Effective, ethical, budget tech hiring?
September 26, 2019 3:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm part of a small software startup that needs at least one remote web application developer and possibly part-time design/UX help, but has a budget with only room for ¼-⅓ of market rates (what I'm currently working for). What are some avenues by which I might find competent developers / designers for whom this could nevertheless be a reasonable genuine opportunity, and what are some guidelines to doing this fairly and without regrets?

The obvious answers seem to be:

(a) looking towards those who might be looking to garner experience (bootcamp grads, university students, other entry level talent)

(b) looking towards those who might be outside major US metro areas

(c) perhaps looking towards those outside of the US altogether

If I'm looking towards (a), I can think of a few contact points I might try (I know a few college students and bootcamp grads who presumably have a network). (b) and (c) I suppose point towards something like Upwork?

But I've never done any kind of hiring through a platform, and have no idea what kind of hazards exist from an ethical, security, or competency standpoint. I also strongly suspect there's a number of different avenues / platforms for looking for help along lines like this, that they vary widely in terms of quality, that I'm entirely unaware of some of them, and other people may have ideas on how to do this effectively.

So I'd appreciate tips, perspectives, and stories from anyone who's managed to make remote and not-maximally-lucrative contract-to-hire tech arrangements work to everyone's satisfaction from any side (either as the employed or the employer or even an amazed onlooker).

I do not expect magic bullet solutions; I'd guess that if this were easy, everyone would do it, and good hiring under *any* circumstances probably involves domain expertise, time, and attention. I expect that will be more so in a resource-constrained situation. But I do imagine there are things I can learn from the insights of others.

(Also, I'm aware of jobs.metafilter.com, and I may well actually post there, but wanted to calibrate my compass and expectations first. Thanks!)
posted by wildblueyonder to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
...presumably you are getting paid not merely 1/4-1/3 of the market, but also in equity or some similar form of incentive. That's what you offer to this employee as well.

There's no truly fair way not to pay fair value for what you're getting.
posted by praemunire at 4:27 PM on September 26, 2019 [12 favorites]

So what is this ‘market rate’, and why do you think there’s only one?

The going rate is certainly different in New York compared to New Delhi, but as you may know there are... varied opinions on how that works out for various classes, and I don’t think you get a free pass on ethics just because someone is willing to work for that wage. Under that logic we’d need no minimum wages, because some desperate underprivileged soul will always be willing to suffer for a pittance rather than starve, especially in a global market.

Also: you’re willing to work under scale for some reason; presumably you just need to find people like you and offer the same reasons.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:44 PM on September 26, 2019

If you're a software startup, I think the canonical response is: equity.

There are ethical issues with that as well, but there are plenty of people who will willingly overlook that risk if they think your company is worth it. I mean, presumably that's what you're doing, right? If they don't think it's worth it, then I guess that's how the market expresses its opinion about the future of the company.

Alternately, you can bootstrap by funding the company with contract work (I've had friends with small tech startups who did this for several years while pursuing funding), or you can pursue funding to get the company off the ground.

(I really do appreciate that you are trying to think about the ethical issues in this circumstance.)
posted by instamatic at 5:04 PM on September 26, 2019

I've done what you're doing in all these ways.

I think off-shoring can be difficult unless you've done it before, especially for just one employee. I say that because cultural / language misunderstandings can be challenging and surprising.

My favorite technique in your situation is to hire a promising professional who doesn't have a college degree. There are a lot of people who have taught themselves to code, are quite proficient, but no one will look at them because they don't have a Bachelor's. This allows you to come in at a lower price, and gives them a chance to leverage this experience for higher pay later.

This is even easier if you allow Remote or partial Remote as you say.
posted by jander03 at 6:03 PM on September 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

Be flexible about degree requirements and work hours in addition to location. Many talented people are effectively shut out of the full-time job market because of inflated degree requirements and an arbitrary, pointless expectation of 9 to 5 work hours. I work in web dev with an excellent developer who is paid considerably less than he is worth. He's fine with it because (a) he's self-taught and only has a high school diploma and (b) he pretty much comes and goes and/or telecommutes as he pleases on no particular schedule. When management balks about his non-schedule I am quick to remind him that it would cost them at least double his current salary to hire a person with comparable skills to replace him.

If you're not offering benefits and/or equity, and the nature of the work permits it, treat it as contract work with a defined scope of work and total compensation rather than a defined number of hours. An experienced, talented developer may be able to get the job done quickly enough to earn a reasonable hourly wage. A new graduate may take a lot longer but they'll gain valuable experience in the process, making it effectively an internship.

Most importantly, be transparent in the job advertisement about the fact that you are paying below market rate and will compensate the employee in other ways, e.g., work/life balance, equity, and professional development opportunities (and follow through on that promise with mentoring, connecting the person with colleagues/job opportunities elsewhere, providing excellent references, etc.). Some companies are cagey about low salaries in their job ads because it limits the number of applicants. Hiding this is unethical and wastes the applicants' time and your own. Transparency gets you fewer applicants, but ones that may actually accept the job if offered.
posted by xylothek at 6:56 AM on September 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

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