How to Hire Developers for Your Start-up

You’ve got your passion project. Your core team. Maybe you’re even poised to welcome your office pruppet. 

But you still need developers. 

Whether you yourself are savvy about code, or think even the best lines look like error messages, we’re here to help you find developers for your start-up. 

It can be tricky to know where to start. Whether you’re looking for a freelancer or employee, there are a lot of platforms out there to recruit software developers. Depending on the project, a custom software company can also be a viable option. 

What’s my line?

Let’s start with figuring out how a developer will fit into your start-up. 

Ultimately, you’re running a start-up either because you believe it can be disruptive and successful, or you’re just plain passionate about what you’re bringing to market. Finding someone to go the distance will involve a delicate balance between honestly assessing your needs and resources, and those of your top candidates. 

Are you a small team without a CTO, looking for someone to handle development independently? You’re probably going to be looking for someone with a lot more experience, and you’ll need to be prepared to pay for that. 

Conversely, if you’ve got a developer or tech-savvy project manager who can provide leadership, it may work to cut costs and get someone who can really grow with your company. 

DevOps meets at the intersection of operations and development. A team member who works in this field will have coding expertise, but also insight into processes that optimize workflow, morale and evolution. 

48% of developers class having a team member in DevOps as ‘extremely important’, with a further 31% saying it’s ‘somewhat important.’ 

The takeaway? A majority of developers think this has an impact on their worklife. There is no one role that meets this classification, but it can include individuals responsible for infrastructure planning, incident response, maintaining pipelines and collaboration. 

Perhaps in your mind you equate this to having a marketing specialist, without an established marketing manager to guide them. But in the context of development, it is not a direct comparison. When you’re a marketer, if you make a decision that’s unsuccessful, you can incorporate the feedback and move forward. When you fly solo as a developer, the consequences of your mistakes can mean the product potentially not working at all. 

Some solutions are Googleable, others just need to be hammered at. With the core focus of coding being problem solving, tasks are never confined to A + B = C, and it’s a profession in which mentorship is key. 

Your already-established team may not have an individual who could fit this description – it is a start-up, after all. And that’s totally cool. 

It’s just important to communicate this clearly to potential candidates. They’ll need to be comfortable going it alone. 

If you’re still wanting to take on an early-career or fresh developer to mature with your company, their attitude will be everything. You’ll want someone whose motivation is passion for your idea, or for computers in general (not money), who is positive and problem-oriented. They need to be clear that they won’t receive that mentorship, but if they demonstrate initiative, they may be willing to go the distance. 

“People are motivated most when they share a vision of what the future might be, and can see themselves and their contributions in that picture.” – Cliff Gilley. 

If you’re a solo entrepreneur and are looking to develop an app or website for your endeavor, the two best options at your disposal are to find an equally passionate tech collaborator to go all in, or contract someone to build your product pre-launch, then handle maintenance after the fact. 

Can I Google Maps ‘developer’?

No. However, in the glorious 21st century, there are a multitude of online providers who serve just that purpose. 

Besides the usual suspects like LinkedIn and Indeed, Github,, AngelList and UpWork are some prominent examples. (And just so you know, we don’t get clickthrough benefits, they just really are industry leaders.)

Follow your nose, check out previous work examples and see if you can meet people at conventions or forums. If you can make a good connection, you’ll have to be able to make them look twice. It is a competitive market, after all…

Pick me!

The bad news is that only 2.1% of professional developers are unemployed and looking for work. In some industries, you’re spoiled for choice. The workers come to YOU. Not so much in the software industry. It’s a lucrative business. 

Here’s the good news…

57.6% of developers aren’t looking for new work, but say they’re open to other opportunities. 

In order to engage someone you’re excited about, it’s part and parcel that you might cast your net to include those who are already employed. How do you find a match where the feeling is mutual? Seek an alignment in values, and facilitate a warm introduction, wherever possible. 

So what do developers care about? 

Here’s what the data shows. The top four values are:

  1. The languages, technologies and frameworks they’ll be working with
  2. Company culture or office environment
  3. Flexibility in schedule
  4. Opportunities for professional development

Understanding fully what you can offer in this regard, then making sure to touch on these points with prospects you’re interested in is a smart approach. 

