Have you used RentACoder.com?
July 6, 2007 4:59 AM   Subscribe

Looking for experiences (good and bad) that anyone has had with a service called "RentACoder.com" or any recommendations for a similar service.

We found this site by accident and it looks like something that is tailor-made for a small business like us that is looking for someone to design a fairly simple desktop application and later have the same app. delivered over the web. Basically you put the project requirements up for viewing and developers around the world bid on the work based on their quals. and knowledge. You can then compare their credentials and award the "contract" to the person that you think is the best fit. It looks like a very good service as they offer things like escrow, arbitration etc. so I think it may be just what we need to get this job done at the best possible price.

I would just like to hear from anyone that might have used it in the past and get their opinions, or if anyone knows of similar services that they have used we would appreciate a few suggestions of other services to look at.
posted by worker_bee to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've used it as a freelance developer in the past. I found pretty much any project was low bid by people willing to do the work incredibly cheap. I think I stopped using it after someone bid $25 to build a clone of MySpace. The prices may sound good, but the same projects often show up again days or weeks later, looking for someone to complete the project that was only half done. I think going with the lowest price work is generally a good way to get the worst quality work. You may get lucky, but I think you're more likely to waste your money. Finding a quality developer requires some time and effort examining previous projects and references, and low-bid sites like RentACoder aren't really designed to facilitate that.
posted by scottreynen at 6:12 AM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ditto scottreynen, a large chunk of the jobs on RentaCoder are essentially making copies of Flickr, MySpace, etc., undoubtedly posted by some unimaginative 'entrepreneur'. There are some good people on it, but a lot of bleh. You'll probably get better results with one of the many job boards started by popular blogs, or by finding some clever college kids.
posted by tmcw at 6:25 AM on July 6, 2007

Total waste of time. I used to troll those for consulting work but you are up against low skill low price competition bidding for work commissioned by people who honestly believe that mySpace was built for $400.

Elance, rentacoder, guru are all essentially reverse lead qualification: any leads from those sites are guaranteed worthless. They are all based on the idea that IT infrastructure can be accomplished cheaply, by interchangeable workers, with little foresight or planning. I don't want customers who believe that.

Avoid like the plague.
posted by mrbugsentry at 6:43 AM on July 6, 2007

OK. I somehow left off my final paras:

For hiring talent, we find it doesn't work right either. You end up with someone in Bangalore who isn't talented enough to work for a real outsourcing firm. They will low ball the price, then you will discover that they didn't bother implementing error handling or some other forehead slapper.

We do a lot better finding freelancers through craigslist because we can bring them into the office, interview them, test them, and, if need be, make them code on site to keep an eye on them.
posted by mrbugsentry at 6:52 AM on July 6, 2007

I've used it to commission an application that we use daily, and found it worked well. However, I would add the following caveats:

- define what you want very, very tightly. Don't just say "I want a MySpace clone". Say "I want a MySpace clone that does exactly X, Y and Z". It's worth spending a lot of time up front to write a specification, not make it up as you go along.

- There do seem to be people on there who lowball; I just ignored any offer that seemed overly low.

- Look closely at ratings and previous projects. I paid a lot of attention to these, and in particular the latter until I found someone who understood what we were doing and had expertise in this area.

- It's an international market, so be prepared to deal with people who don't speak the language well and aren't in your time zone. If you need immediate support and tunraround, go with a local coder instead.

I found that the latter in particular added some time to the development cycle, but it worked well enough for me, and saved my company some cash.

Mrbugsentry, etc: I wouldn't disagree with you; if I was building a system that needed long-term development or performed complex tasks, I wouldn't use anything like rentacoder. But I had a particualr task in mind, and I defined what that was before I started. And the program I got works very well and didn't cost me much.
posted by baggers at 6:57 AM on July 6, 2007

I've had good success with RAC but it takes some time to learn what makes a project good.

1. The more detailed your project description is from the beginning, the better off you'll be. By this, I don't mean that you have to give all of your project details to everyone. Write a synopsis, attract bids, and then give your full project details to the finalists. Then choose one based on the discussion you have after that.

2. Communication is a huge factor on RAC. Be clear about your expectations for communication up front. i.e. "This project requires daily updates on progress and has a firm deadline. I am available from 6am-6pm EST via IM to answer any questions related to the project."

