Finding Programmers

October 1st, 2007 by Chris

When I asked what I should blog about one person mentioned finding programmers, so I’ll talk about that a little in this post.

I’ve had a hard time finding reliable programmers to do work for me. Invariably they take longer than they say, sometimes much much longer, and 50% of the time they tend to just vanish on me without completing the work.

This is one of the biggest hurdles I deal with on a regular basis. I have the ideas for sites, but I just need to pay people to help me execute them, but I cannot find the people.

For instance, one of my ideas I’m pretty sure will easily result in 7 figures of income if it works. I thought this up in 2003 and still haven’t managed to get it done. I’ve had 5 or so programmers up and vanish on me and trying to get a new one acclimated takes time.

One of the problems I have I guess is that I think I’m hiring someone who does freelance full time, but turns out they have a day job and they’re only planning on working for me at night, on weekends, when they aren’t busy doing other things or getting other jobs. It is frustrating. Then you have what you run into with building contractors all the time, you hire them, and you think they’ll work on your project, but instead they get jobs all over town and only work on your project once a week.

I’ve even used people highly recommended, only to have it not work out.

I figure I either make the worst client, or the best client. I know what is possible, I know the technologies, most of the work I could do myself given time (time which I do not always have), I know exactly what I want and can often help the programmer out by pointing them in the right direction. I think those are good qualities, and yet maybe programmers who are used to less knowledgeable clients end up put-off by my exacting requirements.

For instance, I’m launching a new ecommerce site this week and I was going to hire a guy who runs a skins website for the shopping cart software to do the skinning for me. I already had the design made, I just needed it skinned, I had even presliced the images so all he needed to do was the markup and the integration with the cart. It ended up falling through. I didn’t have huge confidence in his abilities considering the skins on his website that he sells, were, in my opinion, subpar. The graphic quality and design feel was sketchy and left a lot to be desired. I had the design done though, I just needed an expert on the shopping cart. But he balked at using my presliced images and wanted an unflattened PSD instead. I had presliced the images and made a mockup showing exactly how I wanted the site to look, his slices couldn’t have been better, but they could very well have been worse. I’ve had designers before simply leave out graphical components because they couldn’t figure out how to slice & code them and then turn in the design as supposedly finished.

So, while I have a lot of experience in the hiring of others, I’m afraid I don’t have any proactive advice.
I have had some minor success using I’ve hired one guy hourly there, that was a mistake. He told me he was having Internet problems and couldn’t upload his work, so I gave him a little leeway and then I missed the deadline for disputing his hours and got stuck with the bill. He is supposedly still supposed to be finishing for me so he can get new work for me, but it has been 2 months.

I’ve made a couple hires there on a per-project and not hourly basis though, those worked out great. They were both really small projects but the work was done well, quickly, and with a high degree of quality.

I used to be of the attitude that I’d rather use a first-world programmer as I would have to explain less to them and there would be less of a communication barrier, but these US and other first-world programmers keep letting me down, so I think I’m going to be programmers from developing nations in the future. Dealing with some communication snafus is a small price to pay for expedient and reliable work.

13 Responses to “Finding Programmers”

  1. Jules  Says:

    Gotta say Chris, if you’ve been unable to get a > $1M revenue site built after 4 years of trying, you must be doing something very wrong.

    There are a hell of a lot of talented programmers in this global marketplace. Surely you must be chasing applicants from too far down the quality pool?

  2. Kyle  Says:

    Sorry, had to comment on your last statement regarding programmers from developing nations providing expedient, and reliable work. Sort of a dangerous assumption.

    What I’ve learned from dealing with programming free lancers is, not to deal with them. Pay the extra money and work with a firm, or confide in a friend who has the skills.

  3. Chris  Says:

    The site wouldn’t automatically make that much, its just that it has that potential, and a good chance. It is speculative though and it wouldn’t make that much until atleast a year of operation or more.

    But I’ve been after all kinds, US programmers with tons of experience and who are well known, eastern Europe programmers, people still in school, etc. None have come through on that project. For instance one programmer I hired is well known as the maker of some popular web based software that you’ve heard of and possibly even used. I figured I was getting some top talent with him, but he didn’t complete any work before deciding he had personal issues he needed to attend to and didn’t have the time.

