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This article was published on December 2, 2012

How to hire the right developer for your tech startup

How to hire the right developer for your tech startup
Pravin Daryani
Story by

Pravin Daryani

Pravin Daryani is the co-founder of ApeForest and ContentForest. Pravin Daryani is the co-founder of ApeForest and ContentForest.

I’m currently co-founding ContentForest – a content marketing platform – and we just crossed an exciting line: our private beta is only a few days away and I’m very happy with the way the product is shaping up.

Getting to this state has been a process wherein we learned really valuable lessons. How to get the right development talent in place is one of these. Since this process was rather tricky for us, I want to share a step-by-step process you can follow to hire the right talent for your idea.

Step 0: Preparation, or what do I want?

You’ve found a market opportunity, structured your thoughts into a concept, done your homework and the wireframes are in place – great! Now it’s time to turn your idea into a product!

The very first step is to sort your thoughts. Make sure you spend time on defining what exactly you are looking for. I recommend asking yourself these questions:

  • Do I really need a developer? Yes, ask yourself this question. There are countless pre-made systems and templates available, so depending on what you are building (for instance, building a publishing media startup), you may not need to start from scratch right away.
  • What is my budget and time frame?
  • What kind of programming language should be used?
  • What skills are necessary?
  • How fancy is the design and do I need a UI designer as well?
  • Do I want to hire an individual or a company?
  • Do I want to hire a contractor or employer?

If your are unsure or don’t have a technical background, get a technical advisor on board to discuss the details. The idea is here to be as clear as possible about what you want, as this will determine which sources you should use to find the best match for your project.

Step 1: Sourcing, or where do I find one?

You are now ready to spread the word. The goal in this stage is to attract as many targeted developers to your project as possible. Attracting interest is the key and a sexy simple job description is definitely helpful. You will be permanently looking for great talent and developers know their value.

There are different resources you can use during the sourcing process:

Freelancing websites. There are a lot of these websites in the market, but I usually stick to the top four: Odesk, vWorker, Freelancer and Guru.

Job boards. There are general job boards and those which serve a particular niche. However, with most startup projects it is better to take advantage of specialized sources like the following technical job boards: Authentic Jobs, Mashable Jobs, Smashing Magazine Jobs, Behance and StackOverflow Careers 2.0.

Personal networking. Making use of your professional and personal resources and contacts is one of the biggest rewards of maintaining professional friendships. Attend meetings in your area for entrepreneurs in technology and you will find that there are many people who might just be looking for this kind of position.

Interns and students. Another option is to use interns for your project. Local universities are rich in fresh, untapped talent in the form of students looking to gain important work experience in their fields. To reach the right talent, go to job events held at universities, ask professors of technical departments, stick flyers in the department notice boards and use the online student job board.

Whatever sources you might check out, keep in mind not to disclose the entire concept. Only go with the necessities, essential skills and ask for references and/or work examples.

Step 2: Shortlisting, or how do I make a selection?

It’s time to pick the most promising candidate. If it’s not possible to meet in person, interview suitable applicants via Skype. Apart from obvious questions about skills, experience, portfolio, code examples, time schedule, payment method and so on, the following questions will help you to make the right decision before going ahead.

  • If I talk to your past employers, what would they say about your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Do you work on your own startup or for other employers right now?
  • What sites and blogs do you read regularly? This questions gives you a good impression of how they follow the latest trends and technologies.
  • What happens if you experience technical difficulties? Do you have other programmers who can help you?
  • How do you report your progress?

Check out this post on the subject from SEOmoz for further tips. Keep an eye on the comments as well – really helpful!

Although you might feel more comfortable communicating via email on a day-to-day basis, don’t make a choice without talking to candidates via Skype, Google Talk or something similar. This makes it easier to feel out for their work ethic and passion.

Pay attention to their past projects and I would recommend hiring someone who has already completed projects similar to what you’re trying to do. We tried a good developer who was learning a new programming skill on the job and it was a rather tedious process – I would totally avoid that. Also make sure they are organized and complete tasks on time.

Step 3: Hiring, or how do I get started?

You are almost there and have finally found a great developer you’d like to work with. Before starting the whole project, go with a trial first. Give him a small project that’s complicated enough to check out their skills and way of working, but at the same time simple enough that it can be finished in a short time without a huge cost.

Hire the person only if the code is good, is delivered on time and you are satisfied with the communication and way of working.

While you might be tempted to push on ahead and get started right away, keep in mind that you should protect your ideas. Although it’s unlikely that the developer will “steal” it, have him sign a NDA. Check out LegalZoom for tutorials how to make a non-disclosure and non-compete agreement.

Last but not least, define expectations straight from the beginning.

Any tips you’d like to share from your personal experience in hiring a dev?

Image Credit: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

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