Complete Guide: How To Source Candidates On GitHub With hireEZ

July 15, 2022 7 min read


Finding top tech talent can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Technical recruiters are often tasked with filling niche roles in a competitive, fast-paced industry. And it’s no easy feat!

Why’s it so tough?

For starters, the tech industry is perpetually short on talent for highly specialized roles. Nabbing a qualified data scientist or cybersecurity expert is like winning the lottery. This scarcity drives up demand, sparking fierce competition from top-tier companies.

On top of that, the tech world never stands still. The skills needed for tech roles are constantly evolving. Successful technical recruiters need to stay ahead of the curve, always on the hunt for candidates with the latest and greatest skills.

And here’s the kicker: many tech pros aren’t actively looking for new gigs on LinkedIn or Indeed. Even if they are, their inboxes are probably bursting with messages from other recruiters.

With challenges like these, the usual sourcing methods just won’t cut it. The best recruiters get creative and look in less obvious places—like GitHub. You might be thinking, "GitHub isn't a job board or a professional networking site. How can I recruit from there?"

We’re glad you asked. Let's dive in.

What is GitHub?

GitHub is a platform where developers collaborate on projects, share code, and contribute to open-source repositories. It’s essentially a social network for programmers, offering a place to showcase their skills, build projects together, and connect with others in the tech community.

GitHub boasts over 100 million active users, making it one of the largest communities of developers in the world with common job titles such as software engineers, data scientists, DevOps engineers, and full-stack developers. Users on GitHub create repositories to host their code, work on projects, and contribute to others’ work. This activity offers a rich dataset for recruiters, providing insights into a candidate’s skills, experience, and technical interests.

Why source on GitHub?

GitHub is a goldmine for technical recruiters. With its huge user base, GitHub provides access to a vast pool of highly skilled and experienced developers, many of whom have extensive coding experience. These developers often include their email addresses and other contact details in their profiles or repositories, making it easier to engage with them.

GitHub profiles offer insights into a candidate’s coding skills, contributions, projects, and collaboration style. By leveraging the platform, recruiters can tap into a pool of talented developers who might not be actively looking for a job but are open to new opportunities if approached correctly.

Things to remember about sourcing on GitHub

GitHub's platform and user profiles may seem more complex compared to the relatively simple interfaces of sites like Facebook or LinkedIn. Remember: GitHub is not an employment-focused network. The developers you find here are not necessarily looking for a new opportunity—they may just want to work on code. However, some welcome thoughtful outreach from recruiters, as evidenced by comments from the subreddit r/GitHub:

byu/PattyCakeZA from discussion
byu/PattyCakeZA from discussion

Always be transparent with potential candidates about who you are, how you found them, and why you believe the opportunity warrants a message from a complete stranger. They may not be ready to make a move today, but your opportunity could spark their curiosity. With the right approach, you could set the tone for a lasting relationship.

Familiarity with the technical jargon you’ll encounter on the platform will help you navigate the site, better understand a user’s portfolio, and engage in more thoughtful conversations with potential candidates.

Here are some common terms to start:

  • Git — a tool that allows developers and others to use version control
  • GitHub — one of many web interfaces for using Git
  • Organization (org) — a grouping mechanism allowing teams to collaborate across many projects at once
  • Repository (repo) — a folder in which all files and their version histories are stored
  • Branch — a version of the repo that allows work without affecting other branches. Repos may have many branches for different possible changes being tested or considered, along with a default branch that serves as the source of truth.
  • Fork — a new repository that inherits from a parent “upstream” repo. It is used to suggest changes to an “upstream” public repo by someone who doesn’t have access to edit in the repo’s home org.
  • Markdown (.md) — a way to write content that converts plain text to formatted text.
  • Commit Changes — a saved record of a change made to a file within the repo.
  • Pull Request (PR) — a request for changes made to a branch to be pulled into another branch. Allows multiple users to see, discuss and review work being suggested.
  • Merge — after a pull request is approved, the commit will be pulled in (or merged) from one branch to another and then, deployed on the live site
  • Issues — allow users to report issues or bugs and track progress of assigning the fix for the issues.
  • Federalist — a platform that securely deploys a website from a GitHub repository in minutes and lets users preview proposed and published changes.
  • Projects — allows you to use GitHub for project management and tracking a set of issues, either for a specific repo or an entire org
  • Wiki — a section of a repo made for hosting documentation. Documentation may be in the repo’s README files instead.

