Without a doubt, picking your developer can be the most overwhelming and difficult part of the project. If you don’t understand a framework from a factory, how will you know the developer is someone you can trust to do a quality job for a reasonable price? Here’s the catch. You can pay someone thousands to build your app and it ends up being riddled with bugs, or you could pay someone half that and your app does even more than you expected. That’s because it’s not about the costs, it’s about the quality. In other words, you can hire a developer who might be charging you less, but it could take him ten times longer to finish your project and in the end actually costs you more because of the code isn’t up to par. Rather than pouring money down the drain, I’m doing a series of posts to clear up a lot of the confusion about finding a seasoned developer you can trust.
Selecting the Best Developer for Your App Project
Just as an electrician’s handiwork is concealed behind plaster and paint, most of the developer’s work is hidden behind the app’s interface, making it hard to gauge if they’re as good as they claim. The app may look incredible and function just fine, but the coding underneath could be a horrible mess and a disaster waiting to happen.
This next section helps you filter out the posers and rookies from the experienced and truly talented by showing you exactly what to look for. It offers a checklist of developer qualifications, interview questions (and suitable answers), tips on how to review their work, and advice on checking their references. Remember, you cannot rush the task of hiring your developer because a superb developer will go on to do amazing things for your app while a terrible one will crush it.
The developer review checklist
Some shops toss around terms like “award winning” and “on budget” as if those are the most important qualities for a developer to have. While that’s certainly a good start, it’s more involved than that. For one thing, there’s just too much included in the iOS SDK for a single person to know every framework or library. To get you started, here’s the must-have list of what to look for in a developer to determine if he’s qualified to build your app.
All developers should have experience with iOS development and the iOS SDK, as well as with C programming (Objective C and C++) and Cocoa. They should also have at least one app in the App Store.
- Apps similar to yours in their portfolio. Promising candidates will have already created apps with functionality like the one you’re creating. For example, if you have social networking integrated, make sure they have already done that in a previous app and are not teaching themselves how to do it on your dime.
- Fluency in your native language. It’s hard enough ordering a coffee in a foreign language, let alone discussing the intricacies of latest software technologies. A Skype call is the only way to truly establish a developer’s fluency. If you’re interviewing a software shop, make sure you talk with the actual developer and not the sales rep.
- Overlapping working hours. If you can manage to have 2 or 3 hours that overlap each day, your project will go a whole lot faster. Waiting 24 hours for an answer that only brings more questions can drag weeks into months; a few minutes on Skype every few days could be all you need to keep things moving.
- Legitimate work. Look for at least three fully working apps in their portfolio. Download every single app they created, and then contact the owner of each one to ask about their experience with the developers. This might surprise you, but more than once I’ve had developers put my apps in their portfolios and I had never even heard of them, let alone done business with them. I found out from people contacting me as part of their due diligence interviewing the developers (and no, they didn’t get hired).
- Integrity in their work. Contact every one of their references. It’s easy to skip this step, thinking that everyone lists only references that will be positive. Some shops and developers list bogus references thinking no one will bother calling them. Also, if any of the apps they created are subpar, don’t hire them. If they created a sloppy app for someone else, they’ll do it for you, too.
- Responsiveness to questions and emails. They should respond to emails and queries within 24 hours. You also want to set expectations up front by requesting they commit to replying to all questions and requests within 24 hours during your project. Let them know that you’ll also commit to the same quick turnaround.
- Attention to details. They should answer every question line by line and be consistent and easy to understand. Steer clear of developers or shops that give canned responses to your job listing. Anyone that refers to me as “Sir” gets the boot, no matter how enticing the shop might be.
- Sample code available on request. Simple programs are okay. Don’t let your lack of programming knowledge stand in your way of requesting some sample code. If you can, ask an iOS buddy to help you review the sample. I nearly skipped this step once because I wasn’t sure what to look for. Thankfully, a friend said he’d help, and it turns out the developer I nearly hired sent code that doesn’t even run on the iPhone. My app was going to be his first project. Also, if a shop or a developer doesn’t want to share any examples, thank them for their time and move on.
- Willingness to teach and offer assistance. The developers should willingly suggest their own ideas for your app. Don’t be shy to ask plenty of questions. Everyone was a newbie at some point, including your developers. They should happily take the time to explain everything to you, including confusing terminology and technical details.
- Time to commit to your project. Ask how many other projects they are currently engaged in and how many programmers are working on each project. The sales reps are often paid on getting projects in the door, not on actually completing them. Make sure they have the time to commit to your project and will give it the attention it deserves.
- Confirmation that you own the source code. You paid for it, so you should own it, but unless you state this fact up front, they may think they own it and can do what they please with it—including making a variation of your app and selling it off.
This article is from my book Idea to iPhone available at all major book sellers.