Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

How to Hire Freelance Work on ODesk

When you’re a start-up, you don’t have the luxury of learning by failing. Communication has to be tight and often, you want to follow best-practice principles, and you want passionate and skilled individuals to work for you. You want a Minimum Viable Product that will allow you to go to market quickly. One way to get great results (within budget) is to offshore work on freelance sites like ODesk.

Common complaints about hires:

  • “He disappeared the the middle of a project!”
  • “He just broke everything and left”
  • “He had such great references but ended up being worse than other developers at half the cost.”
  • “My internet connection went down and I won’t have internet connection for another 10 days”
  • “I’m out of time right now and there’s no signal”
  • “My mom is in the hospital so I will not be able to work on your project for a week”
  • “The quality has deteriorated over time and I’m pretty sure they’re using a cheaper contractors at the same price.”
  • “I need to attend an important conference 20 hours from my current location.”
  • “What is this extra charge on this invoice?”

This a quick list of tips and tricks. Keep in mind it is difficult to evaluate skills which you don’t possess yourself:

  • Have a detailed list of requirements (e.g., certifications, language, location, etc). It helps to look at previously completely, similar projects.
  • Smaller projects are easier to deal with. Break up your project into smaller jobs and have deliverables and deadlines in writing. If they exceed the deadline without notice, cancel the job.
  • If you have a long term project, most contractors would be open to drop their rate.
  • Give different teams different, focused pieces of a large project.
  • If they inflate your billing, fire them.
    • They will cost you more in the long run.
    • Integrity is of utmost importance when selecting a freelancer, but is generally hard to determine in the short-term.
  • Don’t disappoint yourself. You have to do your due diligence.
    • References don’t matter much but do review all feedback.
    • Make sure they have the mandatory skills.
    • Most of the contractors, from my experience, exaggerate their skill sets.
    • Look at previous non-NDA’ed work and portfolios.
    • Have them describe their thought process and approach to completing the task.
    • Take a look at some of their work on Github. This will provide enormous insight into the skill, personality, and ability of the applicant to follow instructions.
    • Give them a pre-paid “test period” by creating a private job listing for the list of your final candidates.
    • What project management tools do they use?
  • Most applicants won’t live up to the hype. It’s really difficult to find those who are passionate. Most budget developers (at least from my experience) are driven by money. Above average cost contractors tend to be more dependable and more aligned with their resume.
  • Your requirements need to be as specific as possible.
    • This will lower your costs in the long run and is worth the effort to come up with detailed specifications.
    • Start high level and go into the details.
    • Functional and technical specifications need to have of the highest quality. You should include wireframes, mock-ups of the UI, database schema examples, work/process flow charts, use cases, specific details per section, any CRUD related operations per page, etc.
    • Make sure they’re comfortable with TDD, BDD, etc.
    • Make sure they understand the framework ecosystem very well.
  • Payments should revolve around your use of milestones.
  • Make sure your contractor knows the workload size and requirements and the associated payments.
  • If English is your primary language, ignore prospects where their English is suspect.
  • Make sure you get support after the job is completed (in writing). Defects/bugs could appear at a later time depending on how current/new users interact with your application. 1.5 to 2 months should be sufficient.
  • Plenty of agencies and contractors “fish” for contracts using automated or manual processes. To eliminate this, have them place a secret code word in the subject and at the beginning of their application. This way you could visually filter out these type of contractors.
  • Keep cultural and geographic differences in mind.
    • In India, there are an ungodly number of holidays. Weddings lasts weeks and some tend to work on a more balanced schedule. Make your expectations and timelines clear and in writing.
    • What are their regular working hours?
    • How proficient are they at communicating in English?
  • Hiring from agencies allow you the flexibility to have a “fail-over” contractors.
    • Be wary of agencies that try to pull a contractor off in middle of a project and try to coerce you into hiring a second developer, just in time to bill you for two developers when the previous one “returns.”
    • If another developer is required, make sure you find out how much time he/she will take to ramp up to the current assignment.
    • The major drawback of having an agencies is the lack of one-on-one interaction.
  • If possible, interview them over webcam. That way you have one more way to verify the developer you hired is same one you interviewed.
  • Code review. This is a great indicator of skill and to make sure the quality is aligned with the agreed rate.
  • Have a strong feedback loop in place. The quicker you get to “instant feedback” the better. From my experience, the slower you are to responding to questions/suggestions, the more your investment leaks out (time, money, goals, etc).
    • Generally if you have good communication structure in place (Hangouts, Skype, screen-sharing, etc) and a genuinely skilled contractor, you’ll get great results.
    • Meet everyday with stand-ups via webcam.
    • Have them send you a daily report of the work they’ve done.
  • If they’re not performing up to standard, fire them quick and find someone else. More often than not, they’re just a dead-end. The under-performers are obvious ¬†within a month while the stronger contenders will be able to handle increasingly difficult tasks.

Keep in mind certain programming languages have a larger presence than others depending on region. Since we’re a Rails shop this article has a systematic approach on what to look out for.