    Finding someone generally takes two months, getting them acclimated to the project, all caught up, takes 2 months (they could do it in a week or less if they had a work ethic) then they might do 2 months of work before vanishing.

    I estimate it’d take a skilled programmer (and in this case the skills are beyond me) 6 weeks of 40 hour weeks to do the job, including beta testing and bug fixing. I’d be more than willing to pay what said programmer typically earns in that time as a fee, but I just can’t find anyone reliable.

    I think my next step is going to be hiring an Indian firm instead of some individual to do the work. That way I know atleast it is supposed to be full time for them and not a side job.

  4. Nico  Says:

    Im a developer from one of those “developing nations” like Chris called them (Argentina).

    Hiring a company instead of a freelancer can give you some extra security, but…can you be sure that it’s a company you are working with and not a kid with a cool website and several IM clients? I mean, if they are from India, you can’t really walk down there and meet them face to face, right?

    There are freelancers that work fulltime. There are also very good companies that work very well (in the US, India, etc). But even the best freelancer/company can have problems with a project. Perhaps the project is very complicate? Sometimes clients are (i don’t mean you).

    Anyway, we can all make mistakes, get delayed or have personal problems that cause as to leave a project. But there is one thing that i don’t tolerate and that doesn’t have any excuse…that is Disappearing. I mean…just disappearing without any (real) explanation. I saw this too many times…from freelancers and companies around the world. I like to call it going MIA. When someone does that, you can be sure you are talking to someone very very unprofessional.

  5. Kyle  Says:

    I do agree programming is the worst to find free lancers for (vs design work for example), and if you pay the extra money to go through a “real” multi-person full time company (US based or international), I agree that this is the best solution.

  6. Contagious Behavior  Says:

    I have had many similar experiences in the 10 years that I have been involved in Web development.

    I have just recently begun the process of identifying reliable offshore vendors. I am even looking for offshore design help.

    Another avenue I am looking at is a US company that has both onshore and offshore capabilities.
    This would seem to help a lot with the communications issues

  7. Fraser Cain  Says:

    I’ve got to agree with the above, it should be relatively straightforward to find a programmer that you can depend on, or at least treat you honestly – especially if the job is taking longer or becoming more complex.

    I usually go with Scriptlance for my projects. Post an extremely detailed description of what you’re looking for, look through the respondents, and go with someone who has similar experience and a huge collection of positive reviews.

    I had an enormous project that was haunting me for the better part of a year. I posted it to Scriptlance, found a coder, agreed on $300, which was one of the higher bids. He wrapped up the project in about 3 days, and then I spent another 4 hours in almost real time, finetuning his output.

    It’s a big world out there, and the Internet lets you connect directly with the skilled people. If you’ve got your project management chops, then you should do just fine. Projects go sideways when the client isn’t specific enough, doesn’t appreciate the impact of changing requirements, has impossible expectations, and isn’t patient about legitimate delays.

  8. Chris  Says:

    I’ve had US based companies drop the ball when working for me. To the point of them not being reachable by phone, or email, and me having to do a chargeback to get my deposit back. These are companies with supposedly 10-20 employees.

    Maybe I’ve just had the bad luck of getting all the bad people.

  9. Andrew Johnson  Says:

    This is why I hired a full time programmer. Granted, none of my projects involve extraordinarily complex or specialized tasks.

    However, I do get these huge benefits:

    a) He already understands my systems, minimal explanation is needed

    b) A routine work schedule & 100% communication access during that schedule means I can have issues fixed immediately.

    Regarding b, the last freelancer I worked with took 2 months of chasing to complete a 15 minute task. It boiled down to a conversation like this — “But I have exams tommorow” Me:”Get this working tonight or your payment will be reversed.” Magically, it was fixed.

    Looking back to when I started my first business, delayed programming projects have been the NUMBER 1 cause for failure, without question. Perhaps these business projects would have failed later on, but they never even got the chance.

    My general belief now is that 99% of the good and reliable programmers already have a job and are working. My programmer was headhunted from another company. The same will likely occur with the next.

