I’ve answered many questions recently from entrepreneurs looking to start their own online business. Most of the people who’ve contacted me aren’t programmers themselves, so a frequent question has been, “How do I find a good programmer to create my website or web application?”. I will be answering this question in more depth in my book, but I wanted to give some tips now because it’s such a common question.
Don’t Hire a Programmer for Non-Programming Tasks
First, if you just need a basic content-only website, like a blog or a website to tell about your upcoming product, or even a shopping cart site, there’s no need to hire a programmer. You can get a free website at WordPress.com, or get your own domain name and install the WordPress software yourself with one click. There are even free plugins for shopping carts if you want one.
If you want a nicer theme than the free WordPress themes, you can buy one for under $25 from themeforest.net. Or if you want a custom design, host a contest at 99designs.com, and then pay a slicing company like psd2html.com to turn it into an html site or WordPress theme for you. If you’re not sure how to buy a domain name or setup hosting on your website, you can learn how in under an hour by searching for tutorials on Google or YouTube. GoDaddy has an all in one solution that I’ve heard is pretty easy. Or you could probably hire someone on oDesk to set it all up for you for under $20. It’s simple, and just about anyone who says they can do it, will be able to.
5 Tips for Hiring a Programmer
Now, if you’re ready to create your actual online product, such as a web application to help real estate investors track their properties, or a scheduling tool for family therapists, this is where you’ll need a real programmer. I don’t recommend taking this step until you’ve actually tested your idea, and done a little research and number crunching to make sure your business has a good chance at being successful. I’ll talk more about that in my book. But assuming you’re ready to move forward, here are some tips for finding a good web application programmer:
1. Don’t use one guy to do everything
It’s rare to find someone who’s both a good programmer and a good designer. If you need a good design, hire a designer (or find a good template). If you need someone to slice up the design and turn it into html and css code, then use ones of the hundreds of slicing sites out there (google “html slicing” or “psd to html”). Don’t make your programmer do this stuff. Let them focus on the type of programming they’re good at. Having one guy doing both programming and database management is usually fine, though, depending on their experience.
2. Hire your programmer full-time
Hiring someone on a temporary basis just to complete the project can work, but you’ll pay a lot more, lose out on loyalty, and months after the project is “done”, you’ll find bugs or realize you need some different features. If the project is ”over”, then your freelancer may have already moved onto other projects and no longer have time to help you. It’s hard to ever call web-based software “finished” if you want to keep growing. So hire a programmer full-time and permanently. They will appreciate it, and so will you.
3. Hire a programmer who has experience with frameworks
A programming framework is like a set of tools that makes it faster and easier to write software with consistent code. Rather than hiring someone who knows “PHP” to write your site from scratch, hire a programmer who has experience in a framework, such as CakePHP, Ruby on Rails, or Django. These are usually the more experienced programmers. You’ll save a lot of time in development, and have less headache in maintenance. Using the framework will also make it easier to hand off the code to other programmers down the road, because they will be able to understand the code and where things are at, almost instantly.
4. Avoid India and the Middle East. Seek Filipinos.
I don’t like to put stereotypes on an entire country, but I have had a poor experience every time I’ve outsourced programming to India. I don’t know if it’s simply the language barrier, or if they don’t train their programmers well, but the project either doesn’t get done correctly or it is abandoned, and I know other entrepreneurs who have had the same experience. So now I do most of my outsourcing to the Philippines and have had far fewer problems. Most of the Filipinos I’ve worked with have had near perfect English, and are honest, hard-working people who do quality work. I’d also recommend not hiring programmers in the U.S. The quality in the Philippines is just as good, and 10 times cheaper. Besides, many firms in the U.S. just outsource to other countries anyway, and make a killing off you doing so.
5. Advertise on multiple sites
When outsourcing, you may first think to post your ad on elance or oDesk. These can be a great way to find programmers. But along with the built-in billing and screen monitoring benefits comes a higher cost, and many of these programmers only want short-term gigs. I’ve found fabulous programmers through oDesk, but I also recommend you post your ad on local job sites, like onlinejobs.ph or webgeekph.com/jobs to attract a different kind of crowd.
Once you have a few applicants, then comes the trick of determining who to hire. Look at their past work, email them back and forth several times and make sure there won’t be any language barriers. You may even consider hiring two or three programmers at once for a “testing period”, and assigning them each a task to see who does it best or fastest, then keeping that programmer.
What tips have you found helpful when hiring a programmer, or when outsourcing other tasks?