Hiring

How to find great remote developers depending on your needs, how to qualify them and what you can expect to pay.

Hiring

How to hire a remote developer

Finding remote developers is easy—the hard part comes in knowing if you have found people who will truly execute. In this chapter, we will walk you through the process of finding and qualifying great remote developers according to your needs, and what you can expect to pay them.

We will focus on the following stages:

  • finding & attracting,
  • qualifying, and
  • hiring.

These three stages can either be done by:

  • Doing it all yourself (or with your team):
    Keep in mind it is both costly and time consuming, and you will need a team of people to do this right. Not recommended for startups, non-profits and most mid-sized business.

  • Scouring developer marketplaces:
    This is time consuming and a bit of a gamble but much less costly than finding and attracting remote developers yourself.

  • Working with a premium service:
    This requires little time and effort on your part, is similar pricing to the marketplaces, and far more efficient and cost-effective than doing it yourself.

Finding remote developers yourself.

Remote developers are scattered throughout the web and actually quite easy to find; the difficulty comes in vetting them and doing that at a large enough scale to get you the person you need.

Job boards, for example, might sound ancient, but they still work wonders at attracting developers, such as WeWorkRemotely.com.

Sponsoring specialized newsletters, like Node Weekly, scouting on GitHub (via Google queries), mingling at conferences (or sponsoring them), etc. -- all of these are certainly tools in your arsenal but many questions will start to help guide your focus, such as what do you have time for and what will have the biggest impact within your budget and time?

If you are going to vet the developers yourself, also keep these thoughts in mind:

  • Are you prepared for potentially getting 1,000+ applicants, depending on the approach you choose?
  • What are the primary qualities you are looking for? How will you test for each of them in your application process?
  • Will you have a code challenge? How will it be graded?
  • Who will be in charge of going through each application?
  • Have you considered a video application in addition to a text version?
  • How many rounds of interviews will you perform, and how many people can you handle based on your timeline?
  • Will you use a CRM or ATS to manage applicants?
  • When you’ve whittled the 1,000+ applicants down to 5-10, consider a 30-day paid trial for each of them at a lower/part-time hourly rate.

As you can see, there is a lot to consider, once you take on the vetting aspect yourself. This is why many companies today turn to marketplaces or premium services instead, to save time, effort, and money.

There is no right way to go about it, but make sure you have solid infrastructure in place, before you put out those job postings and start attracting remote developers, as they will come upon you like the Persian army against the 300.

Finding remote developers using marketplaces and premium services.

There is a wide range of options online for finding vetted developers who are ready to join your team. A simple Google search for “hire remote developers” will reveal many.

Consider these questions as you begin looking into your options:

  • What qualities are most important to you when hiring a developer?

  • Does the marketplace or service you’ve found vet their developers for those qualities?

  • What level of customer service do you want?
    If you want a high level, consider premium options that offer dedicated account managers.

  • Do you need someone full-time or only every now and then?
    Premium services won’t be a good fit without a full-time need.

  • Is timezone important?
    If so, make sure the developers or services you’re speaking with offer some overlap with your schedule.

  • Do you expect your team to need to grow more in the future?
    If so, make sure the service or marketplace you’ve found has sufficient resources to support your growth.

  • Do you need a lead developer or just a support team?
    If you’re starting from an empty team, we highly recommend starting with a lead and utilizing that developer to build out the rest of the support team. They’ll be able to help with interviewing, vetting and building a growth plan for the team.

These are just some of the questions you will need to ask both yourself and the developer service providers you begin speaking with. Consider these characteristics when selecting a developer resourcing service:

  • The service should have worked with major brands, a great sign of their ability to scale and provide quality developers.

  • The service should have a strong community for the developers to seek support from and gain motivation from whenever needed.

  • The service should provide discounts as you grow the team.

  • The service should have a method to creating consistency with every developer.

  • The service should provide a dedicated account manager or customer support.

  • The service should offer the flexibility to change your team if any member turns out to be less than satisfactory.

  • The service should allow you to meet the developer and provide your own development exam for extra comfort.

  • The service should provide support for their developers, whether through learning and growth opportunities or being part of a strong collaborative community.

Remote software developer skills

Confident communicators

Great development teams are filled with confident communicators who give the clearest of expectations to their project managers.

Development teams with the most challenges are those that have no real understanding of their timelines, velocity, and what to report to stakeholders, because their developers lack the confidence to give clear expectations and to update those expectations often.

If you think you are about to hire a remote developer who is too eager to please and not confident enough to be clear with you on expectations, move on to the next person.

Proactive and can take charge

It is very easy to find remote developers who will sit and wait for tasks before doing any work. This trait is really only tested for by hiring them on for a 30-day trial to see how self-motivated and proactive they are.

