The Non-Technical Person’s Guide on How to Hire a Remote Developer

The Non-Technical Person’s Guide on How to Hire a Remote Developer

This post by James Farmer is part of Hubstaff’s “Remote Work Month” series. In them, some of the most authoritative sources in the world of remote work, share their best advice on how to succeed as a professional, and a team, while telecommuting. Follow and participate in the discussion on Twitter with #goremote.

In the 10 years, I’ve worked as an online entrepreneur, I’ve never worked in the same city – let alone the same office – as a real bona fide backend developer.

It wasn’t, literally, until 2003 that I actually figured out how to edit HTML. Stress on the edit there, too – I never made it to actually coding the stuff and probably peaked somewhere in 2006.

I am, almost certainly, the least technically gifted WordPress company founder on the entire internet. How the heck did this happen? Well, it’s been a journey, through cajoling, begging and borrowing to constructing a pretty much systematic hiring process that we use today to put together some of the awesomely talented teams I get to work with day-in-day-out.

And in this post, I’ll share that process with you – the process we use to hire the talented bunch of people who create code, designs, words and more for CampusPressEdublogs, and WPMU DEV.

Hiring a developer isn't that hard (even for non-technical people). Don't believe us? Read this guide Click To Tweet

Before You Start

Everyone starts somewhere, right?

Even if you’re the most talented code monkey out there, there was a day that you weren’t, right? And mostly you spent that time hanging out on forums, or their era-specific-equivalent.

Use those forums to make contacts and get to know people, and to learn. If you can find someone technically savvy to work with you, they can really help you to pick the best candidates when it comes to hiring.

Job Boards Can Be Your Friends

Here’s how we make the best use of the wonderful world of freelancing sites like Upwork and the Aussie

“BUT…” I hear you cry, “…you just end up with rubbish applications from dodgy firms that f*ck everything up!”

Not if you use the patented *Farmer Jobs Site Hiring Methodology™, which is as follows:

*not really patented

Step 1: Who’ll Come a-Developing with Me?

  1. Work on a really good ad that describes what you are after and sells your company to the potential staff member. Check out our ad for support staff.
  2. Specify, very clearly, that you are only looking for individuals and not companies. I cannot emphasize this enough.
  3. Ask people, on the application, to specify how much they are looking to make per hour in USD (or monthly, annually etc. Up to you). You’re not gonna get a decent developer for less than USD$15/hr @ 40hrs/week min. Just sayin’.
  4. Make it clear that you *will not accept any applications on that site* (say you are happy to pay and manage people through the site, but they have to go to the link provided to apply or they won’t be considered).
  5. On your site ask them to complete a small task, something like “Provide links to the source code of at least one plugin you’ve written” and “Tell us about a WordPress project you recently completed, what went well, what badly?” Make it exceptionally clear that if they don’t do this, then you won’t get back to them.

Step 2: Up Jumped the Candidate

  1. Now, if someone has taken the time, they are worth talking to and you have to treat them well (you would be amazed how many people screw up on this point). Send them a really nice email reply thanking them for their effort and letting them know about the next stages, and ask whether they are cool with that.
  2. Evaluate what they have done (this is where your core developer person comes in). As a rule, I ask for a provisional out-of-10 rating at this point, based off a 5-10 minute stroll through the code they have provided. Pretty much anyone over 6 gets to go to the next round
  3. If they don’t make it, send them a nice email asking them to keep an eye open for future opportunities. This is, incidentally, also a good time to market your email list by getting them to subscribe 😉
  4. If they do make it, then set them up with a free interview task. I introduce it like this, paraphrased: “Rather than an interview, we’d like you to do a simple development task that should take you no more than 4-8hrs (unless you wanna do more). We’re giving everyone the same task. If you do it well enough we guarantee a paid trial task that includes a full interview.”
  5. Make sure this task is something your core person knows well and is sufficiently challenging to not only evaluate applicants’ skills, but also evaluate their levels of keenness.
  6. If they then complete this task, your core person should evaluate it in a bunch more detail and provide written feedback you can share with the candidate, as well as another score out of 10. Repeat #3 for anything under 6/10. Anyone over 6/10 is , depending on cost, a serious prospect – give them a proper 1-2 week minimum paid trial task to see how they go.
  7. During this task, you wanna pair them, as much as possible, with your core developer (or developers) and be checking in yourself. Chat at length and get others to talk to them and as soon as you’ve figured they are a good fit and a talented developer… Hire them!


Don’t Forget Your Hiring Page

You’re looking for someone or some people who are prepared to do a heap of work and put in a bunch of effort to join you in your quest to make awesome software.

Which is why you want your hiring page to be, basically, awesome. You have to think of the page, and indeed the entire site (which is why it can be a good idea to have a dedicated site for this) as a critical part  of the process.

Don’t Ignore Your Secret Weapon

And you don’t need to even spend a dime getting to your best candidates – often they are right in front of you.

Either already actively using your product or engaging with what you do (I lose count of how many of our team were originally users, suffice to say that it’s a lot) or they are subscribed to your email list.

BUT, and it’s a big but, they won’t know about the role unless you tell them.

So, fire up that email list and promote the role to the people on it. Encourage them to share it with friends and colleagues who might be interested in the role. We contact subscribers to WPMU DEV and to our WordPress news service the Whip. With a bit of luck you might not even need to bother with the job sites, although I’d recommend that you do because of the simple maths:

Your Demand + Large Supply / Farmer’s hurdles = Quality & affordable candidates

If you’ve liked this post, you’d definitely enjoy learning about Sticker Mule’s process for hiring and onboarding remote employees. Also, don’t forget to have your say on the subject on Twitter with #goremote.

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