• Jonathan Terry

Why you need to learn Git (and use GitHub)

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

If you have been programming for any significant length of time, you have probably at least heard of GitHub. However, let's explain what GitHub is and why learning Git is possibly the most crucial skill to advancing in your career.

What is GitHub?

GitHub is a site commonly used by programmers and software developers. While its features continue to grow, its core functionality lies in the hosting of remote code repositories. These repositories essentially are a file system on steroids. You can use Git to access, update, and add code to them. They then can act as a backup for your code, but most likely you'll be integrating with some other software to publish and update your application.

What is Git?

While there are ways you can manually upload files to GitHub, such as GitHub Desktop, ideally you will be managing your repository through a command line. Git is the command line tool used to interact with your repository, and is not as challenging as it first appears. I personally shied away from Git for the longest time because I didn't know how to use it. But after initializing my first empty repository I found that the necessary Git commands were actually provided automatically. You can quite literally take a screenshot and have the list of basic Git commands available whenever needed. Using these Git commands in your project's folder, you can easily add and update code to your remote repository.

Why use Git and GitHub?

It may seem like just another step in the process at this point, but Git (and therefore GitHub) is used by just about every company and organization that codes. For a college student, chances are you won't be working on industry-ready software applications, but you need to show prospective employers that you are at least competent with the system. They are not looking to hire programmers that will break their code using incorrect version control techniques.

So, how can you demonstrate your knowledge of the system? Start putting ALL of your code, and yes I mean all, on to GitHub. Be careful to make code for coursework, assignments, and other confidential projects private so others cannot copy your work. If you are unsure if uploading your code will be allowed, just ask. However for personal projects it may be better to make code public. Regardless, the process is the same; create your code, add it, commit, then push it. Employers don't really care so much that you built an elaborate project, they want to see that you code frequently and competently.

Your GitHub Profile

When you first open this, you will see up to 6 of your most popular repositories, as well as your commit history. The more green squares you see, the more commits you have been making. Employers can also see this information, and it will tell them how frequently you have been coding and making commits. In addition, they will also be able to see your public repositories and your coding style.

As a college student, it is important to keep your professional presence as up to date with your current skillset as possible. Using GitHub is an excellent way to do this. Be wary of falling into the "What personal project should I do" trap that so many students and young professionals find themselves in. Code what you want to, come up with your own ideas, and show everyone how well you can code.

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