Freelance developers have a good gig going on these days.
They get the opportunity to work on many different projects and build new skills in the process. Many of the best can pick and choose projects, once they have gained enough years of experience and a solid reputation to attract repeat clients. They often make great money, and generally have more control over their hours.
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For software organizations, indie developers can be a lifesaver when workload increases unexpectedly or it’s not economically viable to hire full-time developers.
When there’s a talent shortage, it’s usually much easier and faster to find a freelancer than a full-time developer. Finally, when a project requires a specialized skill that won’t be needed continually, such as a specific type of security testing and updates, freelancers are the perfect fit.
Yet there are drawbacks in using freelancers, especially if a company becomes too dependent on the contract model and doesn’t invest in staff for growth and stability.
Freelancers aren’t as invested emotionally in the business, since they are short timers. Their output may reflect a “good enough” result instead of “the very best I can do.”
Using too many freelancers to effectively replace core developers is also expensive, since freelancers earn more per hour than their full-time counterparts. They must charge more to cover their self-paid benefits and if they are working through an agency, there are fees built in to the rate.
However, if your company uses freelancers strategically, for short-term projects or temporary work surges, it’s a smart way to compete and be nimble.
Yet freelancers are not a commodity product; experience and skills are just the starting point. You want to ensure that a freelancer has the ability to get along with your team and deliver on requirements effectively and with self-direction.
Here’s a list of the top personality traits to look for when hiring freelancers to supplement your development team.
Self-motivation and organization
The best developers often aren’t the ones who write the best code. They are the ones who can estimate work properly, plan well for the work and budget their time effectively.
They must be able to be their own boss, and that personality trait isn’t easy to find in most technical resources.
Consider that if you are paying on a fixed fee basis and the freelancer underestimates the time, you’re going to get burned on the overage. The freelancer may rush through the work and cut corners on quality practices like testing, just in order to finish on time and not lose money.
Referrals, even though sometimes flawed, are one way to determine whether your freelancer has these project management skills.
Another way, perhaps more objective, is to hire the individual on a trial basis. Assign the individual a small piece of the project, and see how they deliver. If all goes well, they’ve got the job.
Freelancers are often working from home, and rarely experience frequent interaction with team members to bounce off ideas or resolve issues. The requirements they receive from the product manager may not be crystal clear or specific.
Freelancers should be able to learn on the go, ask for direction if something is not clear, and fill in the blanks when needed to deliver on time and with professionalism.
Thanks to the many online communities of software developers, freelancers have all the resources they need and more to research solutions, troubleshoot problems and exchange ideas with others who have been down the same path. Ask individuals how they have solved problems in the past and approached a difficult or unclear assignment.
Freelancers get hired time and time again when they are easy to work with and can deal with diverse personalities and frequently-changing requests.
This job is not for everyone. Look for individuals who demonstrate patience, remain cool under pressure, are respectful and diplomatic during contentious meetings and exhibit a friendly, client-first attitude.
To repeat, the best developers aren’t always the ones who write the best code. Those who have the best attitude will go farther.
On the same token, an important piece of advice for aspiring freelancers is: Leave your ego at the door.
This might be especially difficult for a hot developer who just left a full-time job. He or she might not be ready for the critique that typically falls on the freelancer from demanding clients.
It’s always easier and even more politically-correct to point fingers at the outsider than a colleague sitting next to you. Freelance developers making upwards of $100 per hour may also be judged more harshly, based upon their premium rates.
Ask the potential freelancer and her referrals, whether she will go above and beyond the expectations of internal employees and if she is not easily offended by the random judgmental remark.
Finally, while many freelancers love a challenge, not all relish it. Some are freelancers for a reason; they didn’t go the extra mile for an employer.
Look for individuals who are excited by the prospect of learning new skills quickly, who don’t mind doing grunt work here and there, and who can display creative ingenuity in the face of sometimes unreasonable requests. Troubleshooters and problem solvers are wonderful candidates for freelancers.
Freelance developers are highly necessary and valuable contributors to the tech workforce. The ones worth their salt will work hard for your business, regardless of not getting in on the stock bonuses, career growth possibilities and other insider perks.
For those freelancers who are adept at swiftly handling difficult problems with a smile, pay a bonus. After all, you never know when you might need that awesome freelancer again to get your company through a tough spot.