Four Myths and Four Truths About Finding the Right Developer
We know it can be hard to find the ‘right’ fit for you when it comes to software and software development, it’s one of the big reasons we offer free consultations, outlines and estimates. Finding this right fit is hard. Getting a free estimate is even harder. We wrote this blog to help you in your search for finding a custom developer who fits for you and your unique needs.
Finding someone to develop a custom database solution for your company isn’t something you do every day. Chances are, you’ll only need to do it once. Because of that, you’ll be tempted to treat your search for a developer like something else you’ve done before, like hiring employees or buying off-the-shelf software.
There are similarities, to be sure, but it’s not the same. Here are a few common myths that could lead you down the wrong path because they “feel” like something that ought to be true.
1. I Need a Full-Time Developer
This is very rarely true. Building an initial solution customized to your needs does take a considerable amount of time. A well-built solution, though, should not require someone’s constant attention forty hours a week just to keep it working correctly. Once you get through the initial project and have a well-built solution, you should only need a developer when you want to make enhancements or changes to how your database works. This will happen, but it’s unlikely that it will happen enough to require a full-time developer. Instead, with a well-built solution, you’ll want someone more oriented to your day-to-day operations to do administrative tasks like adding or removing users, or adjusting settings. With a well-built solution, that doesn’t require programming expertise, and it’s probably something one of your existing employees can manage.
Hiring a professional developer to create your initial solution allows you to get your solution built right, and then just use them as needed when new requirements arise, rather than taking on a full-time employee that either a) you’ll need to find other work for or b) will “prop up” a poorly built solution.
2. I Need Someone In My Area
It’s understandable that when you are looking for someone to build a FileMaker solution for your business, you naturally want to look in your own region. Give that a second thought, though. As with item #1, do you really need someone to be in your office working full time, even after your solution is built? Does the developer need to sit in your office while building that solution in the first place? You definitely want to collaborate with your developer when building or enhancing the solution, but no matter where the developer is, that’s likely to be a meeting or two a week, at most.
Extensitech uses GoToMeeting to conduct meetings online, where we can work on the same screen with our clients. Some of those clients aren’t even in the United States. Some clients right here in Florida seldom, if ever, need to meet with us in person. By including developers outside your local region, you’ll increase your likelihood of finding the best developer for the job.
3. I Need Someone With Experience in My Industry
It doesn’t (usually) hurt to work with someone who’s worked in your industry before, but it’s not always especially helpful, either. Of course, you want someone with a general understanding of business. You don’t want to be explaining what in invoice is, or why customer service is important. However, the particular needs of your industry are your area of expertise. A good developer will listen to you and follow your lead about how to best work within your industry. A developer with a lot of experience in your industry may understand your needs more quickly, but they may also make a lot of assumptions about how you do business.
Your business, regardless of your industry, is unique. That’s why even when we work with a client in an industry we’ve worked with before, we rely on the client to be the subject matter expert (SME) and follow their guidance. At the same time, we’re able to share best practices and other techniques from other businesses in a wide variety of other industries, and work with you to find the best way to get things done for your unique needs.
4. I Need Someone Inexpensive
Well… yes and no. A good developer brings a lot of skills and experience to the table. They charge more per hour, or more for your initial project, but that’s because they’re able to do more in less time. They’re also not expecting steady employment from you. As stated earlier, a good solution isn’t going to require constant attention and maintenance. A developer who’s inexpensive is likely to also require more time, more guidance, and more ongoing fixes to your solution.
Instead, look at the total value of the solution versus the total cost. How much of your business is the solution going to cover? How long will the developer take to finish the project, so you can move on and start using the solution? How much does the developer bring to the table that’s already done?
So, what should I look for?
First, consider whether you want to be someone’s first, or second, big project. After all, Extensitech developers had to start somewhere, with no references, limited past experience and no certification. Out there somewhere, right now, are some great future developers just starting out. If you’re lucky enough to find one, maybe you could get a heck of a good deal! In that case, though, you’re not likely to find the four things I’ll list below.
