trendy technology. 

Start learning a new skill

If you’re just starting out your coding journey and want to start applying your skills to real-world projects, consider taking one of our career paths. They’re each structured around a different in-demand tech role (like Full-Stack Engineer or Data Scientist: Machine Learning Specialist), and will teach you all the relevant programming languages and techniques you need to get an entry-level job. 

You want your portfolio projects to reflect the competencies required for the position you’re applying for — so, an iOS Developer would want to include apps they’ve built, while a BI Data Analyst would want to analyze real-world data using their own functions. In our career paths, you’ll get to code a few portfolio-ready projects that align with the role. Not only will career paths give you a glimpse into the day-to-day tasks of a particular profession, but they’ll also help you build up a body of work that you can use in your job search.

Let go of impostor syndrome

If you’re switching careers or trying to break into tech, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with impostor syndrome thoughts or perfectionist tendencies. The thing is, you most likely have plenty of projects that are worthy of your portfolio. Try not to agonize over whether or not a project is good “enough” to show potential employers. The worst thing that could happen is you get feedback on the project that helps you improve it.

Want more portfolio advice? Read our blogs about how to build a software developer portfolio, tips for making a compelling portfolio website, and eye-catching project ideas to consider adding next.

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