Top 5 Items you need to have ready when hiring a programmer to make your ideas happen

Do you have an idea for a website, online business, or application, but need a programmer to turn that idea into reality?

Here are our top 5 Tips when hiring a Programmer


1. Reduce your big idea to “Version 1.0”.

Got a complex business idea? Break it down into its ingredients, and let the specialists do what they do best. Video aspect? Let YouTube handle that part. E-Commerce aspect? Use Amazon's system. Payments? PayPal. Social networking? Facebook. Don't reinvent any of these wheels. Focus on what's left - what hasn't been done. Specialize at that one thing, and become that go-to company that nobody can beat in your niche.

Dream the big dream of everything your site/service/company might be some day, and write it all down.

But then think of the bare minimum that would make you happy, and people would find useful. What are the three most essential features? What is the most essential feature?

Call this Version 1.0. Save the rest for later. No need to even tell people about the rest unless they're really really interested.

A programmer is much more likely to say, “I can do that!” to this simple version.

Your goal here is just to get Version 1.0 built. That, alone, will be a huge accomplishment. Everything below is describing only Version 1.0.

2. Write a simple overview of what it does.

Again, remember: only describe Version 1.0. Stop there. The big version is written down somewhere else.

Leave off all details that the programmer doesn't need to know.

For example: If you want to sell videos, you don't need to say what's in the videos. Just “sell downloadable and streamable video files.” If you want the site to translate ancient Arabic poetry to Spanish to increase global tolerance, just say, “Translate paragraphs from Arabic to Spanish.”

Be succinct. Programmers love that.

Include people in a story, using the terms you use.

For example: “A company creates an account, then creates a new project with a title and description. In the project, they upload multiple documents to be translated. Each document has a from-language, to-language, and a name. The system counts how many words are in each document. When the company marks the project as ready, it is announced to the translators. The announcement shows how many documents, how many words, and a price. The translator rejects or approves. They log in to translate the documents, one at a time, marking each finished when done, which sends the file back to the company for review.”

From this, the programmer will look for nouns and verbs, so start to think in those terms to help you communicate better. (A programmer would see: Company, Project, Document, Translation, Translator, etc.)

3. Write a detailed walk-through of every click.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself using the site.

Describe every thing you can click on the first page.

What happens when you click it? Exactly what did the system do? What happens next?

Start to think in IF-THEN branches. Example: “If it's a new user, it takes them to this welcome page. If they've been here before, it takes them to their account page. If it asks for a number, but they type a word, send them back to the same page but with a message.”

In a text file, write down every thing you know this Version 1.0 needs to do. Every click. Every action. A long list of small simple things.

Start to think of the exact wording of what you want it to say, but save that somewhere else. Don't clutter this list with wording.

The goal is to keep this long list of actions very clear and simple, so that a programmer can see it, and see that each step is easy. For them it should be like eating chips, not an elephant.

4. Break it up into milestones.

We tend to think of other people's work as easier than it is.

So break Version 1.0 up into many “milestone” steps. Think of it as a day's work. (It might take more or less than a day.) The point where they upload their work for you to test. Where you test it and are happy that little piece works.

Don't expect it to look pretty at this stage. Expect it incredibly ugly but functionally working. Like building a house, the paint and decor goes last.

For example: in my translation site story, above, the first milestone might be just a plain ugly web page where a company can create an account, create a new project, then upload named documents into that project. That's it! If that works, that's a good start.

Thinking of your project in milestones makes all the difference. You'll stop and communicate at each, making sure you're happy before continuing. Misunderstandings can't run on too long. You'll estimate time and cost better. And you'll both feel a good sense of momentum.

5. Make your first milestone a stand-alone project.

To find a programmer you like, you need to take just the first milestone, and treat it as a complete project.

Open a new text file, and copy just the parts of the story and walk-through that are included in the first milestone.

If a feature doesn't come until after the first milestone, remove it from this copy of the story. Remove it from this copy of the walk-through.

This text file should contain a start-to-finish project that sounds like a day's work, and mentions nothing else.

Now start to prepare it like a help-wanted ad. Say, “We are hiring a developer to create only the beginning of an application. If this milestone is completed well, there will be more work immediately. The requirements are as follows....” Then paste just the story and walk-through for your first milestone.

Because you don't want them to just say, “I finished. Here's the source code,” make sure you finish with something like, “For completion of this project, please have this up and running on a development webserver I can access to test its functionality as described.”

Because posting this help-wanted ad will bombard you with dozens of offers that sound legitimate but have never read your ad, you should really do this step: At the end of your post, write something like, “VERY IMPORTANT: To separate you from the spammers, please write I AM REAL as the first line of your bid. We will delete all bids that do not start with this phrase, since most bidders never read the requirements. Thank you for being one who does.”

Get this all in a plain-text file, ready to hand to any applicants you may intend to hire.


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You should also check out What People Forget to Look for When They Hire A Programmer (But Should) for some additional tips.
How To Have Websites Built For You The Cheap Way has more information on what to look for.

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