Programmer · Startups

Is hiring average programmers worst than staying solo?

Maria Garnier Operations Coordinator en Socialatom Group

October 3rd, 2016

Good programmers can take your tech startup to the next level but bad programmers can make your product cause a poor impression and turn customers away. What do you think about hiring average programmers vs. staying solo?

Dane Madsen Chief Operating Officer at Comivo, LLC

October 3rd, 2016

The bad news is you usually, unless you are a coder, will not know until it is late. Someone in your business needs to understand the difference, just like with sales, marketing, or finance. But getting a real product out the door that operates well requires you to take the risk. Doing it all yourself is tough. 

Gabor Nagy Founder / Chief architect at Skyline Robotics

October 3rd, 2016

It really depends on the project.
If you are developing a mobile game and you simply need more hands, an "average" programmer might do.
But, if you are developing a cutting-edge humanoid robot, you'll need top software engineers...

Either way, make sure he / she does the basics:
design, testing, and code comments!
Look at his / her source code before hiring, or ask someone to do it! It will say it all. "Use the source, Luke". Sorry... :)
I can tell in 30 seconds, by looking at someone's code, if I'd hire that person.

Software is very different from other industries.
Steve Jobs used the analogy of cab drivers. The worst cab driver might get you to the airport in 20 minutes, the best one may take 10 minutes, so you may have a 2x difference. In software, it's more like a 100x difference.

I actually think, Jobs way understated it. It's more like a 1000x to infinity.
A top, rock star software engineer can do in a week or two, what a thousand average engineers would never be able to do (never mind bad ones).
They simply don't think / operate on that plane / level.
As software engineer, I've dealt with a lot of others in the field and seen this first hand.
Some can't figure out a simple task, like scaling image files, even after 6 months.
Others write complex, but well-engineered, million-line apps, by themselves.
Also, there are programmers, and there are software engineers. Very different levels to begin with...

Michael Barnathan

October 3rd, 2016

What do you consider the difference between an average and a good programmer? Let's start there - most nontechnical people don't understand what makes a good programmer good, which is one reason why they can't usually tell the difference before it's too late.

Conversely, if your expectations are off and you expect your entire app written in an hour with zero bugs whatsoever at launch, you'll be dissatisfied by anyone who walks in, and you'll shoot yourself in the foot over and over again by letting good people walk out the door.

Sridhar Rajagopal

October 3rd, 2016

I think it's like choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea! An average programmer may be more of an effort and prove to be detrimental to young startup's growth - however, depending on your endeavor, you may really need the collaboration of a team in order to achieve your dream and solo work may only get you so far.

In all of this, I don't know what your funding situation is - decent funding will allow you to attract good talent - sometimes you need some preliminary work to be done to get to a funding stage - it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg to manage.

I am in a similar position - the advice I have given myself (and you) is to keep trying to find the elusive good talent who is committed and can take your startup to the next level.

If you can manage solo for now, it means that you have the development chops - you can then think of farming out self-contained pieces, whose talent requirements may be more modest, but also free up your time.

Good luck!


October 3rd, 2016

@Dane says it correct. It would be little late for you to understand if you are swimming through or sinking in. You would need to make sure if you really understand, if the programmer is an average programmer or a solution provider.

Certainly solo working is little tough(even if you are a good programmer), as the business side of the concept needs equal time from the owner. Average programmer always works as a good assist to the senior/rockstar programmer who would in return manage the team.

Few of the things required to manage every average programmer are
  • Need to make sure a complete vision is clear to them. As an average programmer is most of the time Task oriented not solution oriented, you would need to make them understand what are the module dependencies on the project and how could you reduce the time and implement smarter solutions.

  • Motivation : Daily motivation through complete interaction and appreciations. Monthly motivations through perks(not just monetary terms) per month would make your average programmer be little more enthusiastic.

  • Need to keep a tap on the progress daily

  • Communication
    Average programmers are most of the time not solution provider, they come to you with a problem not the solution. /
    In this case you would need to ask them every day if they are facing certain problems/situations, as an average programmer is hesitant to share the problems with the team, this is where most of the time is spent understanding the challenges.
Overall, average programmers are better associates and great programmers are more of the product owners in my experience.


Sebastien Mirolo CEO DjaoDjin inc.

October 6th, 2016

Hi @Gabor, I would really be interested to look at your3D animation / CAD software. Always curious. I wrote real-time 3D game engines,H264 video codecs, C/C++ compilers and VLIW processors (yes, in Verilog).

I assumed the question was related to designing a business where technology and people are intertwined to provide a service, i.e. an enterprise where you are neither sure of the customers nor the product you are selling at the beginning.

You are correct. I would also recommend hiring very experienced engineers, give them enough time for a serious design phase, etc. if I was building, say a microchip to compete with ARM and Intel.

Marko Tiosavljevic CEO at Cloud Industry

October 3rd, 2016

Staying solo is like staying away from everything :)

Alexander Conroy

October 3rd, 2016

I've had this same problem. Every time I hire an entry level programmer it's hit or miss. Mostly miss. Its hard to find someone with the enthusiasm or skill to keep up. 

Chris Hote Start-up coach, investor

October 3rd, 2016


You will need good developers at some point: Start hiring asap, have the candidates to take on-line (or your own) coding tests for assessing their abilities, and above all, check on their passion for your product. 

My ten cents: 
Ask the "why" question 6 times in a row:
 - Starting (first "why" question) with "Why would you join my development team?"
 - Ending (sixth "why" question) by "Why do you feel this way?" 

Aleksey Klempner

October 3rd, 2016

I rarely see when one developer can be a solution for a project and rushing into a hiring someone could be an issue.  I would always go for someone senior who can help understanding the scope of the project unless you are a senior technologist who understands what's up. Give this person advisor shares. Once you understand what it will take to get your project off the ground make decisions.