How To Hire A Programmer

Businesses have been hiring programmers for decades now.    Back in the 70s it was something only Fortune 100 companies did.  Today everyone from your local cafe to full-fledged software companies do it.   Unfortunately few now how to hire a programmer.

Nearly every-single business outside of the tech sector gets screwed when paying an outside agency to write their apps. If you’ve hired a programmer recently it is very likely you are on that list.   If you don’t think you’ve been screwed, you are likely just wallowing in a pool of naivety as your coder-for-hire laughs all the way to the bank.

Let’s face it – 90% of small businesses hire programmers based on a good looking online profile page and PRICE.   Nothing more.     “Ooooh, that one looks like a smart programmer.   He has a nice web page.  And only charges $30/hour instead of that CRAZY $150/hour fee the other guy wanted!”

That is a ridiculously horrible way to hire a programmer.

Do you REALLY know what a coder that costs $150/hour is doing differently than a $30/hour programmer?  Probably not.   But you will when your deadlines are missed, nothing works, and you end up having to hire a real programmer 3 months past your launch date.

Hire Someone To Hire Programmers

You won’t do it, but I’m telling you that unless you have some CLUE as to how to evaluate the work of your hired tech team you are going to get burned.    Instead of trying to ask questions that seem techie from an article you scanned 30 seconds before talking to your consulting agency — go find someone you trust.  Ask friends, neighbors, and business associates about someone that KNOWS technology.

Then hire them to hire your tech team.

Any technical expert that knows how to hire programmers will likely charge far more than the rate you are willing to pay your programmers.  However the up-front work they do should be a small percentage of the overall budget.   Hiring for a month-long 150 hour project?    Hire your “tech evaluator” for 10 hours of time to evaluate your outside programming consultants before you hire them.

Keep A Trusted Expert On Retainer

Keep them on retainer to check your weekly vendor reports, validate the work flow, and ensure you are getting what you paid for.    Hiring is only the start of the process.    Plenty of vendors will blow smoke up your ass and talk all kinds of tech jargon to make it sound like you are getting exactly what you need.  As soon as the project starts you end up with an offshore team that barely understands the project objectives and does all kinds of creative “cowboy coding”.

Your trusted expert is in your corner and will quickly spot anomalies and tell you when things are wrong.

Low Cost Smart Programmers Are Crafty

Often you will find a code team that seems well-versed in what they do.   They have a team of intelligent coders on staff in those offshore agencies.    Unfortunately those brilliant coders also tend to be paid shit.    Your $30/hour contract is turning around and keeping $20/hour for “management” and paying some poor guy $10/hour to write the actual code.

Their only job is to check all the boxes on your punch list of “features”.    The problem is the smart coders excel at creating what LOOKS like a functional app but is nothing but smoke-and-mirrors.    Sure, the checkbox stays checked but months after delivery you learn “hey, that check box is NOT enabling the do-hickey it was supposed to”.

Sadly these things are easy to fake — and good programmers, like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, are exceptional at faking it.  You’ll buy in hook-link-and-sinker only to realize they’ve been faking it for months.

Pay A Fair Price

Paying a price that seems too good to be true?   That is because it is.

In 2018 the average senior programmer salary in the USA is close to $100,000.   A junior programmer is over $60,000.    Consider perks, health benefits, and the rest and do the math.    Hourly rates should be the same valuation less a few zeros.    If you are doing a lightweight project – and most are NOT going to fit that category if you are hiring a consulting team – expect to pay AT LEAST $60/hour for the coder.   Add 15% for management and overhead for larger projects.      Doing a more complex project?  Expect to pay $100/hour plus the same 15% overhead rate.

If you are not paying those rates now, you will.

The 80/20 Rule

You’ve heard it before but a special version of this rule applies to large software projects.   It is impossible to count the number of calls that come in where, after evaluating the true state of a project the conversation goes like this:

“How much?    But that was supposed to be the ENTIRE budget.  The last developer said they finished 80% of the work and used nearly all of the budget.”

— “Sorry, but they completed 80% of the checklist.   The 20% of the items on your list were left behind because they are difficult to implement.  Those items take up 80% of the HOURS needed to do the work.”

Your second developer that you expected to hire for 20% of your original budget inherited a project that has 80% of the work left to do.   Now your $50,000 project that paid $40,000 to the first vendor is staring down another $40,000 bill to finish the job.    More often than not you’ll end up spending $50,000 to get it done because your new hire has to fix fundamental mistakes made by the first developers because they did not tackle the “hard stuff” and their shiny paint job needs to be redone when it is fixed.

Building Shiny Things Is Easy

A good analogy – you hire someone to build a custom car.  They charge you 80% to build it and deliver a shiny new sports car.  Looks great.

Until you find out it is only a body, seats, and steering wheel.  The engine and transmission are completely missing.    When your new custom shop gets to work everything is torn down and at the end of the day the entire car needs a new paint job and interior.

Instead of trusting the guys that only build kit-cars that look all shiny and new, go hire an automotive engineer to evaluate them.    Make sure they can do more than build a shiny facade.

Unless you want to park it in your driveway and have your neighbors envious of your excessively expensive lawn ornament… in which case, go ahead and hire the cheaper crew with the nice photos.   Just don’t plan on driving your new purchase around town.


Have a story about how you got burned?   Or maybe a story about how that $30/hour programmer turned out great?    Please share in the comments below.

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