Discuss Home · Bootstrapped Podcast · Scribbleton Personal Wiki · HelpSpot Customer Service Software · Thermostat NPS

Finding good freelance devs


I want to find an iOS dev. to work for me on an ongoing basis.

The approach I’m thinking of using is

  1. Post a small test-project to oDesk or eLance with
  • functional requirements + wireframes
  • required developer skillset: iOS, Objective-C, SQLite, Git
  • request for sample apps and code written by developer
  • no agencies, only developers directly
  1. Pay 2 or 3 devs to develop the test project
  2. Evaluate the devs on results and skills
  • oral and written communication, code quality, price
  1. Go with the best developer for future development work

Does this sound realistic?
Is there a better way to go about this?
What am I missing?
Has anyone been successful finding good devs on oDesk or eLance, or somewhere else ?


I think I might be coming in at this from a different angle than you’re asking, but what the heck.

I’ve picked up a few jobs here and there (as a service provider, not a buyer) on various “typical” freelancing boards such as oDesk, eLance, Freelancer, etc. A few things I’ve found is a ton of replies to your job postings are going to be copy and paste cookie cutter responses which do not necessarily address the job you’ve posted - rather they reek of self-important individuals or teams telling you more about themselves and how wonderful they are instead of addressing anything whatsoever about the job you’re actually posting. Common sense would tell me to stay away from these, but it doesn’t appear common sense necessarily prevails on these types of boards, so I thought I would throw that out there.

In terms of payment, personally I would never even begin to consider a job post if the buyer stated out front that there would be no payment, even milestone payments, until the job was complete, bug free and delivered. My standard procedure was typically to collect half before even starting the project, and then to either collect the 2nd half at completion of the project or collect partial payments as milestones. This would show me that the buyer was serious.

You may get lucky and find someone who fits right away, but I think your mileage may vary finding reliable, trustworthy, talented developers on those types of boards. As far as any worthwhile alternatives, I’m sorry to say but I don’t have anything to offer.


Looks Right Way ™ to me!

I followed the same way when I was hiring my contractor via oDesk. I evaluated them sequentially though, one after another, because I did not have enough applicants in first couple of weeks my posting was out.


Yes @jessedterry I expect to have to sift through a lot of crap to find someone good that I can work with. I will be cutting the work into milestones with payment per milestone. I would like this to be a win-win situation.

Thanks for the feedback @rfctr, I’ll give Odesk a try.


A local entrepreneur said he had good luck with developers on oDesk who had logged at least 300 hours (and met all the other requirements for the job).

ETA: Maybe avoid this guy, who used a fake picture: Harry W. alias Ram Charan, Indian movie star.


Thanks @steve for the heads up on the fake movie star, he does seem pretty scammy.


That is pretty stupid of him, but not necessary scammy; my current contractor has no picture at all, and he does deliver.

That Harry W. got some good feedback, and this is what matters.

On oDesk you may block payments if the the result is not delivered. You also literally see everything that the contractor was doing (screenshots, number of key and mouse events with 10 minutes interval).

I believe oDesk is the safest way to start the contracting relationship.



This is precisely how I’ve been doing it lately. I had poor luck with oDesk when I first started shopping for talent there a little over 2 years ago, but over time I’ve managed to put together a handful of “best practices”.

A few thoughts:

  1. I’ll echo Steve’s comments that filtering for developers who have a lot of oDesk hours is a good idea.

  2. I’ve also found that there are a fair number of developers who are either US expats or who were educated in the US and speak native or near-native-level English. If you can find one of these folks, it’s a HUGE plus.

  3. Always filter out Agencies and only look at Independent contractors, you can filter out a huge chunk of the spammy responses that way.

  4. Include a directive in your ad that the applicant include some random word in the beginning of their response, this too will help filter out the spam and ensure that your whole posting was read by the applicant.

  5. Beware responses that come from a different name than the name on the profile. This usually indicates either a) profile-sharing or b) a recruiter using a sham profile to attract leads. Either way, it means you are less certain that the person you’re hiring is the same person whose skills are outlined in the profile you read.

I’m sure you probably figured this all out for yourself already, since your opening post seems to have the right approach covered. But I figured this might be helpful to other folks reading this thread who might be new to oDesk, or who may not have all the angles covered just yet.



As @Christopher says, be wary of teams. A coworker used to be the onsite person for an overseas team of developers. He said that they can have a few stars who are great at interviewing, taking programming tests, etc. You end up with less-qualified people actually working on your project.


Great method!

(And not only for oDesk)


I do all my client work (about half of the week, funding my own work) through oDesk, and a directive like that makes me decline an invite for an interview almost directly. It’s like CAPTCHA: you might keep the bots out, but you make the actual proper people feel like you’re suspicious of them.

