The Internet is a wonderful tool for business, and has allowed many younger, talented people to find technical work with ease. However, it has also made computer fraud a much more common thing. How is a non-technical person supposed to know what to ask a possible employee?
Consider the following to aid you:
1) Do Your Homework
Determine exactly what it is you need done, when you need it done by, and what your budget is. If you're not a technical person, you might have a little bit of studying to do to make sure you know enough to get by. Obviously the whole point of hiring a programmer is to save you the time of learning such things yourself, but you'll need to have a general knowledge of the situation to make a solid decision.
2) Don't Let Yourself Be Overwhelmed
If you're a non-technical person, and you've ever talked with a technical person about their work, odds are they've gone off into some full-blown speech that you can't comprehend. This is normal. Programmers, at times, like to show off just a little bit using technical terms they know you won't understand. When hiring someone, however, this is a serious matter.
Don't be fooled into thinking someone is an expert and the right person for the job just because they act like they know a lot on the subject - even a novice can know enough jargon to impress most non-programmers. Get down to the plain facts and weed out big terms. Play dumb if you have to...have everything explained to you to be sure you have a handle on the situation.
3) Play It Safe - All the Time!
Even if it seems ultra-conservative, go out of your way to make sure you can trust the person you're considering for the job. Using email to discuss the different aspects of the project is fine and all, but before you make any final decisions, it would probably be a good idea to do a few things:
And finally, have things in writing! If it's a small informal project, it might not be a big deal. In most cases, though, you'd be better off with a written contract in place before work has begun. That way, everything is in black and white, and you're less likely to run into any serious disagreements.
4) Use Your Common Sense
This may sound obvious, but use your head. If something sounds fishy, there's nothing wrong with investigating further. If the programmer takes offense at wanting to talk on the phone before any work begins, you're not out of line in insisting for some kind of direct contact to guard against any problems. Working through the net and without a direct meeting is the exception, not the rule.
Trust your gut, go out of your way to make sure everything is as it should be, and make sure you know what you're talking about, and things will go a lot smoother.