Portfolio for programmers?

I’m on the look for a new job. My search yielded this, which had an interesting request (you have to click on a link to get a popup description):

When I was job hunting three years ago, I had a similar request for examples of my programing.

I understand that artists, writers, advertising people have portfolios, people who would be termed “creative”. And the other thing is that the programs I write aren’t mine. Isn’t there some kind of copyright on source code? And getting the code for VB program I thought seemed kind of odd, as there is the issue of the from layout. I had an interview long ago where I had to write some C code on a white board as a test of sorts. Just simple things, of course.

Anyone else seen this? Yourself? What did you do?

You need to be careful about projects you worked for for other companies, since those are normally their intellectual property. It might be worth doing a short project just for your portfolio e.g. I did a solitaire game, documented it, and put the breakdown up, along with a few things like the known bug list.

Its been a few years, but I set up a website with some examples of programmes I’d written (short games, interactive demos and the like), put my copyright all over the sourcecode and either hid the source code as best I could, or only put downloadable executables up. Then I added a links page to various online systems I’d written for other companies, with my role and what I did but no detailed technical description.

I write a paragraph explaining how little I suspect their company would appreciate me forwarding a copy of their system (data included) to some other company at some distant future date as “an example of my work”. Then I state that I have laptop and will show (but not leave behind) some solutions I’ve built for which I have permission for the data within them to be viewed (but generally not left behind for someone to poke through).

I third that this request is nonsense. First of all I wouldn’t want to work for a company that was either so unethical or so brain dead as to ask for it. (Unless the request was put together by a clueless HR person - maybe former art student?) Besides that, real programmers work collaboratively, so documentation and charts might well be the result of a team effort.

I have seen people ask for examples of code on whiteboards, but I can tell if someone knows how to program by asking about their experience. That might be able to weed out liars, but it hardly indicates good programming ability.