Lately, more services have appeared with the hope of showing who has experience with various technologies. The idea is meant to solve two problems. First, influence is a hot topic right now, with people focusing more on general influence and sites like Klout or PeerIndex. How do you find people that know about things like HTML5 or JavaScript and JQuery? Outside of the people that wrote a book or wrote the framework, how do you find those people that are truly knowledgable? The second problem is the recruitment and hiring process. In the technical industry, recruitment and hiring is big business. Given the amount of turnover in the industry, those recruiting fees can really add up. In many cases, companies need to pay as much as 10% of the starting salary for the new employee to the recruitment firm. If the average placement makes $100,000, that means the recruitment firm takes $10,000 per position.

Due to these issues, more sites are appearing with the hopes of “fixing” these problems. Some sites use text recommendations or endorsements, like LinkedIn, while others use slightly different approaches. The question is whether any of these new sites really improve upon the current recruitment situation. So, let’s take a look at some of these ideas.

First, we have the recent announcement from Mozilla regarding a competition:

A system proposed earlier this year by the Mozilla Foundation will be the basis of a global competition. As much as $2 million in grants from Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation will be awarded to interested parties, in amounts ranging up to $200,000 apiece, who can propose a technical infrastructure and/or physical appearance for what Mozilla describes as a standard system of verified icons for representing individuals’ Web developmental skills.

Mozilla is trying to generate interest in a “standard system of verified icons for representing Web development skills”. There is part of this that is good, the fact that they are focusing on only web development means that there is a chance this type of initiative could work. This could be similar to the badges that the HTML5 technologies have created. The obvious problem is how do these skills get “verified” or more directly, how does a person put one of these icons on their site and how can other people be sure that this badge means something?

What about the sites that focus on this type of thing, those sites that are creating communities around skills? Here are some of the sites that I found and what they say about themselves:

  • Path.to – “We love meaningful endorsements based on skills, rather than generic endorsements. We’ve engineered an endorsement algorithm to identify the most skilled people across industries.”
  • Geekli.st – “Geekli.st is an achievement-based social portfolio builder where all bad-ass code monkeys around the globe can communicate, brag, build their street cred and get found. We founded Geekli.st because it was time for a united front, exclusively for developers, to build tangible credibility in the workplace.”
  • Zerply – “Zerply is a professional network built around people who love what they do. We believe that professional networking can be done differently.”
  • Endorse.me – “With Endorse.me, You will get your own page to create categories to place people from your social networks that you endorse in. Then you share your page for others to see. The idea came to us, because people constantly ask us for Designers, Developers, Angel Investors, or lots of other things.”
  • Skillshare – “Skillshare is a community marketplace to learn anything from anyone. We believe that everyone has valuable skills and knowledge to teach and the curiosity to keep learning new things… Our platform helps make the exchange of knowledge easy, enriching, and fun.”

You will notice that I did not include any of the “business card” sites like About.me or Flavors.me as their focus is much smaller than these community skills sites. Another minor note is that Skillshare just recently added badges, similar to the Mozilla concept, and is more of a tutorial site, but I included it due to its popularity. In each of these sites, you have a way to endorse other people or even brag about your own work. The community building aspect is not entirely focused upon, as the sites all seem focused on who are the talented people with a specific technology. Can badges and endorsements fix the developer recruitment problem?

Each of these sites has there own problems. First, there is the issue of critical mass. All of these sites need much more user adoption in order to become really useful. Second, the idea of endorsements that are just “thumbs up” can easily be gamed, and even text endorsements cannot be completely believed. Third, endorsements (or plus-ones) tend to cluster around more popular people and not the people that are in the trenches, but not web-celebrities. As an example of what I mean, Joe Stump and John Resig do not need endorsements as many people know about their skills. However, there are many developers that do not get that kind of popularity because they did not create jQuery or they do not blog.

Are any of these sites better or more appropriate than LinkedIn? LinkedIn does give you the ability to search the connections for people that have actually worked with you. Ignoring that information means that you really need to build everything from the ground up. It does not make sense to try to build the network given the various networks that already exist. The endorsements are only marginally better than LinkedIn endorsements, because these sites are more developer focused.

The problem with much of the recruitment issue is that development experience really needs to be seen. Geekli.st has an interesting feature where you can “brag” about the work that you have done. I am not sure if this is what we need, but moving closer to a portfolio of work may be more useful. However, how does a server-side Java developer show their portfolio? You may be able to show an API that was created, but that does not show what your work was really like. Eventually, this problem degrades back to describing your work.

So, the real challenge is how we can use networks like LinkedIn, along with some endorsements, to understand how good a developer really is. Some of this is in a developer portfolio, but how do we “see” the infrastructure of an application? You can talk to any developer, and we all know that this needs to be fixed, but how can we fix this?

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