Holding out for a hero: how to find the perfect developer


Date: 8 December 2014

Holding out for a hero: how to find the perfect developer{{}}You need a hero. You're holding out for a hero 'til the morning light. And he's gotta be sure and it's gotta be soon…right?

You're not alone. When it comes to hero developers, everybody wants one. Whether it's a killer app that you can't get off the ground or the desperate re-build your site needs, demand for developers runs high. In fact, one of the most common questions I get asked when talking to small firms and start-ups is: "how can I find the right developer?".

My answer is simple – think of it like dating. Hiring a developer can seem at best slightly daunting and at worst a potential minefield (just like dating). However, when you apply certain strategies to narrow your search down to the right kinds of people, you increase your chances of success (also like dating). And finally, finding a developer can be done online (exactly like dating).

Here are six ways to help you find the perfect developer:

1. Know what you want

Whether you're creating a profile for match.com or writing a technical brief, clarity and details are important. Nobody responds to a dating profile that says "nice guy looking for nice girl". It's too vague, too generic and too dull. Ditto with developers. I often see briefs along the lines of, "I need a really smart app that will change the way people exercise. Must look really slick." No serious developer is going to give that the time of day and you'll just get generic proposals back from people who probably don't have the right skill set anyway.

Instead, take the time to work out exactly what you need and describe it in as much detail as you can. Explain what you're trying to achieve and the issues you've had so far – good developers love problem-solving.

If you don't have the technical expertise to write a really great brief your first job should be to find someone who can help you craft the brief before it even gets to a developer. If it isn't clear to you, it won't be to them.

2. Look outside your immediate circle

As with dating, it pays to widen the search area. Matt Mullenweg, ceo of WordPress, says 99% of the talent in the world is outside the major hubs. If you can’t find the skills you need in your immediate vicinity that’s not a problem – lots of development jobs can be done remotely.

On Elance and oDesk there are around nine million freelancers working with more than two million businesses across the world – maybe your ideal match is in Chicago, Sydney or Dublin. Unlike with dating, distance need not be a barrier.

3. Flattery gets you everywhere

Good developers are in demand and can afford to pick and choose their projects. Naturally they will pick the ones that sound interesting, well thought out and that fit their skill set. Select carefully and explain why you have singled them out.

On Elance there is an option to post a job privately and invite specific freelancers to bid on it. Stipulate exactly why you would like that particular developer to work on your project. Was it something in their profile that you thought was relevant? Did you like the work they did on an app or a website? Be genuine. Woo them.

4. First impressions count

Turning up to first date shouldn’t require a new suit or designer dress but a little bit of effort goes a long way. The first contact with a new developer needs to create the right impression. Whether it’s an email, a Skype call or the proposal you are sending them online, first impressions count.

Be friendly (people always prefer to work with people they like), be professional and be excited and passionate about your business and what you’re trying to achieve. Getting any collaborator (developer or not) engaged in your project is half the battle.

5. Don’t get hitched on the second date

Marry in haste, repent at leisure applies just as much for recruitment as it does for dating. When you first start working with someone, start small. You wouldn’t suggest a three-week holiday for a second date; equally don’t launch into an enormous technical project with someone you’ve never worked with before.

Break the job into component parts, set milestones and review as you go. Trust me, this prevents much heartache (not to mention unnecessary expenditure) down the line.

6. You get out what you put in

As in relationships and life, you’ll get what you give. Communicate clearly and frequently (although not every second of every day – no one likes a micro manager – or a stalker). Check in regularly and don’t leave your developer wondering what they should do next or whether you’re happy with what they’ve done. This is even more important when you hire online – there is an art to distance management and communication is the key to mastering it.

Finally, when hiring a developer try not to be too prescriptive. While you should always have a clear idea of what you want, be prepared to be flexible too.

You may think you need someone in your office 24/7 but perhaps your ideal match can only give you three days a week at the moment. Better to have the right person and compromise on the other stuff. Prioritise your wish-list into “must-haves” and “nice-to haves”. And be realistic. You can’t build a rival to Amazon with a £1,000 budget.

After all, you wouldn't write "must look like Brad Pitt" on a dating profile would you?

Copyright © 2014 Hayley Conick is country manager for Elance-oDesk in the UK & Ireland.

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