Hiring a Custom Application Developer: The Four Rules to Avoid Disaster

Are you facing the need for a custom business application to save money or increase the speed and accuracy of business processes?

Or, perhaps you already have such an application, but now want to expand it and tie in your customer contacts, accounting program, or some other back-office system. Or have you simply struggled long enough to run your IT using a patchwork of spreadsheets—and it’s not working?

If you aren’t a coder or have never hired programmers before, you may feel as though you’re about to travel to a different country. Indeed, if you’re opening the search to overseas application developers, that’s precisely what you’ll be doing.

Even if you plan to hire in the U.S., your prospective hires will still, literally, be working in a foreign language to you—Visual Basic (VBA) in the case of Microsoft Access, C++, SQL, or another language for other database applications. Here are our suggestions:

Four rules to follow when hiring an Application Programmer
Before you start defining your application requirements, define your developer requirements. Let’s go over four critical points. These will help you zero in on the right application developer for you.

1

Save more than $100,000. Don’t be sold a bigger, costlier platform than you need.

Dot-net, Oracle, and SQL Server are terrific platforms, but if you are at the first stage of elevating from a spreadsheet application model or improving a Microsoft Access home-grown application, these heavy-duty enterprise databases are the wrong choice. Instead, find an expert in the right-size platform—and it is probably Microsoft Access. Once we know about your specific project, we can explain in detail why Access will be both cost-effective and fastest.

2

Don’t create a permanent, full-time developer position.

Unless you are going into the software development business, you should not be looking for a full-time employee. Even the most complex applications, if designed and coded well, don’t require constant oversight.

For one typical database-driven business application, there is probably no justification for your company to take on the considerable salary and benefits cost of a full-time programmer.

3

Don’t look overseas for application development talent.

Unless you have a great deal of experience managing software developers and software development projects, you do not want the job of working across borders yourself. It’s bad enough that your programmer will be working in a computer language that you don’t understand. When you compound that with drastic time differences (noon in New York City, it is 10 p.m. in New Delhi), and possible language or accent barriers, your project can quickly turn frustrating and then nightmarish.

Yes, you can save money by shopping overseas for application development talent. Saving that money, though, can cost you a great deal. In our experience, the money you save will be more than offset not only by language and time-zone difficulties, but also by project commitment and loyalty. Low-cost overseas workers often run many projects at once, and while it is easy to start work with them, it can be maddeningly difficult to keep them engaged.

4

Do not hire freelance application programmers.

Unless you know and absolutely trust the person, you do not want to put the entire responsibility for your application into the hands of one person. I know, there are some wonderful freelance programmers out there. The point is, if you don’t know them, you are opening up your project (and data) to serious vulnerabilities.

The best freelance Access programmers have excellent references, an extensive work portfolio, and a solid, standards-based approach to work. That last requirement is especially important. It means that if anything should happen to your freelance programmer, another developer will be able to easily step in and continue the development project or provide maintenance support for it. If your freelance programmer is a bit of a renegade—and many are!—you will have to hope that they stay on board to not only finish the project, but also to provide support for it down the road.

If they don’t stick around, the day will come when you must find another developer to either finish the project or support it. To that newcomer, your Microsoft Access application may appear to be a rat’s nest tucked inside a haystack. In many cases, it will be faster and cheaper to start again from scratch, rather than pay a developer to unravel and make sense of a project that an unorthodox developer left unfinished.

If you are really tempted to hire a freelance Microsoft Access application developer, you should require the very same credentials that you would—that you should—demand in a good application development firm.