You have a fantastic idea for an app that will help you make money and allow you to establish yourself as a pioneer in your field. All you need now is an app developer who can bring your ideas to life, and you are all set. Sounds simple, right?
Well, not quite.
As with other things in the world of app development, the process of finding the right developer (or team of developers) is just as tedious as coming up with a great idea for your app. While the right choice will make your ideas come to life (and if you are lucky, make improvements you never realised were possible), the wrong one will drive even the best of intentions into the ground.
With thousands of app developers with a varied range of skill sets and levels of expertise working all across the globe, there is no secret sauce to finding the “perfect” developer – that depends almost entirely upon the nature and enormity of your idea. That being said, there are definitely some flags that you can look out for.
Set out your requirements
Before you set out on a hiring spree to find your developer(s), it is important that you know the specific requirements of your own project. In such situations, preparing in advance always comes in handy.
Here are some ways in which you can realise your project and its requirements:
Define your app’s purpose
Where does your app fit in? Will it be functioning as a complement to your existing business, or will it be used in conjunction with a new startup company? If it is the former, you will need to make sure that the app fits in with your company’s personality and brand image, and if it is the latter, your app will be the first association that customers have with the company.
Another major factor is determining the genre of your app (messaging, streaming, e-commerce, etc.), which in turn will help you understand the features you need and the kind of developer you should hire to develop them.
Define your app’s features
Once you know where your app stands, you must define the features that your app would need. This will help you prevent from hiring the right developer who is neither under-qualified nor overqualified. For instance, if your app is relatively simple and needs basic features which can easily be operated offline, hiring a developer with an average amount of skills and experience would do the job. However, if your app is more complex and requires complicated features such as GPS Tracking, user logins, payment information storage or multiple screens, you would need a developer who is much more seasoned.
Defining your app’s features will also help you determine the time needed to develop and how much it is going to cost you.
Research your competitors
At some point, you may find your idea (and the resulting app) sharing similar ground with another. Fortunately, you can use this as a learning curve by taking a deep dive into the functionality of similar apps. Not only will this prevent you from inadvertently repeating someone else’s work, it will allow you to gain a comprehensive idea of the most demanded features and help you understand how you can avoid mistakes that have already been made.
Document your research
Once you have fleshed out what it is that your app needs, you must make sure to document your work. Doing so helps prospective developers understand what it is that they need to work on while helping you understand the kind of developer you need and keeping your concepts clear. To start with, make sure that you have a creative brief, a mobile design specification document, and a technical specification document.
Understand the app developer’s psyche
Hiring an app developer is a two-way street. Just as you are looking for certain traits in a developer, a developer is looking for certain elements in a company that would hire them.
This makes understanding the psyche of an app developer all the more important. Once you have an idea of what they tend to want (along with the idea of what you need), you can create a work culture that caters to their needs as well as your own.
What do developers want? Here a few things to keep in mind:
They prefer smaller companies
App developers tend to be as creatively inspired as they are technically proficient – they tend to consider themselves as “creators” who want to build an idea from scratch and stick with it – just as an artist would with their painting. They want to give and receive value and be surrounded by people who are bright, like-minded and driven by meaning than by the prospect of monetary gains only.
This is the main reason why most app developers prefer to be employed by small companies and start-ups – they do not want to be a small fish in a big pond. The intimacy that comes with being in that team environment is something they crave.
They want to avoid bureaucracy
In order to be able to run smoothly, big companies have a complicated hierarchy. Such a complicated hierarchy comes with a complicated support system, complete with time-intensive protocols and a rule-oriented bureaucratic structure. For new hires, especially, those who err on the creative side of things, this can be very frustrating.
While corporate jobs do have their massive perks, they also have their considerable drawbacks. The biggest of these drawbacks is the inability to get what you want when you want it. Getting your request up the management ladder can be quite the daunting task in a big company.
Small companies, on the other hand, have a smaller number of people, which means that there are no bureaucratic hurdles. Employees relate to each other on a more personal level and needs are met in real time.
Is your company open source?
Most industries have trademarks and copyrights, and therefore do not allow others to edit and manipulate their coded products. It is for this reason that most industries do not make their code open source.
