How to Hire a Developer if You Know Nothing About Coding?

I was asked recently if we would accept a team without a technical co-founder in the accelerator program and as of now, I am still struggling in giving a straight razor-cut answer Yes or No.

– “It depends”

Personality Matters

There are multiple parameters coming into friction when starting and running a startup and the personality of the founders is one of the most important one. Before looking at the idea, we have to decide if the person in front of us is capable of turning this idea into a sustainable business. In the case of a technical co-founder we also want to be sure that they have the right skills to deliver a good product. Not all technical co-founders are born equal.

Pure business founders, as a team, can apply to StartupYard. If they are selected, one of their first goals will be to find how to deliver the goods. This is a disadvantage compared to a team with a technical co-founder but not an impossible one to overcome. There are two ways to approach the problem: go on a hunt to hire a technical co-founder or a full-time developer (for cash and/or equities) or sub-contract the development of your first version. There are a lot of talented coders out there; who under the right management and direction will deliver your first version for a fraction of the price it would cost you to hire a full-time developer. Also the time it will take you to find that full-time developer might be longer than initially expected so you might want to get something out first while looking for your technical white knight. The difficulty, in either case, is to select them, understand how they work and make sure they are able to build what you have in mind.

How do you Hire a Developer or Technical co-Founder?

The first thing you want to find out when interviewing a developer, whether it is for a full-time position or for sub-contracting is if they have already built the same kind of product. The main reason why you want to know that is for the time-to-market of your startup. A developer who has already been faced with a similar system will know the caveats of one approach compared to another. Ask them for a sample of their work or a link to the service and see how it relates to what you want to develop. An online service is usually based on data you enter, store, manipulate, modify, search, display and interact with so ask them how this other product relates to yours in term of data manipulation and storage. You will save a lot of time and a lot of money if your candidate has done it before.

Tell them you would like to speak to 5 of their clients (in the case of a sub-contractor). A developer who has a good track record will have no problem providing you with the information. When contacting the former clients, ask them if they would hire him again and if so what would they pay attention to this time. If not, try to understand if the reason can be addressed by you.

Depending on the type of product your startup is about, it’s possible the developer will have to deal with some technologies he is not that familiar with. Ask them how many programming languages they are going to use and for each of them, ask them if they like this language and if they would consider themselves an expert at it or not (you can ask them to rate from 1 to 5 their knowledge of each programming language they are going to use). Programmers usually have one or two favorite languages so be wary of developers telling you they are an expert at everything but they do exist so make sure they can prove it to you.

Communication Matters

Ask them how much they enjoy programming. Is it just a job or a passion? Do they participate in open-source projects? Like for any other position, the more passionate they are the better.

Developers are not worldwide renowned for being the most extroverted individuals (“Do I really have to talk to a person?” once joked a coder friend of mine) and you want to be sure that you will be able to get on well with them. Since you won’t understand what they are doing, you want to make sure you understand when they will explain to you what is happening in the software they write.

Ask them what makes a good developer and then ask them how this relates to them point by point. There are no good or bad answers; you just want to see how the person reacts when put in a defensive position and also how they consider themselves. Ask them how they handle delays in delivery of their software.

Show Them the Final Product

By now you need to have every single screen of your product designed in the form of wireframes or mockups and ideally documented. This is what they will use as a reference to build your product.

First, you want to see if they like your product or not and if they are going to be able to build it and in what amount of time. If they look at it and seem as excited as you are when you look at a pen on your desk, you might want to reconsider the person.

Looking at the screens, if you did your job well, your candidate should not have to invent what happens when a user clicks on a button or what happens when the user enters bad information of any sort. They concentrate on how to represent the data of your product and what needs to be done to them to go the next state. For each screen ask them if they see something that they do not understand and see how confident they feel about making it happen. Ask them once again if they have done it before. If you hear that a lot of screens ‘will not be that easy because…’ ask them how they would approach the problem. See how confident you feel about their confidence.

Be nice! You will meet some fantastic people with a passion for writing computer code. Try to understand them and create a connection because when you find the right person with the right skills and the right attitude, great things can happen.

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