This is Part 2 of a 2 part series on hiring developers. Read Part 1, How to Hire Programmers, if you’re hiring for full time positions. Read this article if you’re outsourcing.
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I recently wrote about how to hire programmers which focuses on hiring full time employees. This post is tailored to help you learn how to hire outsourced developers. You’ll see that the two methods share a lot of similarities except hiring a contractor is a bit less involved as they are not going to be joining your team full time.
A little background … I’ve hired almost 10 remote, outsourced developers who were all overseas using the method I explain below. I feel that while its not fool proof, its the best method I’ve encountered and I feel that it has the best ROI with the lowest time commitment. Over the years I’ve used contract employees for my business and I’ve been able to create this process as a by-product of my experiences. Sometimes it went well, other times it didn’t and sometimes it was an absolute disaster. After refining my hiring practices many times over I was able to create the process below that always returned top notch talent for outsourced developers. I hope the process below does the same you.
There are 4 simple steps and if you cut out the job posting step then you actually only have three steps to go through. The goal of this process is to save you time and money while maximizing the chance of getting the best candidate you can find. Please note, during this process you will probably need to spend anywhere from $50-$250 depending on the contractors that you put through this review process – more on that later. You will be posting a job, reviewing the candidates and selecting the top X (usually at least the top 10). At that point you’ll hire them to do a simple programming task. Once they complete it (if they complete it) you’ll be able to review the code and determine who has the best implementation and then you usually will hire that person. The steps are listed below.
4 Steps to Hiring a Good Outsourced Developer
- Post a Job Description a Job Site
- Prelim Review: Hire the top Candidates (minimum 10) for 1 Hour
- The Programming Task
- Keep the Top Candidate(s)
Step 1: Post a Job Description on a Job Site
Goal: To create an interesting job posting that will attract quality applicants
Note: I prefer to use oDesk.com as the site where I hire my contract programers so this entire article is baed around that site.
When hiring in oDesk you can provide various options about the job. For each of these sections I tend to use the following settings:
- Skills Required
- If its another technology, put those technologies here.
- How would you like to pay
- Hourly when doing open ended development such as new feature work.
- Fixed when the exact scope is defined. Such as: Install WordPress and configure theme to look like X.
- Estimated workload
- This varies person to person, but I usually have them on for Part Time
- Desired Experience Level
- Always choose Intermediate or Expert. Choosing beginner will get you some shoddy work that will eventually cost you 2x as much to replace later.
- Marketplace Visibility
- Anyone can find this job (UNLESS … I’m hiring a specific person)
- Preferred Qualifications
- Freelancer Type: No preference
- Minimum Feedback Score: No Preference
- The reason for this is because there are TONS of people who are experts who have never completed a job on oDesk before. Also, sometimes people get a bad score from the only job they did … not because it was bad work but because the person managing the product was terrible at their job. Don’t count them out.
- Hours billed on ODesk: No preference
- Again, you could have someone who is an expert who just joined. Don’t count them out.
- This one can be tricky. I personally do not care where they are. But, this is up to you. I usually put No Preference. However, if you are testing the various locations of the world to find what works best for you then choose that location.
- English Level: 5 out of 5
- This is a requirement. A lot of contractors on ODesk will say their 4/5 but when you converse with them via email, IM or Skype/Google Hangout you’ll realize they’re actually more like a 2 or a 3. Being able to communicate effectively is key to success. Without it, you’re fighting an uphill battle.
- Screening Questions
- I personally don’t add these as programming jobs are quite technical and either you know how to program well or you don’t.
Now, post the job.
Wait about 48 hours and then move onto step 2. During this time you’ll start having people apply for the position.
Step 2: Prelim Review – Hire the Top Candidates (at least 10)
Goal: To hire the top candidates who seem qualified in order to take them to the next step.
You’re probably going to get upwards of 25-60 applicants for your job posting from candidates all over the world. The first thing you will need to do is trim the list down. Here’s how you do it.
- Cut anyone whose English (or whatever your chosen 5/5 language is) is terrible and very difficult to read. This is an immediate red flag. If you can’t communicate now, how do you expect to communicate later?
- Cut anyone who does not have the skills to do the work. e.g. – If you’re hiring for a Rails developer and the candidates does not list Rails as one of their skills cut them from the list. You want the highest quality you can afford.
- Cut anyone that doesn’t seem to fit the job description. e.g. – If you want someone to develop a Game for you, a line of business web developer probably isn’t the best fit for you.
- Cut anyone who is way out of your budget. Sure, that guy who’s charging $155 an hour looks great but maybe your budget is $25/hr. No point in entertaining the thought of getting a $155/hr candidate on the roster. You’ll waste their time and yours.
After 48-72 hours you’ll want to trim your list down to a minimum of 10 candidates.
You’re at the point where you are now going to spend real money. If the average wage of your applicants is between $5 and $25 and hour you’ll spend roughly $50-250 to find the right person (at most). You’ll want to hire all 10 candidates. Yes, I’m serious. However, when you hire them you will inform them that you’re going to hire them to complete a simple task that should take no longer than 1 hour. You will send them the link to the Programming Task (Step 3) so they can complete the task. This one hour is PAID to the contractor when they do the work. This shows good faith to the contractor so they do not feel like they’re having to do work for free. If you ask outsourcers/freelancers/contractors to do work for free you’ll lose ALL of the good/best developers immediately. When you pay someone a full hour of their rate they take you much more seriously.
Something interesting happens at this point in the process. An average of 50% of the candidates never continue past this step. The reason is not exactly known but I suspect it is because they simply do not know how to perform the task that is given to them. That is exactly what Step 3 is for, weeding out the candidates who can do the work from those who cannot.