  10. Peach  Says:

    No offense intended but maybe its not always the programmers that are lacking but your management skills. It takes time, effort and special skill to coach a team of developers on any project, and especially on a highly technical project such as a complex website.

    I think on the project that you are referring to we have had the right people working on it (Doug was good) but the lack of communication and information made the project fall apart.

    As both an experienced webdeveloper, and (website)project manager I have learned that the most important thing is a FULL and complete spec, upfront. Together with a payment scheme that awards both quality work and timely completion of tasks.
    What lacked especially in your project management was a full spec because you were coming with ideas for the site along the way. In a perfect world maybe you can do that but in the real world you must first think out the whole site, write it down, and then hire the right people.

    I think it would help any website publisher who hires help to read a management book, I can personally recommend Edward P. Lazear, Personnel Economics for Managers (ISBN : 0471594660).


  11. Chris  Says:

    Nah, JR, I spent up to 12 weeks trying to track down Doug, whom by the way mostly talked with my via email, to no avail. Thats 12 weeks of me getting no responses to my messages. The lack of communication there wasn’t really my fault, he vanished so succintly I honestly thought he had gotten killed in some accident.

    Also, I hired you for the job as a javascript GUI expert, which you professed to be, and I went into heavy detail describing the interface I wanted. It was only after you had been hired that you mentioned that you weren’t really that good with javascript at all. Which forced me to hire yet another person.

    As for as not having a detailed spec, the length of the spec is longer than my SEO Guide on this site. Sure, that doesn’t include everything, it doesn’t include the end of project details, certain aspects of monetization I am keeping secret, and everything else, but it did include everything needed to build a functional framework, which is around 90% of the site. When only 10% is completed I doubt spec had anything to do with it.

    To get specific, on that project I had 1 programmer who misrepresented his abilities (you). 1 programmer who lied about the hours he could contribute (like from 40 to 4) (feras) one programmer who was skilled but vanished (doug), a programmer who started briefly but then stopped because of personal reasons (dave), second programmer I hired after Dave who suffered his same fate, and finally a second programmer after that who vanished, only for 6 weeks though this time. I’m still waiting for him to finish the work I’ve already paid him to do.

    I can understand you being as frustrated with that project as me, because even though you misrepresented your skills you were atleast available, and in the end you got less work because the work you could do was secondary to the work that the others needed to do and they just kept quitting. But really don’t put the lack of communication on me, I was chasing programmers constantly.

  12. JR  Says:

    Well, I was still talking to Doug after he stopped working on the site and he told me about being frustrated with how you managed the project, by being vague about some parts and too specific on other parts.
    Quote from Doug: “Chris seems to have specific ideas he wants, though I’m not sure how deap those go.
    Like he presents DB schemas which won’t really work.”
    (from chat log)

    I admit that I disappointed you with my lacking programming skills but that was because the spec called for someone with great ( I read adequate) javascript skills for a GUI, that is for a graphical user interface. Then later on it the project I was expected to do hardcore javascript programming with database interaction. I was proficient enough in javascript to handle most GUI animation but this stuff required a professional programmer.

    I also remember the spec was big but large part of the spec was just background information on the concept itself and not a branched outline of all functional and content elements of the website.

    I have to say Im not sure what you’ve been doing after Doug because those other guys I haven’t really interacted with, so my comments might only be relevant to the Dough period.

    Lastly, my frustration about this project isn’t as much about not getting all the work, as much as bearing to see a great proeject left in the shades, never seeming to get completed.
    Anyways, I hope this project will still come to a good end sometime soon

  13. Aman Singal  Says:


    Trust you are doing fine.

    Well,I introduce myself as a Software Professional working on Microsoft technologies (ASP.Net,VB.Net,C#,Visual Basic 6.0, Crystal Reports) & having around 10 years of experience.I have worked on & Implemented both projects and products like Imaging based workflow solutions, Document Management systems, Banking Solutions etc for Banking & Insurance domain.

    I also work as independent software developer from home (part time / freelancer) & assure quality work. As far as rate is concerned, I expect in between $20-$25/hour(negiotable).

    Please let me know if you have any freelancer requirement for your company’s projects.

    Thanks & Regards

    Aman Singal

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