This applies less to those who are keen to take on someone just leaving school or early career– many younger developers are open to opportunities that grow their chops. If you’re willing to go that route, that’s great. 

It’s important to have high expectations for what you’re looking for, but it’s good to remember that it needs to be a symbiotic relationship. Anything you promise or offer should be something you can deliver on. 

How to build your criteria parameters

The first point of consideration is the capacity you’re wanting to engage someone in. You can look at freelancing, an employee or outsourcing to a software company.

Freelancing – this can be an awesome option to pay only for what you need or engage someone higher-level, with less expenditure. If you work with someone open to a permanent position, it can also be a great way of establishing a connection and assessing your working relationship. The downside is that most freelancers work remotely; to maintain communication at a healthy level, it will take a lot more effort. You may feel like you have less control, and the in-person vernacular is definitely lost. If you do engage a freelancer, to mitigate this, I would encourage an initial in-person meeting to make that connection. Establish clear parameters around expectations – what they expect from you with regard to support and payment. What you expect from them in terms of deliverables, touching base and working hours. 

Employee – Whether you’re looking for part- or full-time, taking on an employee is definitely a commitment and a responsibility. Because you’re a start-up, presumably with less resources, you’ll need to be clear around compensation, benefits, working hours and vacation upfront, so that no one has unreasonable expectations. The plus side? Finding a great candidate can mean a co-conspirator to grow with your company from the get-go and maybe ultimately take on a leadership role. 

Custom Software Company – If what you’re looking to sell is a software product, like an app service, holistically outsourcing the development can save a lot of time and hassle. Knowing you have a team and dedicated project manager means that multiple people are looking after your best interests. They’ll usually develop a proposal to fit your budget, and long-term the costs can be lower than retaining an employee. Future evolution or improvements made to the software will be miles easier with this kind of scaled solution. Most provide maintenance after the fact but of course, you could always hire someone for that purpose which is much less involved than development of an entire project. The downside? Costs are higher upfront, there’s no doubt.

Make sure your candidate is located in a desirable area unless you’re comfortable with them being fully remote. Decide on the languages, frameworks and platforms you aren’t willing to negotiate on in terms of skill set. If you don’t know, do your research. Putting out a vague advertisement or not having a basic understanding of what the project demands is an easy way to end up with the wrong candidate. Plus, it undermines your leadership and sets the tone for what they can expect if they join your company – a lack of understanding. 

Don’t shy away from taking someone further who has a lot to learn. In such a problem and process driven profession, attitude is the most important aspect of a candidate. If you’ve got someone who is willing to learn, has a solid foundation and a demonstrable tenacity, that’s going to go a lot further than experience combined with a decided attitude.

Communication is important, but remember to measure that against technical skills. Don’t write someone off just because you have a more articulate candidate. They need to be able to work in a team and communicate, but remember that their professional skill set has other focuses. Measure the value of that against true development swag. 

The most important part

We’ve spoken about hiring, but we have yet to speak to the most important thing — retaining. That stat about developers looking for other opportunities? It can be just as negative for you as an employer as it can be valuable for a recruiter. 

Basic common sense dictates transparency, communication and appreciation in the workplace. 

Making sure you’re taking care of your own, so to speak. 

Consistency is a highly underrated factor – when employees know what to expect in terms of standards and work-reward ratio, they have more trust, respect and are overall happier. Hitting all these points and following through on your word go a long way. 

Beyond that, a huge step towards workplace equilibrium is understanding where developers are coming from. Note that the following doesn’t act as a rule, but is widely applicable. 

Software development revolves around problem-solving — sometimes very tough problem-solving. It demands logical reasoning, focus and rational thinking. There’s a stereotype floating around that developers are antisocial — that’s possibly drawn partly from the fact that they need to protect their time and attention span. A substantial percentage of developers end up working overtime throughout their careers. 

Understand that a lot of the work they fill their day with plays out behind-the-scenes. Their role doesn’t always directly correlate with ROI, so it can be easy to take what they accomplish as perfunctory, rather than admirable. Respect the chain of command when making requests, and choose the right line of communication for the situation. See Kate Travers’ excellent guide here

Do this, and you can help them thrive. 

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