How to find an app developer

Find developer

Are you ready to have your app developed? If the answer is yes, you’re in the right place. Read on to learn how to find the right developer for your app or other digital product.

If you’re unsure or know that you're not ready to start looking for developers, check out our earlier articles in this series on app development - beginning with What to do with your app idea. In 2 steps.

Still here? Let’s talk about finding app developers and programmers.


    Do you need to hire a developer to build your app?

    This is the first question you need to answer. Carefully thinking this may just save you a whole lot of time and money.


    Because even in a best case scenario, the hiring process will require substantial outlays in time and treasure. To hire a developer, you’ll need to:

    1. Decide the specific skills you need
    2. Decide how you’ll engage the developer (contractor or employee, for example?)
    3. Determine how long you’ll need their skills for
    4. Work out if you can get by with a single programmer or if you’ll need a team. If so, a team of how many, and what skills will each member of your squad have?
    5. Determine if you have the budget for this and if not, repeat all of the above steps
    6. Create a job description
    7. Advertise your job(s), likely in multiple places across the internet
    8. Establish the hiring process (How many stages of interviews? What questions? Will there be a competency test? What form will it take/)
    9. Go through multiple rounds of interviews with a range of candidates, which can take a considerable amount of time if done properly
    10. Discuss the candidates internally and arrive at a consensus about who to hire (this can be a challenge in teams greater than two or three people or in scenarios where multiple qualified candidates have applied for the position)
    11. Notify the successful candidate(s), negotiate terms, and successfully offer them the job (not everyone accepts the first offer)
    12. Wait for their start date (it’s common for quality candidates to already be employed, meaning they’ll need to work their notice period through to completion)
    13. Complete the onboarding process and appropriate hiring paperwork
    14. Brief them on the work they’ll need to do and integrate them into the project

    That might seem like a lot. And it is. Fourteen points is a long list and there’s more detail we could have added.

    Why burden you with this knowledge?

    We’re letting you know this now for two main reasons:

    a) Too many entrepreneurs and startups enter into the hiring process without thinking all of this through. We want you to know what you’re getting into.

    b) To help you understand why many businesses opt to skip the hiring process and work with digital product agencies, software houses, or other organizations that help you avoid the considerable investment in time, money, and effort that the above steps require.

    It’s true that hiring a DPA (digital product agency) can help you avoid the majority of this onerous work. More on the advantages of DPAs below.

    To return to the question at the top of this section (do you need to hire a developer to build your app?), let’s think about why - despite all the blood, sweat, and tears involved - the answer may be yes.

    Why hire a developer?

    You may be one of the small number of startups who are best served by hiring an individual developer rather than engaging a digital product agency.

    How do you know if this is the case? If you can answer yes to all of the following questions, hiring a developer directly might be for you:

    • Do you have access to a large number of highly talented developers in your local job market?
    • Are they willing to work at a sufficiently low cost to be affordable (or for some alternative system of compensation, such as sweat equity)? If you’re based in a large university town that hosts a strong set of computer science majors, this might be you. If you live in a current or emerging digital ‘hub’ or ecosystem, ditto.
    • Are you willing to offer equity in your company as part or all of your compensation package? Many developers who join a startup early as a CTO (or whatever you’re calling your top tech person) will expect some measure of private equity. It’s not universal, but it’s common.
    • Can you complete the hiring process quickly enough while maintaining quality? You might want to talk to other startups in your area who followed a similar path to establish if this is practical for you.
    • Are you willing to handle project management in-house, or for the person you hire to manage the project? If you’re not using a DPA, this is something you need to address.
    • Do you have sufficient connections/access to talent that the dense web of expertise and connections to your local development/digital design community that comes with a DPA would be unnecessary? DPAs usually speed up the development process in part because when additional talent is required, they know who to call (and who’s available). This could be useful if you suddenly need to revisit your UX because your user testing has thrown up some required changes, for example.

    To summarise, hiring a quality developer in-house or as an individual contractor is a path best suited to very well connected entrepreneurs with extensive experience managing complex projects involving specialists in areas outside of their own expertise.

    However, it’s worth remembering that this still might not be the optimal path for such people or businesses. It’s unlikely that a business owner’s time could not be better spent in other areas than managing a development project.

    Founding and operating a startup is a far broader proposition than managing the development of a digital product and it’s vital that other important areas (such as financing, marketing, and so forth) are not overlooked.

