Finding a technical partner when you’re a non-technical person is probably the single hardest thing I’ve had to do when starting a tech company focused on mobile app development for healthcare and ecommerce applications. I put together this post to help entrepreneurs in this position navigate through some of the challenges that arise.

How Much Coding Do I Need To Know?

When you’re going to be collaborating with a developer, it always helps to know a little code. But when it comes to vetting a developer, you’re just not going to be good enough fast enough to do it, so you shouldn’t wait. You can’t review someone objectively when you’re not on their level or higher. So the answer here would be It Doesn’t Really Matter.

So Who Does The Vetting?

You have to find someone that’s a preeminent rockstar in the field. I’m talking someone that’s good enough to mentor other developers. I say this for a few reasons:

I assume you’re bootstrapping or early-stage, so you’re scoffing at the idea of paying $100/hr for a good developer’s time. But guess what? True rockstar developers that have surpassed most of the field are far more willing and able to help you without pay. This is the beauty of the startup ecosystem. The more successful people are, the more time they’re willing to throw at helping others come up.

So go to your local startup meetups. Do not go there trying to recruit. Instead, say you’re looking for mentorship. Identify developers from successful startups or high-level positions at web development firms. Tell them you’re looking to hire developers for your startup, and need an expert to help vet.

Now what they’ll hopefully do is help you run code challenges (you know, like that scene from The Social Network where Mark was trying to hire a scrappy college intern). If you’re looking at hiring remotely, then they should help you vet their GitHub contributions, portfolio, and ideally review a freshly-coded demo project of some complexity.

But what if I can’t find someone to vet for me?

Then your job will be harder. Your chances of success will be lower. But there are certainly a few hacks that I can suggest to improve your chances:

Ask for a developer’s portfolio

Was a given project for their own startup, or were they contractors? Then ask exactly what features they developed. Go through the apps to test out those features for bugs (You’ll be shocked at how many apps on portfolios error out when you sign up).

For projects that are their own startup, pay close attention to design. If most apps are horribly designed, I would run away. If designed moderately well, that either means that the developer knows design (a somewhat rare and awesome thing), or the developer knows how to work in a team with frontend folks. It’s your job to figure out exactly what the developer-designer relationship looked like. Knowing this will tell you a lot about the developer’s recognition of the importance of the user experience and ability to thrive in a team.

Ask for a developer’s GitHub profile

If they have a bunch of contributions and stars, that means they’re a huge open-source contributor. The reason why this predicts success is that open-source builds good habits. It means a developer is transparent about their code, and likely open to constructive feedback. If they have a bunch of stars, it means other developers are upvoting their work. It also means they’ve developed best practices, something you should add a ton of points for.

Now, I’ve met some quality devs that don’t have a single GitHub contribution, so I wouldn’t necessarily hold it against them. It just means that you’ll need to do more due diligence in other ways, like paying closer attention to their portfolio.

On a marketplace like Upwork, look at the number of hours plus detailed client reviews

Don’t judge too much based on their hourly rate unless it’s dirt poor like $15/ hr. Market rate means very different things in different countries. You may be shocked to find someone at $25/hr with 2000 hours and titles themselves a “ruby on rails rockstar” but it’s definitely possible. If they’re in Eastern Europe or India, they may actually be living like a rockstar at that rate, so roll with it.

Instead, I would look for upwards of 2000 hours with detailed client reviews, and good English. A lot of developers hire native speakers to write profiles for them, so look for indications of English-speaking within the client reviews, and the developers’ replies to the reviews. Then confirm with a Skype interview.

The reason why reviews aren’t that accurate at fewer hours and less details is that there is a serious possibility of manipulating reviews on these platforms. Reviews can make or break a developer’s career when they’re starting out on a marketplace, and oftentimes when things go sour, a developer will give up some pay in exchange for a positive rating. But in this case, the client certainly won’t put in the time to write an authentic glowing review. You need to mitigate this risk by looking for a bunch of well-written, detailed reviews.

If You Know How To Look, I Believe You Can Find Your Rockstar

If you go nilly willy, 9 out of 10 remote hires will be a failure if your project is complex. The job is too hard, and there are imposters everywhere on the market. I had to learn this the hard way, which is how I arrived at some of these tips for vetting. In the end, these were the most successful ways that I found the best partners and contractors.

I hope these tips help you find the perfect technical partner to take your project to the next level.

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