Depending on their priorities, app developers can be encouraged or discouraged by a company’s open source policies (or lack thereof). For many developers, who are creatively inspired and like to collaborate with other developers (and do not mind sharing credit), having talented developers from all over the world working on a project can be very inspiring. However, for developers who are working on unique and complex projects and/or prefer to limit the credit to themselves and their team, open source can be discouraging.
At the end of the day, the preference of open source is completely a judgment call.
Be thorough with hiring
This can never be stressed enough – the biggest mistake an entrepreneur can make when hiring an app developer is to make a wrong and/or hurried decision during the hiring process.
Having a new project in mind brings forth plenty of excitement, and an intense desire to do whatever it takes to get the idea to market (before anyone else does the same). Such a sense of urgency can – and does – lead to rash and impulsive hiring decisions which ultimately end up becoming counterproductive.
There can be many reasons why an app developer would be the wrong fit for your project and/or company. They may not have the kind of expertise you need, could be toxic to team dynamics, or could simply be incompetent when it comes to proving their worth.
Here are three key questions to ask yourself when looking to hire app developers:
Does your app developer fit in with your work culture?
Bringing in a new employee into a company will automatically have an impact on the company’s existing work culture. As an entrepreneur, you must make sure that the new employee does not negatively impact this work culture at the very least.
Your prospective app developer may be talented and technologically brilliant, but they will do more harm than good if they have a malevolent personality and tend to confront and challenge everything that you do. Or they may simply not be able to resonate with your company’s values and principles and may want to work for the money. Such employees can be toxic to your company’s work culture.
A “good” app developer (or team of developers), on the other hand, will be as passionate about the project and your business as they are about their paycheck. They will be aggressive enough to get the idea on track, but humble enough to know when they need to dial things back. Not only will they help develop applications smoothly, they will put in extra effort to find out ways to make the app better and suggest them to you.
Can they understand and deliver?
Two key components that distinguish a competent app developer from an incompetent one – their ability to understand what you are trying to accomplish wholeheartedly, and the technical expertise to deliver on the basis of that understanding.
The best way to gauge the level of understanding of a potential candidate is to get into a series of long in depth, possibly structured, discussions with them. If the candidate is indeed the right fit, you will feel as if that they are seeing from your viewpoint. If they are beginning to ask questions and adding to your idea in ways that excite you and reframe what you have told them in newer, more innovative ways, chances are that they have understood your perspective well.
As for the ability to deliver, one can never know for certain whether someone will deliver simply by speaking to them. Looking at past accomplishments and giving them a test project can be very helpful in this regard – something which we will take a closer look at later.
Are they in it for the long-term?
Developing a mobile app for your business is like an entrepreneurial venture in itself – it requires careful planning and execution, multiple stages of development, and constant engagement with users and customers. The app development process itself does not cease once the app has released – multiple revisions are needed to finetune the features and functionalities to maximise the user’s experience.
Given that the app developer(s) form the core of the entire process, having them leave as soon as the initial development phase is over will cause considerable setbacks to the app and the business. It is therefore important for your app developer to be in it for the long haul, and stay put for the entire lifecycle of your application.
Choose your source carefully
In today’s day and age, there is no dearth of places where you can look for app developers – from your local newspaper to freelance job boards to high-profile development companies and more. Such a rise in quantity will certainly lead to confusion on your part – especially when you need to make sure in hiring quality people.
Before you venture out and make the inevitable online job posting, try to get a character reference from someone you know and trust. Given that such referrals come from someone you have experience with, it will be easier for you to gauge if they are indeed credible and authentic.
In case referrals do not work for you, you can always bank upon HR firms and/or online job postings. Make sure that your job posting is clear and concise, and that you use complete discretion when screening job applicants.
Hire a team of developers with varied expertise
Many employers and entrepreneurs think that hiring a single and highly experienced developer who is equally skilled in multiple areas will serve the purpose wonderfully. While this sounds good in theory, the reality could not be farther from the truth,
Hiring a “champion” developer has some serious pitfalls. First and foremost, having one developer shouldering all the load can – and will eventually become stifling for both of you. Secondly, in the event that things do not work out and your developer has to leave, you will be left with a big gap in the technical expertise department. Last but not the least, even if you do have a team but are having it lead by such a developer, the larger part of the power and say will be enjoyed by the “champion” developer, while the others will automatically be relegated to following him or her – thereby creating an unhealthy work environment.