A proactive, motivated remote developer is someone who takes charge and is never blocked—they are always finding ways to add value and keep your project moving forward. This is essential when hiring remotely, as you will often not be there to keep them moving yourself.

Selfless

Selflessness in a development team leads to knowledge sharing and mutual support. In an office environment, it is a bit easier to make this happen, since there are more opportunities to lean over and share information or help someone out if they look like they are in trouble.

In a remote environment, there is no way to tell if someone needs help and there is no urge to share information when you have to type it out.

But the best people you can hire as remote developers are those who have built discipline around knowledge sharing online, such as open source developers who have built that discipline through helping maintain projects on Github.

You also need people who are going to help support each other, who care about learning and growing not only for themselves but for their teammates as well. That is harder to facilitate remotely, so you need people who will be active contributors to your team and help share knowledge constantly.

Click here to read more about these three traits and how to test for them.

Costs of hiring a remote developer

The hourly rates of remote developers around the world varies greatly, from as low as $2 USD per hour up to $250 USD per hour.

The reasons for this are obvious when your options include developers from emerging economies, but you cannot let price fool you.

Over the last 10 years, we have met developers with $8 USD per hour rates who are just as skilled (and oftentimes more skilled) than someone with a $60 USD per hour rate.

How do we know this? We have interviewed more than 200,000 developers and we have seen it happen time and time again.

The lower rates tend to come with less marketable communication skills, but, again, this will not always be the case. Some developers simply have not found the right opportunity yet.

Prices can vary depending on the skill you are interested in. Drupal and Java tend to be more expensive than CSS and Angular, for example.

Since the hourly rates vary so much and are incredibly arbitrary when an $8/hr developer can sometimes deliver the same as a $60/hr developer, you have to ask yourself this, when weighing your options:

What is the value of a developer who will move projects forward for my team right now?

If you are confident the developer you have found will execute, pay them not based on where they live, but on the value they will provide you, while also allowing room for growth, should you keep them on for years to come.

When negotiating, make note of what is most important to you. For example:

  • Experience with potential situations that might arise
  • Communication skills, both written and spoken
  • Culture and ability to fit in well with the team
  • Proven desire to always be learning and growing

Most important: Never pay a remote developer based on an arbitrary amount; pay them based on the value they will bring you and how well they fit your requirements.

Is it dangerous to hire a developer with a low hourly rate?

More often than not, the answer is yes, but it is not always the case.

Although, statistically speaking, you are more likely to have communication and expectation challenges with someone who has a low hourly rate, we have met several developers with a high hourly rate who you would never want to work with simply based on their lack of communication.

Try not to let someone’s hourly rate be your main reasoning when disqualifying candidates, as you can sometimes be pleasantly surprised by incredibly skilled people with low hourly rates from around the world.

Full-time vs freelance remote developers

There is a lot to consider when choosing between hiring someone full-time as an employee and hiring a freelancer to join your team. It is important to note though that most freelancers today are actually interested in full-time work, just not as an employee.

Benefits of hiring a full-time employee:

  • Much more essential to do when hiring someone in the United States, as benefits and healthcare are usually of high importance. You can, however, show freelancers in the United States how to acquire those benefits on their own with a higher hourly rate.

Consequences of hiring a full-time employee:

  • Much less flexibility in how you use your budget, as any breaks in-between projects will still be an expense to the company.
  • Usually have to pay benefits and additional overhead costs (taxes, payroll, etc.)
  • Usually restricted to talent within your city/state/country rather than the entire world.

Benefits of hiring a freelancer:

  • You remove a lot of overhead costs, such as HR, benefits, etc.
  • You have a lot more flexibility in bringing them on/off the team as needed.
  • You have access to talent all around the world rather than just locally.
  • You remove a lot of overhead costs, such as HR, benefits, etc.

Consequences of hiring a freelancer:

  • Their cost can be higher than a full-time employee if you aren’t offering them a contract longer than 2 months.
  • They are responsible for their own motivation, learning, growth, etc., so compared to internal employees who benefit from being part of the company atmosphere, they can become demotivated in the long-run without those functions in place.
  • If your team isn’t fully remote, you create the risk of now handling tribes -- the remote team tribe vs. the office team tribe. Competition, withholding information and rivalries may ensue. For more on how to avoid this, read this post about creating synergy between your remote and local teams.

These days, many remote freelancers are open to working full-time and will adjust their rates to be more attractive depending on how long you can keep them full-time.

For example, a remote developer who usually charges $100/hr for part-time work may only cost you $50/hr for full-time.

As long as you have a well-planned roadmap and at least a month of planned sprints/tasks, hiring full-time will always make much more sense.

