Where can I find a good programmer, and how on earth do I budget for them?
August 8, 2012 9:12 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find a good programmer, and how on earth do I budget for them?

I need a programmer to put together relatively decent web-based software for a non-profit I volunteer for. I don't particularly care if the idea is stolen; it's kind of a niche field, and if the programmer wants to use the code elsewhere, whatever. That's not an issue for me.

My issue is twofold:

1) Where are some good places to look for a freelance programmer who has sufficient knowledge of PHP, MySQL, and jQuery, and who is otherwise a good worker? I don't want to use some place known to be crap out of personal ignorance. (Like, someone warned me away from elance.com, but how would I know? Genuine question?)

1) How do I calculate a budget for this? I have a general knowledge of the code (I test, I don't code, so), but that doesn't tell me how long it'll actually take to put this together, which in turn doesn't help me sell this to the keepers of the budget or pitch the job to a potential programmer.

posted by XtinaS to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You could try networking and asksing for recommendations of people who done similar work for friends of your.

you could try looking at something like peopleperhour.com and asking people to tender a quote based on an outline of what you want them to do.

You could look at freelancers on linkedin, using keywords such as MySQL to search.

You could get a recruitment agency to do all the heavy lifting for you, but that might end up being more trouble than it's worth.

I am unsure about the budget aspect of it as I've never had to hire someone in a manner such as this. I think you need to scope out the extent of what younneed before you can put a bdget on it, so from that aspect discussing prices with with other companies who might have had similar work done or getting pele to give you quotes might be the best way to go.

Also don't forget that metafilter has it's own job board, so perhaps you could find/ advertise for someoe to fill the role there?

Good luck.
posted by Faintdreams at 9:44 AM on August 8, 2012

You don't want a programmer. You want a web development company, i.e., an outfit that can not only just write the code, but that can help you decide what it actually is that you want and design the final product accordingly. Your profile suggests you're in New York. There are a zillion of these things around. You may want a recommendation for a good one, but you definitely want a company, not just a freelancer.

And it sounds like what you need is a quote. The reference to MySQL suggests that there's some kind of database thing going on, and that's not likely to take thirty minutes. The cost of this project is going to be pretty directly linked to the size of the project, and we've got no way of knowing what that is. Sounds like you're pretty fuzzy on that yourself. One of the things a development company will be able to do for you is identify exactly what it is that you want done, then telling you how much it's going to cost.

I haven't done a ton of this, but I know enough to tell you pretty confidently that this is going to cost thousands of dollars. Minimum. Tens of thousands is possible if it's as big a project as it might be. You're looking at paying at least $100 an hour. $200 or more is not impossible given your location. That adds up really quickly. The fact that we're talking about a nonprofit suggests that money is going to be an issue, but I think you need to be realistic from the outset that this is going to be expensive.
posted by valkyryn at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you quite sure there doesn't already exist some open source thing that could be tweaked to suit? That could well cost much less than building something from scratch.
posted by flabdablet at 10:14 AM on August 8, 2012

The two main reasons this needs to be different from normal con management stuff:

* No money is taken in the system at all.

* There needs to be suggest-a-panel logic, based on various criteria that the presenters themselves provide, like "I'd like to be on this panel", or "I want to avoid $this_panelist".

If I could find something open source that runs online that someone could tinker intelligently, that would also work, but I haven't been able to find anything useful yet, so I figured I'd shop for someone more knowledgeable than I.
posted by XtinaS at 2:18 PM on August 8, 2012

If you want a freelancer, try Stack Overflow Careers 2.0. But I agree with valkyryn—the fuzzy project description and lack of tech experience on your end suggests you'll be much better off with an all-in-one-firm.
posted by morninj at 6:45 PM on August 8, 2012

Unless you have a huge project, you'll probably be fine with a single freelancer. (Of course, I may be biased since I'm a freelance programmer.)

Finding a programmer

I would ask around among other non-profits to see if they have programmers they like. Also, programming and web design often go hand and hand, so you can try getting a recommendation from your designer if you've got one (who did your web page?).

If you have trouble getting recommendations, you can always try job boards and the like. You can ask for references and call those to see if the programmer in question has done similar work before.

You mentioned Elance, which I've found frustrating (from the other side) because I'm competing with people who are willing to charge a tenth of what I do (presumably because they live in much cheaper places than San Francisco). However, if you're careful I think you could do well on Elance. Check references, look at portfolios, ask questions, and pay attention to what they ask you — are they bringing up stuff you haven't thought of? That's good.

Pretty much the opposite of something like Elance is the Hacker News monthly freelance thread. Still, the same things apply, there's just less structure to help you.


You should put together some kind of specific description of the project, giving details about what you want built, how it should work, who the users are, similar things you've seen elsewhere, and what it needs to run on. Then, you can pass that off to programmers you find and get them to give you an estimate.

Also, you can always ask for a free consultation. They will ask you a bunch of questions about the project, and they'll give you an estimate. Even if you don't want to use that person, you can always take what they asked you and turn that into a project description.

If you don't get a fixed bid, then you should probably multiply their estimates time by at least 2. Estimating things is hard, and programmers are notoriously bad at it (I certainly am).

That was kind of long, but I hope it's helpful!

BTW: I don't know about other people, but I would be very interested to hear about your experiences choosing somebody for this project and how it worked out!
posted by danielparks at 6:58 PM on August 8, 2012

On calculating delivery times and budgets - be very very conservative: it is not unusual for a programming project to exceed either by 100%, because the main variable is developer work hours, which is hard to predict accurately.

On the client side, you often don't have a very concrete idea of what you want, until you see and use the finished product - you then realize what you really wanted in the first place, and ask for extensive modifications

The agreement you reach with however does this for you should include provisions for such overruns: do they get to eat the extra cost, do they bill you normally, or maybe bill at a reduced rate? How often do you get to see the work in progress, and at what points do you provide feedback?
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:00 PM on August 8, 2012

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