As someone who started from scratch, though, let me say that in the beginning, I had a lot to learn. I took much longer to get things done, did many things I had to go back and re-do, and needed a lot of outside guidance.
If you want to hire an inexperienced (and inexpensive!) developer just starting out, or even just want to develop your own solution, there’s nothing wrong with that, and possibly some advantages. Consider, though, hiring Extensitech (or another experienced developer or firm) to act as a mentor. A little time spent with an experienced developer will help avoid a number of pitfalls to which new developers are prone.
We want your business, of course. We also want to contribute to growing and cultivating the FileMaker community, though. We’re happy to help with that new developer just starting out, and ensure that you still get the benefit of some expertise and experience, and that you, and the new developer, don’t get discouraged or sidetracked on your project.
If you don’t want to be a pioneer with that new developer, though, here are some things to look for.
It’s easy to create a web site that makes you look like a world-class development firm. Becoming a FileMaker Solutions Alliance only requires submitting a sample solution and paying annual dues. It’s harder, and time-consuming, to build up a history of clients who are ready and willing to give you a testimonial. Is it OK to ask for client references? You bet it is!
FindFileMakerDevelopers.com is a great place to see some real-world testimonials. You can also ask for references, people you can actually call to discuss their experience with developers. Even with world-class developers, you want to be sure they’re a good “fit” for you. Developing custom software for your business can be a pretty intense process. Be sure that the developer you’re going to work with is not just good at FileMaker, but a good fit for your personality and your specific needs. Don’t just ask how the solution turned out; ask how the experience was.
Of course, Extensitech is happy to provide references on request. One of the best compliments we ever got was when a potential client called us after checking our references and said, “You don’t just have references, you have a fan club!” We want to make sure we’re a good fit for your project, too, so we’re actually more comfortable taking on your project if we know you’ve talked to some of our past clients about their experiences.
One of the most common complaints we hear from people who have left another developer is that the prior developer was unresponsive, or slow to respond to their requests. Frankly, we at Extensitech are a bit puzzled by this, but we see it all the time.
Good developers are generally in high demand, and busy. I wouldn’t suggest that your developer has to be someone who can drop everything at any moment. However, you’re going to want clear communication about when they can get things done, and when your need is critical the developer should be ready to respond quickly.
Ask about this when you check references. As you conduct your search, also consider how fast you got a response to your initial inquiry. If you heard nothing from your initial inquiry for days (or even weeks!), consider how responsive that developer is going to be when your business is on the line.
How long has the developer you’re considering been in business? Do they do this full-time, or just on the side? Is the developer freelance, or does he or she work with other developers who can assist or even take over should something unforeseen happen?
Everyone has to start somewhere. If the solution you need is going to be integral to your business, you want to be sure that the developer who built it is going to be around for a while, or at least that someone else can work with you if the initial developer goes away for whatever reason.
Stability takes time to establish. I started Extensitech in 2001, at which time I was on my own, working from home and supplementing my income with other work. Even then, though, I quickly established a network of other developers who could assist when I got in over my head. Now Extensitech has an office downtown and a team of five, four of whom are developers.
If your initial developer has gone away, but the way, we can work with you to pick up the pieces. This tends to take a bit of effort to find out how the prior developer worked and catch up with what they’ve built, though, so you’re best off if you can find a developer and stick with them long term.
4. Certification and Other Qualifications
Certification isn’t everything, but it is something. There are surely some great developers who just haven’t gotten around to taking the exam, or who have strong skills in the areas you need but are weak in areas you don’t. There are likely other developers who are certified, but deficient in other areas. With a certified developer, though, you can “check the box” in your search, and know that they are super fluent in working with FileMaker.
Ask about other qualifications and experience, too. As described above, the developer doesn’t necessarily need experience in your particular industry to do a good job, but you’ll want to be sure they have a general grounding in business, either through experience or schooling. Ideally, you want someone who brings their own knowledge and experience to the table, to supplement your own industry-specific knowledge and experience.