How to hire a team of remote developers

If you are going to hire an existing team, you need to do your homework on them first. This is our checklist for qualifying a remote team to work with:

Meet each team member who will work on your project

Oftentimes, the remote team lead will try to keep you away from the individuals on the team and instead insist that you talk to only them. This is usually because the other team-members lack communication skills. This creates risk, however, if they are not translating your requirements properly, or if the team lead becomes a bottleneck, when trying to get through QA or properly implement features. Make sure each team member has decent communication skills and will understand your requirements. Also, make sure that each team member aligns with the values of your company, as you want each contributing member to truly care about your project and have a strong interest in making sure it is executed well.

Learn more about each team member’s skills

You want to make sure that the team you are thinking of hiring truly possesses the skills you need. You can either ask the team to complete a mock project that utilizes the skills you will need or ask for resumes and/or portfolios of each developer who will work on your team.

Learn how flexible the team will be

You need to know how easy it will be to either add more developers when projects scale up or remove developers when projects need to scale down. If the team does not offer special pricing for adding more developers, there are better options out there. You also need to know how flexible they will be with timezones and working on a schedule that works for you. Although daily video meetings are not necessary, some overlap does help for giving them additional direction after they have made some progress for the day.

Costs of hiring a team of remote developers

A team, assuming 3-5 of both back-end and front-end developers, will cost around $450,000 to $750,000 for an entire year.

Those numbers can go up depending on your specific needs, such as travel, experience or location requirements.

This is not including the costs involved in vetting the thousands of applicants you will get each month, which can exceed $100,000, depending on the level of your needs. This is where developer marketplaces and premium services can become incredibly beneficial.

Advantages of hiring a team of remote developers

Remote teams, whether comprised of developers from 50 miles away from you or 5,000 miles, bring pretty extraordinary advantages.

Knowledge sharing & documentation

The great thing about remote teams is that you are encouraged to keep communications in text format, which also means you will have a written record of all communication. In an office, so much is said casually in passing, and that knowledge is never captured. Imagine how difficult it is for a remote developer to benefit from knowledge being shared during their office team’s water cooler conversations.

In a remote team, documentation becomes critical for onboarding new developers, as you cannot grow quickly without that documentation being accessible 24/7, and especially when you are not around to help.

Remote developers tend to be the most disciplined in documentation and knowledge sharing, because of these constraints, and this makes them very valuable members of any team.

Flexibility and focus

Flexibility: There is no greater sign of trust and respect you can give someone on your team than by offering flexibility with their schedule. Although it is easy to take advantage of it and abuse it, those who embrace it and respect you for it will deliver amazing work. They will harness that flexibility to give you incredibly focused hours of work that will be far more productive than office-hours would ever be.

Focus: Offices are great for brainstorming and collaboration, but they cannot give you the focus you need for execution. It is incredibly valuable to have a retreat/meetup at the kickoff of a project to help wrap everyone’s minds around the big ideas, but when time for execution comes, developers work best when in a controlled, focused environment.

Access to great talent around the world

With the world as your hiring pool, you can recruit far more developers and far more talented developers than the leftovers available in your local area.

You will also end up with a far more diverse team of people with many different perspectives and approaches to solving challenges.

More opportunity to learn and grow

Without a commute and more time available to them, remote developers are some of the most skilled and up-to-date developers in the world, thanks to the flexibility they have to keep learning and growing.

In fact, if you ever find a remote developer without up-to-date skills, consider it a warning sign of laziness and a clear lack of focus and productivity.

Timezones can be harnessed for greater productivity

Most people assume that remote development is chaotic because of the differing timezones. This is actually the least of most remote teams’ worries. Timezones are often utilized wisely so that there is enough overlap for each of the team members to sync up, but also enough difference in time to allow for continuous development to happen as one developer hands off work to another developer.

Working asynchronously allows your team members to have an incredible amount of focus on the work they are doing since they will not be bothered by the entire team at one time. So long as you ensure everyone makes time for a daily check-in that overlaps with their closest teammates, as well as weekly/monthly team-wide check-ins, timezones can be harnessed to allow for continuous, focused work.

Disadvantages of hiring a team of remote developers

Cultural differences

Although this can also be a benefit in bringing several new perspectives to your projects, it can also become a challenge at the beginning.

As you learn each other’s cultures and how to work together, it is important to promote respect among the team, so that all cultures feel welcome. This is especially important in places like Slack, where ‘#random’ channel conversations about politics and world topics can become heated quickly.

Cultural differences can also present challenges with how expectations are set, so it is important to make it absolutely clear as often as possible what you mean when you say “set realistic expectations” when sprint planning. Not every culture has the same definition of 'done'. This is critical and must be resolved quickly with new team members from cultures other than yours.