You don’t need to be a tech wizard to source candidates on GitHub effectively. However, some fundamental knowledge is recommended to make your time on the platform productive and efficient. Be curious—it’ll only help you in the long run.

Now that you understand GitHub's platform and culture better, let’s discuss the best practices for sourcing and engaging candidates.

How to Source on GitHub

Follow these steps to find and engage qualified talent on GitHub.

1.Know What You're Looking For

Before diving into GitHub, be specific about your search criteria. Here are some details to consider:

  • Identify the specific programming languages you need, such as Python, JavaScript, or C++.
  • Determine the essential skills for the role, such as machine learning, cloud computing, or data analysis.
  • Consider the level of experience required and whether experience at particular companies is valuable.
  • Look for relevant job titles like software engineer, data scientist, or backend developer.
  • Decide if location matters for the role, especially if it's remote or requires relocation.

Having a clear picture of these criteria will streamline your search and increase the likelihood of finding suitable candidates.

2.Start Your Search

There are three common ways to effectively source talent on GitHub, according to Paired Sourcing Founder Jer Langhans. The method you choose may depend on factors such as the specific requirements of your requisition or the tools available to you via your recruitment tech stack.

Create your account and start searching!

Boolean search

The first strategy requires using Boolean search strings. This is how recruiters sourced on GitHub before more advanced sourcing tools entered the marketplace. GitHub allows you to specify keywords, programming languages, star counts, and more when searching for repositories directly on the platform. By keying in Boolean search strings, you'll be able to pull near-exact matches from source code information.

For example, if you're looking for repositories with “big data” as a keyword, JavaScript or Python as the programming language, more than ten stars, and more than five forks, your search string may look something like this:

big+data in:name,description language:Java language:Python stars:>10 forks:>5

You can also source candidates on GitHub using a Google X-ray search and similar search strings. Here’s an example of a string Jer created to find a full-stack developer or engineer in San Francisco with experience in JavaScript and MySQL: (javascript | mysql | "san francisco") ("full stack developer" OR "full stack engineer") -positions -topics

Use these strings as a foundation to start building your own targeted searches. For more information on Boolean search, read this article.

The downside of this approach is the time-consuming nature of reviewing individual user profiles. Keep reading as we explore alternative, more efficient strategies.

As far as what you should look for in a candidate’s profile, Jer lists these four things:

  • Substantive profiles: If you’re presenting candidates you’ve sourced on GitHub to your hiring manager, you want to have something to show for it. A mostly blank profile with long bouts of inactivity isn’t going to make a strong impression.
  • Contact information: This one is obvious, isn’t it? GitHub does not have a direct messaging feature, so finding accurate candidate contact information is essential to engaging with them about an opportunity.
  • Organizations: Is the candidate part of any relevant or notable organizations that may speak to their experience or skill set?
  • Number of repositories and stars: The number of repositories on a candidate’s profile may give you an indication of how active they are on GitHub, which often translates to a deep commitment to their craft. Stars represent a measure of the user’s quality of work determined by other developers on the platform, similar to liking a post on platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn.

Company-specific search

Let’s say your hiring team is specifically requesting candidates from reputable, scaled-up, B2C-focused companies. In this case, exploring company GitHub profiles may be a faster way to identify these types of candidates than searching for individual user profiles and repositories. Work smarter, not harder!

