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Isabel Nyo
Isabel Nyo

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How to Hire the Best Freelance Developers in the Gig Economy

Leverage the most significant development in the future of work

Over the last two decades in my career in the technology industry, I have had experience in both sides of the gig economy, as a freelancer and technology leader hiring freelance developers. Back in my developer days, I had worked as a freelance developer to expand my skill set and knowledge and since becoming an engineering manager, I've hired freelance developers for the companies that I worked for. 

Today, I want to share with insights around hiring freelance developers and best practices to finding and hiring the best freelance developers in the gig economy. As engineering leaders, it's important to understand and take advantage of the gig economy as it has emerged as one of the most significant developments in the way we work. Outsourced workforce is going to be part of the future of work, whether you like it or not. 

Hiring a freelance developer

When should you hire a freelance developer

Firstly, if you have not hired freelance developers before, you might be asking - why the need for freelance developers? There are five common reasons for companies to hire freelancers. 

  • Access to a variety of skills, across different tech stacks and niche; for eg: iOS mobile development, e-Commerce website development, etc.
  • Freelance developers are more readily available; developers who are freelancers are usually available in a few weeks notice. 
  • Freelance developers are more affordable; even if hourly rate may be higher in some cases, compared to having a permanent developer, it's going to end up more affordable as there will be no extra spending like insurance, 401k or superannuation. 
  • We do not have the need for a long-term permanent developer; last but not least, a company may decide that there is a project that can be done once and will not required continuous maintenance or work. Or there might be a project that requires a specific skill for a specific milestone, for example, setting up devOps infrastructure, refactoring an old tech stack to a new one, redesign of UI for a web application, small bug fixes, etc. 

Over the last year, a new common reason has been surfaced. This is due to the rise of remote work:

  • You have a distributed team

However, it's important to note that insights show that affordability is at the top of the list for smaller companies, even if they are not a fully distributed team. 

When shouldn't you hire a freelance developer

On the flip side, hiring freelance developers may not be the answer for the following reasons.

  • Preference - prefer working with people in the same office/timezone, data shows that a large population of freelance developers are in Eastern Europe and North America, followed by Asia and Middle East.
  • Lack of trust on skill and quality.
  • Intellectual property and security implication.
  • Negative impact potential value of the company for startups trying to get funding.

Important factors to take into consideration when hiring freelance developers

There are multiple important factors to take into consideration when hiring freelance developers. Understanding and applying these best practices are crucial in producing successful outcomes to the company via freelance workforce. Therefore, to be successful, engineering leaders need to think holistically to bring organisation and technology together as closely as possible in decision making. 

Think value over deliverable

Before hiring, think about the value that you would like to get from this person. For large organisations, more often than not, short-term contracts (anything less than 3 months) do not add a lot of value as it takes a while for most people to get a hang of various technologies, large codebases, tools and processes used in big organisations. For small to medium organisations, processes and codebases are not as complex and shorter contracts work better. This also depends on the nature of work, for example: whether the developer is working on a specific project or whether she is doing ad-hoc, business as usual tasks.

Set correct expectation

Well-defined list of tasks or projects is important to get the most out of the developers as they know the expectation and perform their tasks more efficiently. This can also be used to decide whether the developer meets your expectation.

Enforce standards

It is not enough to just tell freelance developers about your organisation's coding standards and conventions. It is also important to review the work that they have done so the standards and conventions are followed accurately. Therefore, code review is essential, especially for the first few tasks they work on. This needs to be done to ensure the developer conforms to coding standards of your organisation.

Eliminate any possible bottleneck

If you are providing tools of trade to do the job, such as a workstation, ensure they are fast enough so they don't become a bottleneck in getting the most out of developers. If possible, ensure that all software, IDE, Graphic software, etc, are set up on their workstation before they start so the developer won't need to spend time setting up software when they could be doing something more productive, for example, learning about your company's codebases and coding standards, understanding current architecture and so on.

Be pragmatic

Keep in mind of the time that someone will need to spend on getting these developers up to speed, and this relates back to my first point about thinking value over deliverable or project. If an existing employee or employees (for example, developers, product managers, designers, analysts) need to spend a few hours every day with freelance developers to get them up to speed, and they are only with the organisation for a month, is it really worth having them?

Invest in tools and processes

If your company already do not have tools and processes to support remote and async work effectively, you absolutely must invest in them. The future of work is here to stay and it's a good time to set up processes and tools as such as ticket tracking, workflow management, time tracking, communication tools and so on. It's also worthwhile to have standard procedures for the team so freelance developers can read up on these resources to onboard effectively; eg: How to start a sprint, How to run a retrospective, how to triage bugs, how to manage incidents and outages, how to roll out a feature, and so on. When there are best practices and templates to follow, freelance developers will know what's expected in each situation without having to check with you often. 

Alway hire the right people

The best freelance developers for your company are the ones that are the right fit and only you as an engineering leader can assess who are the best. So my advice is short and sweet: always hire the right people for you, by understanding and applying the best practices that I've shared in this article. 

While they are freelance developers and may not be with the organisation for a long period, follow a similar selection process that you have for other full time employee in terms of assessing their technical skills as well as their willingness to be a good team player. After all, those freelance developers will still need to perform their jobs well and they shouldn't be getting a special pass because they are freelancers.


Author's bio

Isabel Nyo is a technology leader with almost 20 years of experience in the tech industry, with startups to Fortune 500 tech companies. She is the author of The Engineering Manager’s How-to Guide, Nail That Interview and Career Guide for Software Developers. She provides career advice & resources for software engineers and engineering managers via her website.


Discussion (2)

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drazendotlic profile image
Drazen Dotlic

Two thumbs up from me! It's somewhat surprising how many companies stumble upon basic things which make sense when you think just a little about them. Shame that the article will be seen mostly by freelancers and not-so-much by those hiring.

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden

Some really solid insights here really good work.