“I’ve Got a Great Idea and I’m Looking for a Programmer”

At the last meetup of Oahu Online Entrepreneurs, at least three different people said that exact statement. Okay, let’s talk about how to find a programmer for your billion-dollar idea.

Do you even really need a programmer? (A cheat sheet)

It’s worth considering whether an existing software or service can already do what you want. I think a programmer would actually prefer you to go that route, rather than hire them to re-invent the wheel.

Blog or simple content website: WordPress

Enterprise-level content management system: Drupal, Joomla, Django, Kentico, Alfresco, there’s a ton of them.

Small to medium-sized e-commerce website: Shopify, BigCommerce, PrestaShop

Large e-commerce website: Magento

Forum: Vanilla Forums, phpBB, Simple Machines Forum, vBulletin

Social network or membership website: Ning

To be clear on whether you need a web developer or web designer, read this article.  UPDATE: As Roger said in the comments, if you just want a website that displays information about your business, you need a web designer. A programmer would be overkill.

If you want to build a web app that performs higher-order tasks like processing information, accepting user-generated content, interfacing with other software, etc. you’ll need a web developer.

For mobile apps, you will have to hire a mobile developer.

You might end up needing a hybrid solution: choose one of the above platforms as a foundation. Like it does 80% of what you want. Then hire a designer to create a new skin or template to change the appearance of the website. You can also hire a developer to code up custom plugins to add features if you cannot find with existing plugins. That will fill in the remaining 20%.

In that case, both you and the techie will be happier to build on an existing platform compared to starting from scratch.

What you need to know about programmers

Before we get into the how-to of finding programmers, you need to understand some things about how they think.

They think they don’t need you as much as you need them. Remember this. Everyone has ideas, but fewer people can write code. If you approach a developer with the attitude, “I’m this business genius who is blessing you lowly programmer with my great idea,” you’ll get nowhere.

Don’t give the impression that you’ll just tell them your idea and let the programmer do all the hard work. You need to be involved and give regular feedback.

Explain what you’ll bring to the table: contacts, customers, sales and marketing skills, etc. Most programmers hate sales, so if you prove you can take care of that and leave them free to code in peace, do it.

They think your idea sucks. If your idea is a “me-too” website that imitates whatever is currently popular, they probably hate it. For example, all the daily deal websites that came out after Groupon got hot.

Developers hear bad ideas every day. Although to be fair, a lot of ideas sound stupid until they make a bunch of money. Example: iPhone fart app makes nearly $10,000 a day.

They worry you’ll constantly ask for nonsense changes. Although this comic was meant for web designers, programmers have a similar fear of clients treating them this way: How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell.

Okay now, let’s get more positive.

How to get programmers to love you

Show them what your idea is going to look like. You could make barely-legible pencil scrawls on a napkin, and you’ll instantly catapult yourself over other clients who only have the vision in their head.

Learn to love and use wireframes, mockups, and comps (comprehensives). In many cases, a programmer is not a designer (read Web Developer vs. Web Designer). So create the first draft of the look yourself, or hire a designer to do it. Then show the programmer what you’re after, and they can turn the design into a working prototype.

Balsamiq and Keynotopia (for Apple) are tools you can use to create the basic appearance of your app or website.

Learn the basics of web design and user experience design (UX). I highly recommend reading the book Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug. It’s written in plain English, it’s short, and you’ll save yourself thousands of dollars in miscommunication with your programmer. Instead of just trying to make your website “look cool,” you’ll have the mindset of thinking in the user’s shoes.

The more clearly you can express what you want, the easier it is for the programmer to do it.

Explain how your app makes a difference in the world. Programmers aren’t solely motivated by money. Look at “open source” software. These are programs that have been built by programmers around the world as volunteers, and given away for free.

Programmers don’t want to just write code. They want to create tools that improve people’s lives, make the world a better place, or simply make work suck less.

Be a good manager. Okay, that’s a big understatement in four words. A good start is this video of Dan Pink’s talk, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

For more advice, you can check out this book: Managing Humans: Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager. Fun fact: the author’s original title for the books was, “Don’t Be A Prick.”

Ready to look for a programmer?

Still here?  Okay, let’s get into it.  Warning: if you just skipped down to this section without reading what came before and not checking out those resources, you’re going to waste a lot of money.

How to find a programmer in real life

Meetups. Look up networking events and meetups for programmers. For Hawaii, check out Wetware Wednesday. You can look on Meetup.com for groups under the “Tech” category.

Hackathons. These are competitions where hackers build apps in a short time period. A good example is Startup Weekend.

Coworking spaces. These are places where freelancers–like programmers and web designers–rent space so they can get out of the house and work with other people. Here are some in Hawaii: The Box Jelly and HI Green House.

Incubation centers. Places that provide office space and other support to entrepreneurs. Example: Manoa Innovation Center.

How to find cheap programmers online

Use PHP and MySQL for your website. PHP is widely used in web development and it’s free.  As a result, finding PHP developers is relatively easy.

Outsource to a foreign country like India, the Philippines, etc. Lately, some people have reported good results with coders from Russia and Eastern Europe. I guess it’s a legacy from the Soviet-era push for science, technology and engineering.

Websites: Elance, oDesk, Freelancer (the website formerly called “Rent a Coder”).

How to find good programmers online

Use Python/Django or Ruby on Rails.

Hire American talent. Or at least native English-speaking.

Websites: Dice.com, Stack Overflow Careers, Joel on Software Careers.

I’m being tongue-in-cheek on the “good vs. cheap.” Take what I said with a grain of salt.

Further reading

Want your programmer to think you’re a dream client to work with? Take some time and read the following. These are great reads for start-ups, so you should probably read them anyway.

The Lean Startup — The Bible for start-ups.

Getting Real (PDF) and Rework — Both by 37signals, a web app company that is widely admired by web developers.

Good luck

Hope this stuff helps you and makes your programmer happier.
photo credit: marsi via photopin cc

One thought on ““I’ve Got a Great Idea and I’m Looking for a Programmer”

  1. Eric

    Hi, Before you “Outsource to a foreign country like India, the Philippines, etc.,” please check out Hawaii’s own extensive local programmer community. Techhui was created as a touchpoint for this community. If you need web design/development, software development, mobile app development, whatever, first check out local outfits at http://www.techhui.com/page/directory-1 . To catch individuals, post your job in the Tech Jobs forum, http://www.techhui.com/forum/categories/tech-jobs/listForCategory , and at http://techjobshawaii.org/ . There is a major benefit to being able to meet with your programmer in person to flesh out ideas, show work in development, etc., not to mention we should be supporting local talent and keeping our dollars in-state whenever possible. Thanks.

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