Let’s take a look at Airbnb’s GitHub profile, and note these key details:

  • People: Bingo! Exactly what we’re looking for. Keep in mind that everyone listed here may not be an actual employee of Airbnb. Some may just be skilled developers who have been given permission to commit code and collaborate on Airbnb’s projects. Don’t make too many assumptions and you’ll be alright.
  • Top languages: If you’re looking for a developer skilled in using JavaScript, a company like Airbnb is a strong place to start your search, as indicated by the “Top languages” section of its GitHub profile.
  • Repositories: This section of the company’s profile features ten popular repositories the company owns. Here, you can really dig into the nature of the company’s projects and the quality of work done by individual contributors.

hireEZ search

What’s the easiest method to source candidates on GitHub?

Let’s ask Jer:

“A couple of years ago I was doing fully manual searches and sometimes using the company-specific method depending on the team’s requirements. Now, I really don’t use those methods anymore because it’s so much easier to do it inside of hireEZ.”
Jer Langhans
Jer Langhans
Founder, Paired Sourcing

Using hireEZ’s tech-specific sourcing filters you can source candidates from the GitHub platform without ever leaving the hireEZ environment. This approach creates a seamless, consolidated workflow.

Recruiters can build targeted searches in hireEZ with filters for 50+ types of expertise (e.g., Machine Learning, Game Designer & Developer, Python Developer), 250+ programming languages, and varying degrees of activity.

💡 By combining our diversity sourcing filters with your tech sourcing filters, you can narrow down your GitHub search to find more underrepresented talent.

Once you've created your search in hireEZ, you can click on individual candidate profiles to view more details about their activity on GitHub and how their activity compares to other profiles in the hireEZ database.

If you happen to already be on GitHub, the hireEZ Chrome Extension allows you to conveniently gather contact information and import candidates into a specific project with just a few clicks!

In addition to candidate contact information, recruiters who use the hireEZ Chrome Extension to source directly on GitHub will receive a brief overview of the candidate’s professional experiences, educational and employment history, skills, and more.

Using these methods, you can efficiently sift through profiles and find candidates who match your specific requirements.

3.Personalized Candidate Outreach

Once you’ve identified potential candidates on GitHub, it’s time to reach out. This can be particularly challenging on GitHub, where methods of communicating with other users are sparse. Many users will include their email addresses or links to their social media pages on their GitHub profile, but some do not.

If you come across a promising candidate profile but are unable to locate their email address to contact them, try these common hacks:

  • Cross-check the GitHub profile with a LinkedIn profile (if the user discloses their real name)
  • Use the Unique Identifier email trick to deduce an email address with a candidate's GitHub profile username
  • Find email addresses using GitHub's API by hitting CTRL+F and searching for “email” in the Commit of public repositories or in a user's recent events

Now that you’ve got a reliable address, you can reach out with a personalized message. Here are some tips for crafting effective, personalized messages to engage these candidates:

  • Personalize Your Message: Tailor your message to each candidate, referencing their GitHub profile and specific projects or contributions. Mention what impressed you about their work and how it aligns with the opportunity you’re presenting.
  • Be Clear and Concise: Keep your message brief and to the point. Clearly state who you are, why you’re reaching out, and what the opportunity is. Provide a clear call to action, such as scheduling a call or requesting a resume.
  • Highlight the Opportunity: Emphasize what makes the opportunity exciting and why it’s worth considering. Highlight any unique aspects of the role, the company culture, or potential career growth.
  • Respect Their Time: Developers are often busy and may not have time to respond immediately. Be patient and follow up if you don’t hear back, but avoid being pushy or aggressive.

By personalizing your outreach, you can significantly increase your chances of engaging with top talent.

Decoding tech talent struggles

If you want to hire the best, you’ve got to go where the talent is. It’s that simple.

Sourcing candidates on GitHub can be incredibly rewarding, providing access to a vast pool of talented developers.

Start sourcing on GitHub today, and book a demo with hireEZ to learn more about how we are transforming recruitment workflows across industries.


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