3. I've found feedback to be a good indicator on RAC. If someone has a lot of projects and good feedback, s/he's probably pretty good.

Finally, DO NOT simply choose the lowest bidder. Choose the bid that fits your budget, matches your communication needs, and your timeline. Typically budget and timeline/communication are directly proportional.

Hope this helps.
posted by stuboo at 7:01 AM on July 6, 2007

I have been trawling one of the sites for a month or so, looking for work on the side.

I write a concise summary of the skills I feel are appropriate for the job, ask couple of clarification questions about the project, offer to follow up with a CV and references, and bid somewhere in the middle of the bids that have already been placed.

The result? No responses. The majority of the projects I bid on simply time-out without a freelancer being chosen, which makes me feel that the posters aren't at all serious about their projects.

I imagine that most competent developers quickly move on due to frustration with the process.
posted by Leon at 7:17 AM on July 6, 2007

I've also had acceptable results from rentacoder as a buyer. baggers and stuboo have made useful comments.

I would add the following -

The more complex the requirement the less likelihood that it will succeed. Stick to small modular functionality and you should be ok.

The specification should define the deliverables in detail. It should include how the acceptance testing is going to be done. This lets the competent developers know exactly where the goal posts are.

Knowing exactly what you want and being able to put that on paper is a prerequisite. This is actually a lot of work as you need to make sure that if you end up in arbitration, it is absolutely clear to any impartial party why you are not willing to accept whatever crap was delivered (and also why it is crap.)

who - the bid response is a great guide to the quality of the coder. Include one imprecise requirement. Anyone bidding without having asked questions about the requirements has disqualified themselves.
posted by w.fugawe at 8:00 AM on July 6, 2007

I second baggers' and stuboo's comments - we have used RAC for 10 small projects (Office macros, a couple of simple file handling automation scripts, some website scripting modifications/cleanup) that are not particularly involved or difficult but realistically impossible for an office with minimal programming depth. As long as the work is defined _VERY_ clearly and you provide lots of feedback, work will turn out OK. You have relatively low risk - if it doesn't work, you don't pay and you can request that the bidder provide security that the work will be done on schedule - Probably less payment risk than if you were working with someone face to face. As well it is a reputation based system for both buyers and sellers - if you have a bunch of failed projects from either side you probably stop getting jobs or bids so there is a pretty good incentive to make sure the projects are defined and completed correctly.

I've hired 1st, 2nd and 3rd world coders and have had pretty good results (both price and result wise) from all.

My tips-
- expect to spend a fair amount of time working with your coder directing the work and clarifying items that weren't clear in the original bid proposal. (no different than face to face)
- make sure the coder understands what you want (again no different than face to face)
- 90% of the bids are crap or spam
- it seems that the useful bids come in within the first day or two of bid posting - not much point in extending the bid deadline past 7 days (at least for simpler projects)
- projects will take much more of _YOUR_ time than you expect
- you have to manage the coder - don't expect to to accept a bid and then walk away until the project is done ( again not really different than face to face).

In total I would highly recommend RAC as being very useful (if not invaluable) for the right type of project and the right type of "customer". In any case it doesn't cost much ( other than your own time) to try it out!

posted by gsquared at 8:19 AM on July 6, 2007

I've done both RAC and Scriptlance for most of my projects. Here's what I do:

* Put up your project and be descriptive as possible. You might not like to do this because someone might steal your idea - but you have to in order to give the developer what you need.

* I've always gone with the developer that asked more than one question regarding my projects before bidding.

* Carefully look over the ratings and review the projects from the ratings. Some people have high ratings, but it could have been from producing stick figures or installing wordpress.

* Never ever give money up front. Either use escrow or hold off until project is complete.

