Where are all the good Web developers?
If you’re having trouble finding them, ask yourself: Am I a bad client, or am I looking in the wrong place?
So you want to build something on the Web.
Maybe you’ve got a great app idea and you just need someone to build it for you. Maybe you’re in charge of expanding the existing platform for the company you work for. No matter what you are building, you will encounter the same question your first time around the block:
Where are all the good Web developers?
After working with various developers in different levels for over 12 years, I’ve learned that finding a great developer can be been hit or miss. Without some guidance or know-how, you will invariably end up with a bad one, since my experience has led me to believe that bad developers outnumber the truly great ones by a hundred to one. Over the course of 12 years, I’ve seen plenty of “developers” who boast their technical ability on paper only to fail a simple “Hello World” screening test.
During my time working for a software company where I was involved in hiring as well as working on projects with various developers at various levels, I encountered this issue time and time again. But as the situation recurred, I began to recognize ways around it. So, to save you from all the headaches I’ve experienced, here’s what I now know.
Don’t be fooled
Why is it so difficult to find a good developer? First of all, it’s 2015 — you and everyone else in the world want a nice Web application. Web development is a huge business. According to a Gartner report, large companies spend roughly $130 billion (with a “B”) on building websites alone. Because Web development is a technical discipline at its core, it’s easy for nontechnical types to get completely lost in the weeds. There is ample opportunity for scammers to fool unsuspecting clients into bad deals, and for mediocre coders to fool you (and themselves) into thinking they know what they are doing.
In addition to being trustworthy and able to code, the right developer must also be able to communicate well, understand your needs, explain options, adapt quickly to problems, and do all of it within budget and time constraints. These can be hard criteria to meet.
What are you doing wrong?
According to a study by the Computing Research Association, overall enrollment in computer science programs increased by 11.5% in the 2011-12 school year, marking the fourth year of increase. Those students should now be graduating, adding to the existing developer pool. So why are good Web developers so hard to find? There are two major reasons you are most likely to find yourself in this conundrum:
You’re probably a bad client.
You’re looking in the wrong place.
Let’s examine these possibilities a little more closely.
You’re a bad client
The best developers have had their fair share of bad gigs already, and they know what to look out for. If they see any of these red flags, you’re done for:
Let’s clear this up right away:
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Good developers are not cheap. Cheap developers are not good.
Yes, there are exceptions, but if you’re banking on them, you might as well play the lottery. Good developers are notoriously hard to vet. Open marketplace sites that purport to make competition work in your favor actually just serve to create markets flooded with subpar and often unreliable providers. Skilled Web developers who join these platforms are drowned out in the noise and unable to operate at any profit. Quickly realizing there are greener pastures elsewhere, they usually move on.
“That’s OK,” you might say. “I don’t need it to be perfect.” But a poorly built piece of software is often less than worthless: It is a liability. At one point, I was working on a billing software project where we needed skilled C# programmers. Since C# is a programming language that’s easy to learn yet very difficult to master, we struggled in finding the best person to work with us. The hiring process dragged on the whole project timeline, so we ended up selecting from a pool of developers in a marketplace (which will remain unnamed). It was a tedious process, and likely to be even worse for companies that don’t have hiring managers with deep tech knowledge. After a series of interviews and tests, we settled on a couple of C# developers who looked great on paper but were complete letdowns when it came to the actual work. We struggled through to a completed product, but only because we didn’t have much choice.
When I say that we ended up with a “completed product,” I do not mean that our troubles were over. Far from it. In fact, they were just beginning. Buggy architecture is not something you can hide from your users. It’s not just unattractive; it is infuriating to interact with. And once you have started down this path, you will be forever haunted by the compounding costs of the worst enemy you have ever faced: code debt. In the long run, fixing a broken and hacked-together code base can easily cost 10 times as much as it would have cost to do it correctly in the first place.