I actually never ever look for jobs postings: the only jobs considered are invitations for interviews by people who take the time to hand pick me out of the big pool of developers and ask me for an interview. It may sound like the world upside down, but I reckon all developers worth working with are busy enough and get plenty of offers every week. There’s no shortage of jobs, there’s a shortage of developers.


Please note we do not talk about direct invites. Those are not a problem.

But when someone posts a public job, they get a number of canned messages where it is clear the sender did not even read the job description.

I personally, perhaps being a new buyer, only got a few, and that was not a problem for me. New oDesk buyers like @Christopher or myself may not bother to include a captcha. But for established buyers it may be a larger problem.


It’s a huge problem. Fully half of the oDesk responses I get clearly did not read the project listing thoroughly. That’s OK, because I’ve gotten pretty good at picking out the ones likely to be worth giving a test project. But still, every bit of filtering helps.

JaapRood, if you’re busy enough that being asked to include a word in your response is a huge imposition, well…congratulations! I’m notoriously picky about what clients I respond to as well, although that seems like an odd place to draw a line in the sand. To each their own, though.

All that said, if I invited a contractor to apply, then no, I wouldn’t be looking for that particular proxy variable, as I wouldn’t invite someone whose status as a legit contractor was in doubt in the first place. That just wouldn’t be smart! :wink:

This really has me thinking. I’ve started outlining a blog post on the things I’ve learned about using oDesk effectively. I had horrible, horrible results at first. Now, I’m pretty happy with the talent I’m able to find there.


Thanks for the tips @Christopher! I’m looking forward to that blog post.


Ruben has a good blog post on the subject: http://www.extendslogic.com/general/hiring-for-bootstrappers/


If somebody sends a proper invite, I’ll write a proper response. But in the same way that contractors send thousands of applications, some hirers do the exact same thing, and in my experience one of those CAPTCHA like words is an indicator of one of those.

I’m totally on board with the whole test project -> longer engagement and paying your devs to complete them. But to get proper developers to try out, I reckon your better off being active over passive: handpicking contractors, inviting them personally, instead of posting a job and hoping one will respond. Interesting to read your blog post!


I’m a freelance Rails developer so I can tell you how people find me: through word-of-mouth and through the local Ruby user group that I run.

I’ve never looked for work off oDesk. None of the Rails developers I know have ever looked for work off oDesk. None of the iPhone devs I know have ever used oDesk. My point: is oDesk where “good freelance devs” hangout? No, I don’t think so.

Perhaps an alternate strategy is to search for user groups in your chosen technology? The organisers will often be able to recommend a few people and possibly even have an idea of their current availability. Note, you don’t have to look for local tech groups either! If you’re concerned about cost, then look outside Silicon Valley or even outside the U.S., find a tech hub in your chosen area and look for a user group there. Parts of the U.S. are cheaper than the valley, Europe is cheaper than the U.S. (and has great tech hubs like Dublin, Berlin etc), Asia or South America is cheaper again and so on.


Great tip! Thanks. Out of interest: do you avoid oDesk etc because you’ve got enough work anyway, or because you can actually get better work at a better rate offline? It seems oDesk could be a race to the bottom?


Various factors.

As a freelancer, oDesk isn’t a great platform for differentiating yourself. It ultimately comes down to price for most buyers and the services best suited to oDesk are effectively commoditised services (I’ve used it to find a VA for some internet research tasks). Since leaving IBM, I don’t consider myself an interchangeable “resource” :wink:

All developers are in demand at the moment but some skills are more in-demand. Rails and iOS developers should be able to get work without needing to resort to oDesk (though they might choose to use an agency or higher-end marketplace). I guess part of me would question why and iOS developer was on oDesk? Are they a 14year-old kid coding from their basement? Are they doing it in the evening after their full-time job? Perhaps with more common skills, like PHP/Wordpress development, you can understand the benefits of using oDesk just to get the constant flow of opportunities.

Price is a factor too, Although my rate is probably still too low, it’s far higher than would be tolerated by buyers on oDesk. And the buyers on oDesk are probably already focused on the price (that’s why they’re there), which isn’t really the way I want to start off an engagement.

Lastly, there’s enough “organic” opportunities cropping up (even in Cork, Ireland — not a major tech hub!) to keep me busy.


I have, and know quite a few others that have, used oDesk to get going with freelancing. They, me included, are professionals having worked for several employers, but just don’t have the connections to find contracting work. For me it was a great way to find one or two clients I really liked, for which I can now work, and by word of mouth get new opportunities. So as long as you go with test projects to get to know the person you’re hiring to limit your risk there are pretty good chances of finding somebody proper on oDesk. There are plenty of good reasons why proper Rails / iOS developers start off on oDesk, and have them not be 14 year old kids.

And about price: just like on any market place, even on oDesk, there is room for proper rates. And just as on any other market place goes: you need to be able to convey your worth to get away with asking a lot. The ‘buyers’ that can afford this will, however, never post public jobs, but only private ones to which they invite a handful of handpicked contractors. So just because from the outside you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there.