What to Look for When Hiring a Developer for the First Time

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Skirt the all-too-common pitfalls.

One of the key challenges I faced when I first started in the tech industry was trying to hire a developer to build my website. I was new to the world of tech and didn’t have a programming background. I think I must have made every mistake possible my first time hiring a developer, including going on Google and searching “hire a developer to build an app.” You can imagine how that went. It was definitely a lesson I learned the hard way, like most first time founders.

We recently invited Craig Penfold, ‎delivery and operations director at SEEK to teach our participants what to look for when hiring a tech team. I originally met Craig four years ago, when he was CTO at Yahoo7. I reached out and asked him to be my mentor. I was new to the tech world and wanted to surround myself with people who had “’been there, done that’ experience.” I thought I couldn’t get a much better mentor than a CTO (chief technology officer) of an international tech company.

Four years later, I launched Tech Ready, a program that uses a community-style mentorship and is cognisant of the different learning styles when empowering women to enter the tech space. Below are some of Craig’s top tips when it comes to hiring a developer for the first time.

How to hire a developer

How much will it cost?

As a first time founder, chances are you are bootstrapping your business and looking to save money wherever you can. Offshoring is always the first thing that comes to mind. Although offshoring may seem like a cost-effective way to build your tech product or service, it almost always ends up costing more in the long run.

My experience with outsourcing is you get what you ask for. In the past, I have spent time explaining to a developer what I was looking to build and was expecting them to offer their ideas and solutions. Instead, they designed exactly what I had explained to them.

If it’s your first time building a tech product or service, it’s always better to source locally. This ensures you can meet them face-to-face and develop a relationship. Sites such as upspot.com.au make it possible to find affordable talent locally. Although you may end up spending a bit more than overseas, it is definitely worth it in the long term.

Learn more about the tech world in our How To Bootstrap Your Tech Business masterclass, where we cover everything from building an app, creating your MVP and how to take it to market.

Upfront planning

When it comes to discussing your designs with a developer, you need to ensure that you have a clear idea and plan for what you want your app to look like and do. This includes being able to describe all the interactions and the screens.

If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to develop, then it will be impossible to explain it to someone. A good first step is to sketch out your screens in order to build a paper prototype. (In a previous post Prototype and Test Your Product on a Shoestring Budget, we explained how you could build your very own paper prototype.)

Sketch what you think your product and/or service should do first. Assuming you’ve validated your business and aren’t testing, invest some money on hiring a pro UX/UI designer to further flesh out your wireframes or screen flows and have them produce hi-fidelity versions. This step will help refine what you plan to build, making it clearer for development phase. It’s also an opportunity to get another opinion on your user flows – and make sure you aren’t over-engineering your design and/or user experience.

From here, you will be able to test your prototype and figure out if there are any usability issues. This step usually can take a couple times to get right. The benefit is that you can be aware of any hiccups and fix them prior to going to the developer, ensuring you will be saving time and money.

Communication is key (empathy too)

As a non-tech female founder with no tech background, it’s already difficult to explain what you want. Communicating in a way that developers will understand, it’s always easier if you can use metaphors or examples such as a paper prototype and other websites or apps to clearly explain what you’d like to create. If you’re outsourcing, it can be even more challenging if there is a language barrier or you’re working in a different timezone.

A good rule of thumb is to check for empathy. This means to see how the communication flows between you and the developer and see if there is a good connection. Although this may sound a bit strange, it’s important to find someone you can form a connection with and trust, as this will be the basis of your relationship.

If, within your first points of contact, there isn’t clear and articulate communication, it may be important to find a developer you can connect with. When you hire locally, you have the benefit to meet your developer in person and communicate what you’re looking to build. It’s also a lot easier to build a relationship and contact them with any updates and changes.

Lastly, when starting a working relationship for the first time, never commit to an entire project with someone upfront. Instead, create a milestone-based system where each milestone is quoted and agreed to before being delivered. This way you can test the communication, speed and delivery of the freelancer and optionally get third-party opinions on performance before agreeing to move forward.


Want to learn more about the different programming languages, and what to look for when hiring developers? Christie is the founder of Tech Ready Women and the Tech Ready Program, an eight-week accelerator specifically designed for non-tech women who want to step confidently into the tech space. Places are expected to fill quickly, and can be booked here.

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