* Watch out for scriptlance, you need to upload money before you can use their services and they tact on 3-5%.
posted by bleucube at 10:26 AM on July 6, 2007

My brother is temporarily making his living on rentacoder while he looks for a permanent job. He tells me that there are lots of talented workers in India and China that bid very low, and he can't compete against them on price. He still managed to get jobs because he has an impressive resume and portfolio to back up his promises, and probably because he writes well, speaks fluently, and some people doing the hiring are Xenophobic and just want to find an American.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:38 PM on July 6, 2007

I would probably say if you are scrambling to make a site for some purpose and you have to do it now and you just discovered RentACoder.com--and you actually go for it--you'll be in for a world of hurt. If you just want someone to do a business card website for you on the cheap, I guess RentACoder.com is alright. Someone will take the text you have and create 4-5 pages out of the text copies and graphics. They will send you a few templates to pick from to apply to this site from places like www.oswd.org. And you pay a few bucks for it. Hey! Why not? This is probably the only situation I'd use RentACoder.com

Another situation I would use RentACoder.com is mini-sites. You already have a website, but you have a new product coming in, or a new service, that deserves special attention. Perhaps it's a special promotion. And you need a mini-site. Intro page, the meat of the details. A Sign-up page (email me kinda page). Maybe a poll to see if we are on-message. This sort of site is pretty nice to have around to go with your marketing campaigns. And if RentACoder.com can make it for you on the cheap, why the heck not?

The thing is, it's still better to THINK LONG TERM.

You want someone who is familiar with your marketing campaign over the duration of a year.

What are the characteristics of your company? What is your corporate theme and typography standards? What special events are important to you. All this detail is ideally not just in your head, but also in the graphic designer's head. When he brain storms or see something exceptional in his trade journals, he will be thinking of--"Oh wow, my client Bob, he could use this for his Spring campaign". That's synergy at work.

How do you start this off? Go to craigslist, and sincerely inquire if there are freelancers or small independent web shops and ask to see their references and portfolio. Take the time to interview them all over lunch. Pay for the damn coffee and sandwiches. This is time well spent. Tell them you can't make use of them right now, but are delighted to make their acquaintance. Make a note of them in your files. This way, when a project comes up, you have ZEN, CHOICES, and GOOD VIBES--not anxiety and $20 bids on RentACoder.com.

Got it? Good. Just do it!
posted by iheartcanada at 2:55 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

design a fairly simple desktop application and later have the same app. delivered over the web.

As an aside, this requirement worries me a bit, since the method you use to go about building a desktop app is fundamentally different than what you'd do for a web app. So unless you understand that you'll be building the same application from scratch twice, you might want to make it a web app from the get go (or a desktop app now and forever.)
posted by davejay at 2:58 PM on July 6, 2007

Another tip, don't work with RentACoder.com, help two hungry programmers with one stone. Here's how. Talk to your local colleges and universities, pick out a bright programmer or two and say, "I want you to babysit some RentACoder.com guys for me." They want to bid (let's ball park this) $20 for a page. I'll pay you $100 per. Be my firewall. Don't let shit through. Manage them for me. This is a good experience for you. Great side money. And I get to sleep knowing that if shit happens you will fix it for me. I don't want a buggy site that is going to crap out on Netscape 4.x or rootkit my IIS server just when we are putting on a $50,000 TV ad campaign. (And yes, I do recognize the horror in your eyes: we should definitely hire you for $50,000 instead of using dino technologies. And no, my company still hasn't discovered viral web 2.0 whatevers.) Babysit these RentACoder guys for me. Write a great functional spec for these guys. Look out for bozos for me. Will you? Deal or no deal?
posted by iheartcanada at 3:04 PM on July 6, 2007

Or e-mail me through my profile, and I'll put you in touch with my brother, a hungry & skilled out of work guy who can send you a resume and do good work for relatively cheap.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:49 PM on July 6, 2007

Judging from the language of your post, you aren't experienced in managing software projects.
This is a hugely complex skill and the best, most experienced developers will take a lot of the management effort off your shoulders.
I would expect you to have a bad experience if you try to do anything but the simplest project this way.
That said, if time is not a problem but cash is tight, read up on sites like Joel on Software and learn about specifying software projects.
I would say the spec for an eCommerce web site should take several weeks to write if you are handing it off to a reputable free lancer on one of these sites.
When you factor in weeks of your time is it still a bargain?
I actually do think these are a good way for a small biz to get stuff done, but a desktop app that you want to take online in future sounds like a big project to me, and I think will be too complex without some experienced help.
posted by bystander at 11:19 PM on July 6, 2007

I wrote an article about outsourcing on my blog that may be helpful to you.
posted by lsemel at 9:27 PM on July 8, 2007

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