On the Blue Parabola blog Keith Casey has posed a question about the motivations for working on an Open Source project - "Why help/contribute to a project? What's your motivation?"
It's a very good question and the answer should sound familiar to quite a few people...despite working on some fun and amazing projects, I had nothing to show for it because all were proprietary and some were even classified. As far as my professional career went, I had nothing to show for it. I had some stellar references and could talk (in vauge terms) about some things but I had zero code.
To fix things, he set about to build his missing portfolio of "show it to anyone" code that he could hand to a potential employer to show the quality of his work. This produced a nice side effect too - an influence for the better on his "real work" at his job (see this article for more info on that effect).