    Leaders should lead. Let managers manage.

    Why not to hire a developer?

    You mean the fourteen-point list didn’t scare you off? Well, you’re brave, I’ll give you that.

    If you need more reasons not to engage in a lengthy hiring process with uncertain results, we’re happy to give them.

    Here are a few of our favorites:

    • Hiring a stand alone developer limits the breadth of skills and experience you have access to. By contrast, DPAs have a range of skilled developers on-hand. If one programmer doesn’t know how to fix a problem, chances are there’s a colleague they can turn to.
    • It’s an unnecessary commitment to a single individual. You may think you’ve found a kick-ass dev who’s the ‘full package.’ Let me level with you. That’s not likely. In fact, even the most rigorous hiring process is unlikely to establish if the preferred candidate is the right long-term fit. As you don’t yet have your app, the needs of the company are likely to evolve as the product moves from development to maintenance and iteration. The right person to lead the development of an app in its initial stages may not be the person you need in the long run. Allow yourself flexibility.

    Can you manage the project yourself?

    Let’s pretend we’re in the future and it turns out you decided to hire a freelancer or hire a developer outright to build your app.

    They’re sitting at their desk and you're paying them, so they’d better get to work soon. If not, you’re burning money.

    But what should they do?

    To answer this question, we need to think about your development process as a project.

    An image of a developer.

    You're paying this guy so you better get him to do something to help complete your development project.

    Developing your app or other digital product is a project. This means someone needs to manage that project to a successful end result.

    If you know the specific requirements for your digital product - ideally because you followed the instructions in our article on product requirements documents - then you’ll know what you’re aiming for.

    But what steps need to be taken to get there? In what order? Which tasks are dependent upon the completion of others? Who should perform these actions?

    All those questions are answered by a project manager.

    The project manager might be a specific job title in your organization. All this person does may be to manage development projects.

    Alternatively, the role of project manager might just be one job among many performed by a particular individual. This could be the owner of the company or even the developer themselves.

    Could this be you? If it is, you need to make sure that you’re familiar with the fundamentals of project management. At an absolute minimum, you need to have a project outline with clear milestones laid out so that you can tell if you’re making progress and, if not, why not.

    If the idea of running a complex and often technical project like developing a digital application makes you uncomfortable, we don’t blame you. The consequences of mistakes can mean a considerable amount of wasted time and money (not to mention the stress). Rescuing a failing project is possible, but if you can reduce the risk by having an experienced project manager on hand, we recommend that you do.

    This brings us to our next important question; should you hire a single individual or freelancer when you can let others deal with personnel and project management sides?

    What about digital project agencies, for example?

    Should I hire a digital product agency (DPA)?

    Digital product agencies are known by many names. Some call them software houses, or contract development labs.

    It’s true that there are some minor distinctions between some of the labels floating around.

    For example, the term ‘software house’ often refers to relatively low-end, high-volume digital technology contracting companies.

    By contrast, DPAs often focus on delivering value, usually in the form of quality digital products, high-calibre design work (UI/UX), and experienced project managers.

    That latter strength might be exactly the reason you decide to work with a digital product agency. Such companies - and Develocraft is a good example of this - often have experienced project managers:

    • On retainer
    • Available to them as contractors or third-party providers
    • Employed directly within their company

    This is beneficial to you as a client because:

    1. You don’t need to manage the project yourself, saving you time and effort. This frees you up to put your focus elsewhere (where your true skills may rest, such as marketing or fundraising)
    2. If project management isn’t one of your skills or you’re not yet proficient enough in it to successfully lead a complex project such as app development to completion, you won’t need to invest the time, effort, and money upskilling yourself (which should speed up your project and render it more cost effective)
    3. You benefit from the accumulated knowledge and experience of project managers who have worked on multiple projects similar to yours without having to pay a premium to hire an experienced specialist directly. Understandably, such professionals are likely to make fewer mistakes and work far more efficiently, meaning your app gets made a) better, and b) sooner.

    Now you have a framework to decide if you need to find an app developer, it’s your turn. Will you decide to hire an individual programmer, or sign a DPA? The choice is yours.

    2021-06-1114 mins

    Alexander Smithers

    Hello! I'm the head of content at Develocraft. I'm also a startup guy (no joke)! I've worked with a lot of them and learned so much. I'm here to help you by sharing that knowledge. I'm always open to collaborations. Find me on LinkedIn.

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