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If you’re an entrepreneur near the beginning of the startup journey, one of the most important decisions you will make is choosing a developer for your team. For those with more resources, it’s deciding how to build a team of developers. 

If you have no background in programming and software development, the task is especially daunting. Where do you even begin? What skills and languages should you be evaluating for? What personality characteristics will work best for what you’re looking for? And perhaps the most crucial part of all: Do you hire in-house, freelance, or remote developers? 

If you’re asking these questions, you’re on the right track. Even with no programming experience, you are capable of hiring a developer, and even building a development team. This article is a great place to begin. 

Evaluating the Skill Set and the Person 

Making a good developer hire for your startup begins with identifying the right skill set. But it’s not simply a matter of which programming languages a candidate knows. 

The Hard Skills

The most common programming languages for software are Java, Javascript, HTML, Python, C/C++, Ruby, among others. Most experienced developers are comfortable performing tasks in multiple languages. The best candidates - whether they are highly experienced or just starting out -usually have an interest in learning more about their craft. That that might mean acquiring new languages or finding new applications for the skills they have.

What’s most important, of course, is how capable the candidate is to do the job you’re asking them to do. There’s no better way to do this than to give your candidates a test project that is as close as possible to the work they will be doing with you. Whether the project takes a day, a week, or even a couple of weeks, this is the best way to see if the candidate has what you’re looking for. Note that you should compensate the candidate for the time they spend working on the project in this scenario. 

Of course, it would be hard to give a project like this to every single candidate that you come across. A good way to filter candidates is to give them a coding challenge. This can be synchronous and collaborative, in which the candidate works in real time (either in person or remotely) with you, or someone on your team, on a specific challenge or a series of tasks. This gives you the opportunity not just to see the candidate’s coding chops, but also to get a feel for how well they’ll perform on a team. 

You can also do this asynchronously, in which you would use an online platform with readymade challenges that the candidate has to create a solution for. In this scenario, I usually ask candidates to record themselves explaining how they went about creating a solution for the challenge at hand. It’s helpful for me to see the logic behind the approach they take in solving a problem. 

I want to stress that if you are someone with no technical background or with limited knowledge on coding, I recommend having someone help review the work performed by your candidates. Whether that means hiring a recruiter or a coding consultant, it will make a big difference in finding someone with the right skills who will be the best fit for your team.

The Intangibles 

The programming skills of a candidate is just one part of evaluating a developer. It’s especially true for startups that assess the intangibles (or the “soft skills”) which are an invaluable part of the hiring process. Here are a few considerations for assessing the intangibles of your developer hire: 

- Are they effective communicators?

- How much initiative do they show? Will employing this person require hand-holding? 

- Are they intellectually curious?

- Are they capable of working on a diverse, professional team? What do their colleagues (in different relationships) say about working about them? 

- What are their goals in the long and short term? Why do they want to work with you? 

- Do they believe in your mission? 

- If a candidate looks strong in each of these areas, you are probably on the way to making a good developer hire for your startup. 

Deciding Where Your Developers Will Work 

No less important than evaluating the skill set of a developer is identifying where your developers work — as well as understanding the ‘why’ behind your plan. In fact, it will have a major influence on how you evaluate candidates. Let’s take a look at some reasons why you should - and shouldn’t - hire candidates in each scenario. 

In-House

In this scenario, your developer would be working with you, in your office or onsite almost all of the time. 

Why You Should 

Some people communicate more effectively face to face, especially at the beginning of a working relationship. You are building your startup around an office culture, and it’s important for the developers you hire to be a part of it.

Hiring in-house is also a good option if you prefer to keep a close watch on your team members. Note that some developers don’t work well with this kind of management style. Also ask yourself: Do you want to hire developers that need to be looked after?

Why You Shouldn’t 

This is not a good idea if you find the ideal candidate who is not available to work at the location where you need them. It might be worth considering some flexibility when it comes to where your developer is working from. Note that even if you prefer meeting someone face to face before starting to work with them, there are always possibilities to have an in-person orientation at the beginning of your working relationship. 

Freelancer

This means your startup would hire a freelance developer strictly on a per-project or retainer basis.

Why You Should

This is an option to consider if you have limited funds for building your team. Hiring a freelancer presents the least amount of financial risk.  

Hiring a freelance developer is also the route to consider if you are not sure you’ll have work for that person in three or six months’ time. It’s also worth considering if you’d like to see how your developer works on a few projects before you commit to them more permanently. 

Why You Shouldn’t 

A plan that relies solely on freelance developers may not be the best if establishing a strong team culture is a priority for you. Likewise, you give your business a better shot at growing if you’re willing to show a stronger commitment to your developers.

Remote Developer 

Hiring a remote developer means they will work with you full-time, but almost always remotely.  

Why You Should

Remote workers are found to be more productive and are far less likely to experience burnout. This matters, because burnout significantly affects businesses while also hurting employees. 

Also consider that by hiring a remote developer for your startup, you are opening your business to a pool of global talent. This enables you to build more diverse and globally-minded teams capable of solving more complex issues. 

Hiring remote developers also opens up the possibility of building a team for a fraction of the cost to hire in-house developers in cities like San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and New York. 

Plus, you can always find a way to establish a good in-person connection with your developer before they start working with you, or within the first few months. 

Why You Shouldn’t  

If you don’t have a plan or a structure to manage your remote developers, taking this approach can be challenging — and sometimes even disastrous. 

The good news is that it’s relatively simple to put together a plan for making your remote team work — even if it’s just one developer. This is something I know a lot about, having built multiple remote teams. In fact, at Microverse, we’re experts on remote developer teams. Feel free to reach out any time, we’ll be happy to help. 


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