Moving web-based business to a new web coder without falling flat on our faces?
September 15, 2006 5:47 AM   Subscribe

We're losing a freelance, outsourced web coder that our business relies upon. How do we find and then transition over to someone new without losing loads of money and time? Story inside.

I co-own a small London-based company which does a lot of its business via the web. Our service involves a reasonably complex backend that does everything from customer management to dynamic updating of certain website components, accepting payments from our customers and delivering documents to them.

This has all been coded in CGI / Perl by an Indian programmer who we found almost by accident five years ago and has been amazing to work with over the past few years.

Unfortunately he is now letting us down and despite our best efforts to get him involved, offering more money and so on, we can barely make contact with him. His business has expanded but also apparently he's suffering some legal action.

We have the site and database backed up, and it's hosted at a location separate to the designer. But we need to move ahead and get the site completely refreshed; we already have a new graphical frontend and CSS to integrate, not to mention various new components spec'd but not built for the backend. So we need to find someone to examine our existing code, understand it, and start to help us maintain and update it.

Ideally we'd like like a freelancer for regular work - we'd prefer it if they were in our timezone, better still in London, so we can get in touch easily. And they need to be pretty sharp at CGI / Perl to understand the existing stuff. But what problems are we likely to face and what are the classic mistakes we could make during this transition? What should we ask for when selecting a new coder, and where would we look? Metafilter Jobs seems like a possibility but doesn't seem to have a lot of UK traffic.
posted by unclemonty to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, you already seem to know you want another perl coder. You should probably ask them how they'd handle implementing certain changes you want to make (I would not stress the front end changes obviously). See if anyone knows the packages that may already be used. If you get desperate I can suggest someone competetent not in your timezone.
posted by shownomercy at 6:25 AM on September 15, 2006 might be what you are after
posted by handee at 6:28 AM on September 15, 2006

You should check out the job board at Vitamin.
posted by Alt F4 at 6:31 AM on September 15, 2006

No Agencies Please looks to be primarily UK based.
You could also try any of the zillion freelancer sites; I've gotten work from both RentACoder and GetAFreelancer.
posted by Famous at 6:34 AM on September 15, 2006

The fact that you're asking this question indicates to me that you've already got a good start, that being the understanding that all coders aren't interchangeable, and that you can't hand code off to someone unfamiliar with the project and expect them to be able to hit the ground running. One thing that always drives me nuts is when I pick up a project mid-stream, and the client dumps a pile of code on me, expecting me to be able to figure everything out just from the code.

Just be prepared to answer quite a few questions, and be as thorough as possible in your responses. You've been involved in the project for years, and what may be patently obvious to you and your previous coder might be incomprehensible to the new coder, especially if the previous coder wasn't a fan of commented his or her code.

It should go without saying that you should pass along any documentation that have been assembled, and if possible, any and all communications related to the project that took place between the you and the previous coder. If your previous coder didn't produce any documentation in the five years he was working for you, consider it a lesson learned and include thorough documentation as part of the deliverables required in your contract with the new coder.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 6:35 AM on September 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

It depends on how much you are wanting to pay. The smaller freelancer site will be cheaper than going via a "real" agency. However the "real" agency will usually vet candidates prior to you seeing them.

Or you could post a job advert on the jobs page here and some perl developer might contact you.

posted by hardcode at 7:20 AM on September 15, 2006

Response by poster: Shownomercy said: "Well, you already seem to know you want another perl coder"

We know nothing about coding, so perhaps someone can explain for us. Do we want another perl coder? It seems that everything which has been built so far - many, many components, all working immaculately at the moment - is perl / CGI.

My instinct is that we need someone to figure out the existing set-up, not to change it... but am I wrong here? How else could this be tackled?
posted by unclemonty at 8:08 AM on September 15, 2006

Joel on Software has consistently produced good programmer hiring advice; they just added a Job Board.
posted by SpecialK at 8:19 AM on September 15, 2006

And yes, you need someone who knows Perl::CGI. No reason, at this point, to start from scratch with your site's code in another language.

(Although, you could. There's many other modern languages besides Perl, which is getting a bit crusty for web use in it's old age. But that would cost you a lot of money and time.)
posted by SpecialK at 8:20 AM on September 15, 2006

The answer to the question of whether it behooves you to switch environments would depend on a simple cost-benefit analysis: (1) How much extra work would your coder be looking at to re-write everything vs. (2) How much "better" would the project be, once re-written?

Broadly speaking though, if it works using Perl/CGI, stick with Perl/CGI until you have (or foresee) a compelling reason to switch.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 8:22 AM on September 15, 2006

This isn't to do with finding a new programmer, but just reinforcing what Doofus Magoo said about documentation. Don't know if he'd be up to this, but since the original programmer is leaving, wherever possible get him to document what he's done - even if it's just in the code. Even if he doesn't want to go thru' a whole post-project wrap up, even him just sitting down for a few hours and noting anything not evident in the code would be a huge help to the new developer. Also have any project docs and communications available to the new person - anything will be valuable to a new person coming aboard.
posted by rmm at 11:08 AM on September 15, 2006

« Older HTML editor   |   Cannot connect to VPN and do not know why Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.