Why “Should you build your portfolio with code or a template?” is the wrong question

Asking which way to build your portfolio is only half the question: the real question is how do you deliver what the market demands.

If you want to step up your developer career you might be considering creating a portfolio. If you are, bravo! Having a portfolio immediately puts you ahead of the curve. So, you sit down with a coffee in hand and debate the best ways to create your website and a thought crosses your mind:
 
Do I create my portfolio in code, or do I use a template?
 
This question came up recently on a front end developer forum. The answers that emerged were short and shallow. Did they answer the question? Yes. Will they help the developer get hired? I’m not so sure.

The answer: Code or template?

I like spoiling the ends of books. I like to know where a story is going before I hear it play out. To make this simple I’ll answer the question outright, as the others in the forum did.
 
Straight after the short answer, I’m going to explain the long, real answer. I’d urge you to stick around for that part, it’s the best bit. It’s the whole reason I had to write this article. Buy hey, that’s your decision. I’m offering you the red pill – it’s up to you if you take it.
 
The simple answer: Coding your own portfolio will get you into more interviews than using a template.
 
The real answer: Choose the tool that best allows you to showcase how your skills fit your target audience.

Why two answers?

The short answer is the right answer. Building your own website will help you avoid getting sifting early on. It will give you a wider funnel. But as with a funnel, you still need to get through the bottom part. Attracting attention and not getting sifted is one thing. Having the caliber and mindset to pass the next stage is another.
 
Building a portfolio is not a panacea in its own right.

Asking The Right Question

Asking good questions is an art. “Should I build my website in code or with a template” is asking the wrong question. The real question you’re asking is …
 
How do I deliver what the market demands?

The sad reality of fickle recruitment

Many recruiters might knock you back if you don’t put in the “hard work” to create your own portfolio. That’s ridiculous. Why? It puts out the statement that there’s one way to get things done. It says that content or experience is secondary importance to the chosen tool. The sad part is: if you’re a new to the industry you have to play by its rules. You might not have a choice but to create a portfolio the old school way to prevent getting sifted.

Developers need to make (good) decisions

As a developer, we’re often asked to make decisions. Like, what technologies and tools to use. If you ask the internet the best tool to do X job, they’ll most likely respond with [ insert cool new framework ]. Most developers don’t spend time thinking outcomes like the quality or the UX. They’re too busy running off throwing their favourite tool at everything seeing where it’ll stick. Developers are sinners for trying to map the tool to the outcome. Few developers would use a framework they don’t like in the interests of the business. This is a problem.

All sizzle, no steak

I’m not advocating that a developer build a fancy template website if they have nothing to put in it. If you need to create more work to put into your portfolio then your portfolio itself can a feature. Recursion, cool!
 
Having a template website with nothing to show is the worst decision you can make. It’s not the tool that’s going to get you the job – it’s you. You have to be good.
 
You have to deliver what the market demands.

Conclusion

Writing a website yourself can be a great learning experience. This might only get you through the door though. What’s going to seal the deal is having the capacity to make good decisions. You don’t want to be the developer that uses the same tool for everything or takes every answer as a given. Be curious, focus on delivering value. Whether you have a coded website or a template, find some way to showcase that you think more than as a robot. The industry doesn’t want robots, it wants (good) decision makers.

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