How to hire developers for your startup
Despite being the key value-generating asset to the vast majority of startups, developers tend to be unusually low-profile. And desperately needed by founders.
However, when a founder doesn’t come from a tech background, deciphering the whos and hows from the dev world, with its hundreds of programming languages, specializations, work cultures, and more, gets daunting real fast. “That’s why you hire a CTO”, you might say (and you would be right), but that’s another challenge in itself — hence why it’s increasingly common for software development companies, ourselves included, to offer “CTO as a Service”.
The point is: narrowing options down to correctly hire developers is hard, and the penalty for mistakes is often steep. The stage of your startup’s lifecycle, your projects, available funding, and even location influence the optimal choices on how to hire programmers.
With that in mind, in this article, we’ll break down the different ways startup devs can be brought aboard, how those ways should be considered in regards to your startup stage, the challenges associated with dev hiring, and how to solve them.
Hiring developers: a three-pronged path
There are mainly three ways on how to hire developers for your startup: going with freelancers, building up an in-house squad, or outsourcing the work to dedicated teams.
Freelance devs are the best way to solve your demands as fast as possible, provided you know exactly what those demands are.
Going freelance also allows you to reach overseas for talent otherwise unavailable — a task now easier than ever since the world has learned how to work remotely. It can also be easier on your budget since offshore devs tend to be cheaper than, but as competent as US-based ones.
The downsides orbit around communication and teamwork. Freelance devs will hardly share your wholesome passion about the product they’re working at, and working remotely while the rest of the team works physically together may create issues.
Those issues are further emphasized if the developers are the only foreigners in an otherwise local group — US-based startups working with devs in China, for example, will have to take into account cultural differences, local holidays, potential limitations when communicating in English, and an 8-to-12 hour gap in time zones.
In-house teams are the only case where your devs are also your direct employees. As such, this option implies a longer-term commitment.
The major factor regarding whether or not you should hire developers in-house is funding. Solid funding ensures you’re able to pay salaries great enough to retain talent, minimizing turnover, and keeping productivity at high levels. Handpicking app developers that fit your startup’s intended culture also helps to create the community — and motivation — you want your company to have.
The inherent problem with in-house staff is that it requires your startup to be resting on stable foundations. If your funding is running low, you don’t have enough work to keep them busy, or you lack a CTO to properly vet candidates, an in-house team can quickly turn into a resource drain.
Moreover, it’s important to note that due to the pandemic, chances are you’ll be working remotely no matter what, at least for a while. Therefore, the whole face-to-face communication boost might not be as clear-cut as it was before.
Make no mistake: the main thing you outsource by choosing a specialized software development company to work with is your headaches.
An experienced developer doubles down as consultants and managers to your project, ensuring that you won’t ever need to worry about turnover rates, lack of know-how, wasting time sifting through freelancer websites and CVs.
Dedicated teams are used to large-scale, complex projects and know very well how to handle workflows and deadlines. Their expertise in working together removes communication issues between devs and virtually guarantees a bumpless end product delivery.
You are, however, hiring tried and tested, extremely qualified professionals. It will usually require a level of investment large enough to not compensate if you need just one of two programmers. It’s also important that you find a partner that meets your needs — not all dedicated teams are created equal, so picking a vendor that has a proven record in your segment and/or desired tech specifications is key.
Recruitment tips your HR will thank you for
We should highlight upfront that recruitment “best practices” for startups vary considerably whether you’re still in early-stage or already matured a bit. That said:
If you have just kicked off your startup:
- Have a CTO whose skills you can trust. Unless the tech requirements of your solution are minimal, this is pretty much non-negotiable. Remember that those can be outsourced as well.
- Find a compromise between tech and social skills. Don’t worry about getting the “best coders”. At this stage, your main worry will be translating your vision into practice. As such, having developers that excel at communicating with you trumps sheer tech fingers.
- Vet your candidates. You don’t want to waste time and money with bad hiring decisions. Due diligence, often involving multiple interviews, is the best way to guarantee you’re hiring talented devs even on platforms that already pre-vet. This includes vetting dev shops.
- Don’t limit yourself to local devs. Regions like Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia have incredibly robust IT industries, with plenty of talent available at affordable rates. Explore your worldwide options as much as possible.
If your well-established startup needs scaling:
- Summarize exactly what you’re looking for. An early-stage startup may not know exactly the programming languages it needs. Mid-level startups have more mileage and a clearer path forward, so pinpoint your needs as much as possible to facilitate headhunting.
- Treat recruitment as a task. Create processes to be followed and assets to be managed just as you would in any other project. It might sound exaggerated... until you’re receiving hundreds of applications for dozens of spots and everything goes awry. Better safe than sorry.
- Be clear about the company’s future goals. During hiring interviews, high-tier devs are also evaluating you. If you want to attract great talent, you must be open about the company’s overall qualities and short/mid-term objectives, together with why joining your startup is a great idea they won’t regret.
- Throw task-related oddball questions. This is a great way to fish for eccentric answers, which often correlates to smart, out-of-the-box thought processes. It gives you an insight into the way a candidate approaches problem-solving, and positive surprises here should merit further talking rounds.
Typical challenges, typical solutions
Here are some of the most common issues you should expect during the hiring process, regardless of scope, and how you could act to avoid those.
- Make an effort to retain talent. This is more about creating growth opportunities than paying more money. Ambitious devs don’t take long to leave the boat if they’re feeling stagnant. The last thing you want is having to fulfill the vacancy of a competent dev.
- Don’t shy away from asking for consultations. Specialized dev shops will be more than glad to provide you with quotes to lead you towards informed decisions. That includes which programming languages and tech to use, developer traits you should consider more closely, price ranges for your needs, and even legal advice for IP-related questions.
- Hard skills are teachable. Soft skills, less so. Interpersonal prowess is invaluable to any job, but the highly technical nature of coding tends to overshadow the importance of soft skills. Once again, communication is key, even more so in remote-working times. If a candidate (or recently hired) app developer proves to be average at a programming language but excels at analytic thinking, time management, and properly communicating issues, keep them.
- Read the fine print in your candidates’ CV. Apart from details like time spent in college, how much job-hopping has been done etc, thoroughly examining a CV lets you come up with creative ways to challenge potential hires. Thinking about a brief for a small task to assess their skill? Make it so it involves the bottom programming language in their CV — it’s usually the one they’re the least used to. If they nail it, chances are they’ll nail anything you throw at them.
- Accommodate your new hires with proper onboarding. Getting used to new processes demands time even from the experienced. Codebases, workflow, management tools, documentation standards: it’s a lot to take in all at once, and having a mentor to help them breathe in once in a while will be highly appreciated to all parties involved.
To hire programmers is a fluid process contained within a somewhat rigid box of benchmarks. And while, as a founder, it might be tempting to micromanage every step of the way, delegating the minutiae to more experienced team members is fundamental to ensure success.
Think about it from another angle: every moment you spend going over dozens of potential candidates is time you could be using for building your business — going after fundraising, for one. As a founder, the cost of your time will likely be the most expensive in the entire company. It has to be well used.
Balancing and overseeing time, budget, employees and prospects is as exciting as is tiresome. As such, remember to keep your options open, ponder whenever pivots feel necessary, and don’t hesitate to ask for a hand. Or many.
We assure you coding hands are aplenty around here.