I've always gotten a job because of something I've done. I got my first job at Xerox by asking for a pen. Marvin and I were at Usenix in 1990, the year it was in Long Beach. I had a full conference pass by volunteering to babysit the terminal room during the graveyard shift. Back then it was fairly small and exclusive: Stallman would setup shop over in one corner and play the guru, while others would collect in corners to argue about monolithic kernals versus modular architectures and SYSV vs BSD. It was in between the sessions we were collecting stuff from the exhibitors, when we got to a job shop group. The Pencom booth required that you fill out a survey in order to get the pen (or whatever it was that they were giving away), so we did and we moved on to the next booth without a second thought.
About two months later I get a call (which is unusual because nobody ever called me back then), and its a Pencom headhunter, and he's trying to fill an opening at Xerox, and I had put down graphics on my survey. Now what I had been thinking when I put down graphics was 3D graphics, because I was trying to establish Video Bits and break into the animation market with my raytracer. But it turns out, that before I was sucked into the graphics lab in college, I was a heavy TeX user (almost a TeXpert) and also played around with page description languages like HP-GL and Postscript. I had even sat in on a presentation about Interpress (a Xerox page description language) at Siggraph 89. So I told the Pencom guy I'd give the manager at Xerox a call.
So I got on the phone with John Halbur and after establishing that I knew something about b-splines, font dictionaries, rasterization, and C programming; I mentioned that I had also put together a crib sheet index for TeX that was floating around usenet. See the TeX Manual has an automatical generated index that cross references every page a command is listed on. But if you just want to know how to use the command, you end up flipping through the book checking every reference until you finally come to the one that tells you something. With my index, if you wanted to know how to use
\hangindent it would send you straight to p. 102 where it was actually described, skiping several other pages. John had actually seen this thing, and with that I established my credibility and he was ready to hire me on the spot. I told him I should probably get the paperwork started with Pencom, but that I'd be happy to come in the next day.
Thus started a two and half year project converting quadric curves from AGFA Compugraphic into something the home-grown font tools from Xerox would like, all in the name of supporting PCL5 emulation. And pretty much every project since that has started in a similar way, through a personal reference, or some piece of free code that we've put out, or some answer I gave on a usenet news group, etc etc.