Location-based tribes can be formed

This is more common in teams where there is a local office team and a separate group of remote developers. What commonly happens in that scenario is the local office team becomes competitive with the remote team and withholds information from them to set them up to fail. The local office team can also start to point the finger at the remote team whenever things go wrong, a behaviour that has to be corrected early on.

Timezones can be a challenge for some teams

Although utilizing timezones is also a benefit for remote teams, for some teams that are more effective working on the same timezone, this can be quite a challenge to overcome.

Ultimately, it is up to you decide what will work best for your team, the way you work and the nature of your team’s tasks, so although a disadvantage in some cases, it is more often a benefit.

Unique situations based on your company size

Regardless of whether you are a startup, non-profit, mid-sized business, or an enterprise team, consider these unique scenarios, when hiring a remote developer.

Startup/nonprofit

When startups get their initial rounds of funding, there is usually a need to hire developers quickly. In that rush, however, you can end up hiring developers that you wish you had not.

Non-profits and startups tend to look for lower-cost developers to help them get the most out of the funding that they have, and those are the easiest to find online.

Before jumping into developer marketplaces to hire, however, consider these questions first:

Do you have a CTO?

If you do not, you are going to need experts in hiring remote developers. Alternatively, consider hiring an agency that provides a dedicated team. You do not want to gamble with developers you find online, and, at the very least, you should hire a consultant remote CTO to help you make some of your first hires, if you are building a remote team.

If you do have a CTO, you can likely hire a remote developer yourself. It will take a lot of time and money—that you should probably be investing in having your CTO build out your initial foundations—to do it, but it is certainly a technically feasible option.

If you are the CTO and do not have the time for recruiting, alternative options are marketplaces and more developer-centered companies, as both will give you the opportunity to do some smaller-scale vetting of your own, without needing to sift through thousands of applicants.

How much work and budget do you have?

If it is less than a month of work or budget, developer marketplaces are likely your best bet. Keep in mind that the less work you have, the higher the cost can and likely will be with good freelancers.

If it is closer to three or more months of work and budget, your options open up a bit and it is worth considering more premium options that actually become more affordable with the longer timeline than a short-term freelancer would be.

Another option is offering equity, a route that is a bit more dangerous with a remote developer, as they have much less vested interest in your company since they are remote. That said, it could save you a lot of upfront cash, and some remote developers are open to it.

How important is quality?

If you are just trying to get an MVP up and running, quality might not be the most important factor right now. Perhaps you just need something to show your startup’s investors. Or perhaps you just need a decent landing page for your non-profit.

If quality is not of high importance, you can afford to gamble with developer marketplaces.

If quality is of high importance, you need to be considering the more premium options. Quality should be of high importance if you are looking to not have to rebuild your codebase every year, or if you plan to have a lot of demanding traffic and need a site than can handle that level of performance.

Mid-size company

A mid-size business is in the most interesting situation, as you might may or may not have the budget for a premium remote developer service, but you could potentially handle all of your recruitment on a smaller scale if you have a need to hire often enough.

If you are a mid-size business, ask yourself this question:

How often do I need to hire a remote developer?

If the answer is “not often”, then you should absolutely consider utilizing premium services, which give you consistency every time you need it, or use a developer marketplace (less consistent quality, but part-time options will be available).

If the answer is “often”, you should definitely look into whether you can bring on a full-time or part-time hire who has a technical background, strong understanding of how to manage remote developers, and who can help run your vetting process.

Enterprise

At the enterprise level, your options start to become both more expensive and limited. Your vetting needs also become more serious, costly, and complex at the enterprise level, as you need people with highly specialized skills and a proven track record in the enterprise space.

Even with a CTO, recruiter and hiring manager, hiring remote will attract thousands of applicants and only an efficient vetting system with several rounds of challenges and interviews will net you the talent you need.

The cost of hiring remote enterprise developers will likely exceed $100,000 over the course of a year with proper vetting mechanisms in place.

Most enterprise recruiting today is around tech like Java or .NET, two specializations that you do not want to hire casually for. Add on top of that the need for communication vetting to ensure you will be working with someone who will properly address expectations for your business and communicate at the highest professional level, and the challenges become obvious.

Even deeper specializations, like Salesforce, require an even more unique vetting and testing strategy. And that is on top of a wide variety of other skills you will need to test for that come in handy for a Salesforce developer (JavaScript, HTML/CSS, AWS, etc.).

Recruitment agencies are one option to turn to at the enterprise level, but, in the remote space, these do not quite exist yet, and those that do are hard to trust. The best options are developer marketplaces and premium services that have a specialization in enterprise remote developers and related skills.

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