There are lots of qualities that make someone a good software developer. We are often an entire company in ourselves; backend, frontend, DBA, sysadmin, designer, client relations. We are logical and precise problem solvers as much as we are creative and cautious. Creativity within boundaries, that's what we are and that's the kind of people this profession attracts.
So far, so obvious. My general point is that when you consider the above, how important is the actual typing of code? Coding is the bread and butter of what we do, no denying that, but it is not all we do.
During the Django Weekend, I spent a fair time checking out the sponsors to gauge the landscape of the community and the companies that are out there. If you look at most job adverts, they ask for Github (or similar) URLs, code examples etc. Many people have told me that to be a good coder, I need to code at home. I won't grow as a programmer unless I dedicate some of my free time to do little software projects. Do some open source, they say, check out some issue trackers. This isn't a job, it's a lifestyle.
What I do in my free time is work on all the other bits and pieces that make me a good software developer. I do a lot of public speaking, I organise events, I play videogames because they are good creative food. I read about fantasy and gender and science. All these things make me a well-rounded person. I'm not saying people who code at home don't do any of those things, most devs I know are incredibly busy and friendly people.
For my dissertation, I wrote about the issue of women in software engineering. One of the more interesting points of research was about the number of women who drop out of CS courses at university. Despite there being no difference in ability across gender in the classroom, the women said that they felt less capable or were treated as being less capable. A reason cited by many of the women for this was that they had little interest in CS outside the classroom. They enjoyed the subject and all the work, but wanted free time to be a separate thing. The guys were much more likely to eat, sleep and breathe programming, and these two ideas conflicted when the class socialised. The women said that the men would look down on them for their lack of knowledge on geek trivia, this along with other factors made them think they just weren't as good. That is objectively false.
Intrigued by this link between perception of ability with interest, I included a question on it in my primary research. The vast majority of respondents, male(91.5%) and female(75%), agreed that an interest in computing improves the quality of work. What is also interesting is that while neither gender agreed that men have 'innate' abilities with technology, 50% of men and 57% of women said that men were more interested in technology. Therefore it could be argued that people believe there is a link between interest and ability. For many people I expect there is, but the two aren't mutually dependent.
The way I see it, I code for 8 hours a day, the only other thing I do that much is sleep. Don't dismiss me because my Github profile is growing cobwebs, listen to all the other things I dig my way into and how that makes me a better software developer. Let me talk about what I've done, the usergroups I attend, the conferences I've spoken at. As a tech recruiter, I know it's difficult for you and that a portfolio would make it easier but to depend fully on that will never get you the best people.