Step 3: The Programming Task
End Goals: Identify if the candidate has the necessary ability to solve programming problems with code. Gain insight into the quality of code that is produced by this candidate.
You’ll notice that this step is very similar to Step 3 in the How to Hire A Programmer article with a few alterations sprinkled about. While the articles share similarities there are key differences in the process so please continue reading if you’ve already read the previous article on How to Hire a Programmer.
During the Programming Task* the candidate will be tasked with solving a real problem using the language that I specify. The coding task should not take an experienced programmer more than 1 hour to complete at most. I only pay for one hour of the contractors time. They can take as long as they want to get it done, but I’ll only pay for one hour. The goal is simple: To determine if the candidate can produce the code that is needed.
The programming challenge is the great equalizer. Not because the problem is necessarily difficult (it’s not, its easy), but because it allows you to gain insight into the quality of code that the person writes. It also answers a vast array of other questions as well:
- Does the candidate communicate effectively?
- Does the candidate know how to follow directions?
- Does the candidate know how to use Git and GitHub?
- Does the candidate follow coding best practices?
- Does the candidate know how to code?
- Does the candidate follow through and succeed?
I usually inform the candidate that the solution to the problem is due within 24 hours. The programming challenge is posted online on GitHub/BitBucket in a Git repo that is shared across all candidates. The same repo is used for everyone. Yes, that means that others can see the same answers as other applicants (via pull request). Thats fine because if someone wants to cheat it is easy to detect. If 3 people’s repo’s look exactly the same then the person who checked in the code first is most likely the person who wrote it. No two people write the exact same code every single time.
The repo contains all the necessary information about the task. The candidate is to follow the instructions and email me when their done. Here are a few example of some of the programming challenges I’ve created:
Feel free to fork these and save them for yourself. If you visited any of the sites above you’ll see that each of these examples had the candidate perform a series of steps. If the candidate is not sure of what to do, they could ask me for clarification or simply Google for the answer. When the candidate is done they’re to submit a pull request to me so I can review it.
This challenge is genius because it answers so many questions about the candidate. Namely, can they code and get something done on time. It also gives me the chance to review the code to see if it is a complete hack or if its something that is quite good. What I’ve found is that on average over 60% of candidates will never finish the problem – they simply don’t know how. Of the 40% that finish only about 20% actual do it correctly and usually at that point you’re left with either 1 or 2 candidates that are looking good. If you have more to choose from then thats a good problem to have!
It is also important to note that ODesk requires that the candidates install monitoring software that takes periodic screen shots of the work they’re doing so that you can review the work. This allows me to view their progress and semi-evaluate their process of solving the problem.
A common concern when letting someone do this task is: What happens if they cheat? What if they call their friend or have someone else do it for them? That is a possibility, but I see this as a real world problem. Sometimes programmers don’t know how to solve a problem so they have to call for help. They call friends, IM them, look stuff up on the internet or just find an open source project that does what they want and they take the code and modify it. Thats the world programmers live in. If I do that at an office or at home, who cares. If you’re truly a hack I’ll know fairly quickly. If you do get hired, I’m going to sniff out a problem very quickly and at that point you’ll need to make the decision to keep the person or not. If you’re a business person who can’t sniff this out, you may notice other things slipping such as timeframes, budgets etc. Any red flags are exactly that, red flags – so evaluate each one with caution.
If the candidate fails to complete the programming challenge, thats an immediate red flag. The task should be easy enough for an experienced programmer to finish in an hour. If the candidate cannot finish within the time allotted either the programming task is way too hard or the candidate is not suited for the position. If you’r using my Git repos from the links above (or something very similar) then this should not be the case. At this point I advise to stop the interview process for those who cannot complete the task and move onto the next candidate.
For those that do solve the problem correctly I like to review the code and if everything is satisfactory I’ll put them on the list of potential hires.
If you’re someone who cannot code, but you want to follow this process I highly suggest you find a friend, friend of the family, or coworker who is a programmer and ask them to help you. Offer to pay for 2 hours of their time so you can get their opinion of the candidates. Explain to them the process you’re going through so they know what their role is – a code reviewer. If you use this approach you will want to give the code reviewer instructions to give you a scale of “No/Maybe/Yes” for each code review. No means No – do not hire. Maybe means – its ok, not perfect, but workable. Yes means Yes, hire this person, this is good work. I include maybe because sometimes code looks good, but its not perfect. Thats OK. Sometimes you need to get out an MVP of a product out the door ASAP and it does not have to be perfect, it just has to work. The “Maybe” candidates are suitable for this because you’re testing a market/etc and you’re trying to get things done as fast as possible. However, you want to aim for YES candidates at all times if possible.
If you don’t find anyone who can solve the problem, repost the job posting to get some new leads. I’ve had to post a job a couple of times to get the correct person for the job. Yes, this costs more money, but it is much cheaper to pay this up front than months down the road.
Step 4: Keep the Top Candidate(s)
Goal: To hire the proper person/people for the position
In the previous step you identified who you can hire through code review and through initial filtering based upon communication through the application process. At this point you should be ready to hire your contractor. You may have had 2-3 people make it this far.
If you’re hiring for one position, hire the top candidate and let the other two know that you decided to go with someone else but you may be in contact with them shortly because you were impressed and you may need to grow your team. This leaves the door open for future conversation with those candidates. If you need to hire two people, hire the top two. You get the point here.
If you don’t end up with enough contractors, then repost the position.
Hiring a contractor can be a challenging task, but if you follow the steps outlined above you’ll find that you can lock in a good outsourced developer and eliminate the cruft in a few easy steps. I hope this helps you land a great outsourced developer.
* I’d love to take full credit for creating the programming challenge on my own, but I cannot. The implementation of this challenge was inspired by a company by the name of Integrum (who no longer does programming) for this method of programming challenge.