When you have a well-rounded team of developers with varied skill sets and talents, every member will enjoy a relatively equally weighted opinion and level of responsibility. Not only will this help team members relate to each other, it will also help them improve on the whole as they can point out one another’s biases without restraint.
Make sure to consult
While entrepreneurs may have marvelous ideas with great potential, they often do not have the expertise required to bring it to life – which is exactly where a developer comes in.
In most cases, entrepreneurs do not have the technical expertise of a developer, and in turn, have very little idea about the job they intend to hire for. Being poorly-informed on the matter can lead to misinformed hiring decisions which will do more harm than good.
A great way to get to know more about the job is to speak to other app developers. Not only do they have the technical know-how and coding experience to help you understand the job’s requirements, they can help you determine the quality of the work done by your candidate. They will be able to understand the minutiae of app developing in a way you cannot, so they will help you see if candidates are genuine or are simply bluffing about their ability.
Explore their portfolio
One of the best ways to judge a candidate’s ability to deliver is to comb through their body of work i.e. their portfolio. In the context of app development, there is procedural know how that allows you to parse through the app developer’s process on past projects.
A candidate’s portfolio demonstrates their skills and ability to deliver on the basis of their understanding. It also allows you to see if their past work aligns with the needs of your current project and if they can translate their skills to build something that will positively contribute to your business.
A portfolio showcases several things, including (but not limited to) the type of apps they create, the mobile platforms they cover, technologies used and feedback from clients. It also showcases the UX skills of the developer, which is another crucial thing to look for when hiring one. After all, the major part of your application is about how the user(s) interact with it.
Ask them how they can improve on your design
While having an app developer who aligns with your ideas and values is a good thing, having a people-pleaser on your team certainly is not. At the end of the day, you would rather have a competent app developer who takes your plans into consideration – while adding in inputs of their own. After all, the key here is to “develop” an app – not dictate one.
Typically, your app design is a detailed blueprint. While the blueprint does enlist a sound plan to get seed money, there still lies a gap between your vision and the vision’s execution. This means your app has the potential to grow in unexpected directions.
When you hire an app developer, you add a new mind to the fold. It makes sense to have this new mind do more than just follow your design to the letter. An imaginative app developer will be able to recommend new directions that you may never have imagined or help make improvements in your plan that may never have crossed your mind. If they are really good, you can trust them to make their own equally weighted decisions about the project without worrying that they will set it back.
Give them a test
No hiring process is complete without a test. There are two ways to approach this – you can either give them an isolated assignment from your project or you can come up with an original test that tests the type of skills your project will need.
Each approach has its own set of merits and allows you to gauge the candidate’s technical expertise and execution skills.
A key benefit of using the first approach is having something done on your project. By giving candidates a miniature version of your project, you can get a good read on whether they will be able to carry over that performance to the rest of your project.
If you are using the second approach, you might be able to understand the thinking pattern of your candidate better. Moreover, designing the project specifically allows you to fish for specific skills in a developer.
Make sure to know their code
For someone who has no or limited coding experience, programming and app development can get pretty daunting. Any developer who is working on building an app is using their language – not yours.
In such cases, it is better for your candidates to use code that can easily be understood by a wide range of people. The last thing you need is a rogue developer who uses a code understood by only a handful of people.
If in the unfortunate instance that things do not work out with that app developer, and/or the developer leaves abruptly, you do not want to be left with no one understanding the code. You will need someone on hand who has been following what they are doing, and at least to some degree can figure out how they got to that point.
When it comes to hiring an app developer, one can never judge a book by the cover. Someone may leave a great first impression and reveal themselves to be incompetent later or may initially be socially awkward and reveal themselves to be highly competent as time goes on. That is why it is important that your hiring practices paint a comprehensive personal profile that you can rely on to make the right choice.