Hiring · Hiring engineers

What are platforms you use to find top quality freelance developers?

Shingai Samudzi

July 2nd, 2015

I've been using oDesk/Elance for years, and have found that hiring developers on that site ends up being as expensive, if not more so, than hiring a local talent at US market rates.  The convenience of low-cost development is entirely outweighed by the added need to micromanage even the "5 star" rated developers due to their lack of knowledge of development best practices or often just lack of talent.

What would really be great is an online platform with a pre-vetted pool of developers such that quality/talent is not an issue and I can focus more on specs and end-user requirements.  Any suggestions?

Dan Oblinger Founder at AnalyticsFire

July 2nd, 2015


I think Toptal has a pretty high density of good people, but they will be in demand, so keeping them is tricky.

I don't agree with Scott's comment that there is "Alot" of talent, on Odesk. Indeed the vast majority on Odesk are not very good. Still you do have alot of data to work with on Odesk. if you go for the most expensive guys, lots of 5-star reviews, and you look for the very highest scores on their RubyOnRails test or such, then you can find good people. (I hired a guy that scored #2 in the o-desk world for rails, and he was very good! 'till he was snapped up by Google Brazil.) Still if you *do* find a good person on Odesk, you need to lock them up full time ASAP. otherwise someone else will do that, and the next time you ask them for work, they will be busy. These days I do not use O-desk/Elance. (I go directly to smaller firms, as you can see below). But for most of our work here is the process we use:

This is the process we just used to hiring a scary good dev in Russia:

(1) an ad on Stack Overflow, $500
(2) triage the resumes coming back (using some data entry folks in the Philippines. $4/hr)
Spreadsheet of data on 600 resumes -- plus explicit we searches, or querying the person to get all data
(3) followed by automated online programming testing (we use Codility.com) $350/mo (we just used one month)
(4) finally we code with them. (I have an 8 hour programming assignment all written up, so I can just email it. and look at the commit-logs and repo they create afterwards)
This is an optional step. we pay $30/hr for that time, so that is $240 per person.

This is an intensive approach, but it yields great people. way better than odesk, and then you own them in a way that you do not, when they connect thru odesk. (plus you are paying a chuck to odesk every month too)

Oh yes, and we still back fill with folks that we get at $40-$50 / hour from consulting firms in Poland or Belarus. Those firms take a cut similar to o-desk, but you are in a better position. For example we ramped up one of our projects, and added a guy from NetGuru (in Poland). The guy was just not cutting it. We made a comment or two, and then founder looked at his commits in our Code repo, and saw the issues, and pulled his hire off of our project, he did not charge us for that time spent, and then he had one of the other founders (and killer programmer) fill in, until we found our replacement. (he was not terrible, he just was not operating as a Senior dev would)

On O-desk/Elance you do not have that kind of relationship with the parent company. So even if you find a good worker there, you cannot scale that worker in a crunch, you are just getting another random worker off o-desk of unknown quality. With a smaller firm you are negotiating directly with the owner of that firm.

you can connect w. me if you want names of specific firms there.... I have a bit of experience with just a couple of them.


Shingai Samudzi

July 2nd, 2015

@Scott, I don't doubt there is talent on Elance.  With respect to developers on that site, though, I think the open bidding system makes it really hard for developers for put the time and energy to be passionate about their work and give it high quality attention.  They make money on volume, and so the best talent is either over-booked or just constantly working and hard to connect with.

Also, due to lack of proper vetting of developer skills, you place the burden of skills assessment and recruiting onto the hiring party, who is usually a startup or SMB and lacks real expertise.  A project for a mobile app might get 30 or more bids, 90% of which are copy/pasted proposals that barely address the requirements stated in the job.  I don't want to have to spend hours of very limited time interviewing that many people trying to figure out who really has a skills fit and who is just bidding regardless of whether they can actually do the job.

Sonal Banka

July 2nd, 2015

@Joe, Just finished up reading you book, Please complete and publish it for the benefit of all non-technical people like me out there. 

Joe Walling Experienced software developer, software architect, owner of custom software development shop

July 2nd, 2015

Since I have had requests for more info, I dug up a book I was working on that covers this topic. It is not complete but should cover this question well. If you download and read it, I would really love feedback and any questions that I should be answering in the book but am not. Or, if you disagree with my approach, I always love hearing other point of view.

You can download it from http://wallingis.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/SoftwareSuccessSecrets.pdf. If you are only interested in this portion, jump to page 21.

Some day I hope to complete the book, but the paying work always seems to take priority.

Best Regards,

Ken Queen Income For Baby Boomers

July 4th, 2015

You are right you have to do much more checking but you hire them in the end for 1/2 the cost. It's whether you want to do the checking or have Elance or someone else to check them out.

As far as programs for checking if they are working they offer a free program that does that.

A bigger issue is when you base your relationship on micromanaging all the worker does with little trust involved you create a bad atmosphere. If you know what to get out of a person as far as work goes X amount and they don't perform then you correct them quickly but to oversee everything they do can cause them to look like there working rather than work like mad to complete the work and have some free time out of it. 

When I was young I was a meter reader. I don't remember the exact figures but let's say you had to read 100 meters in a day to keep your job. I would run full speed to complete a 8 hour job in 5 hours no lunch just running, then I would go home relax and report in at 5:00 and everything was fine. But then they decided to oversee every move we made so no more running would help you, if you ran they would just give you another 50 meters to read. So the union gets involved and 75 meters was determined to be the amount expected out of you.

Who won, I lost because then I worked in slow motion to do just 75 meters, the company lost because I use to do my 100 meters my way. The moral of the story is without some trust you will get the slow version of a person.

Have you ever noticed how often private company truck drivers go like crazy to get work done while the government trucks are crawling?  Do you think the crazy drivers are on hourly wages only?

 if you see someone working like a dog loading up a truck he either is getting paid per load or he's robbing somebody. 

Janine Davis President & Co-Founder Fetch Recruiting & Fetch Advisors

July 7th, 2015

I often refer my clients to a handful of onshore, offshore or nearshore development shops I know, versus going to a site. A lot of my clients come to me saying they want to hire 10 engineers in the next x months, which is basically impossible in this market (regardless of what "x" represents).  In such cases, I recommend that they find a partner with pre-vetted engineers, and then wean off of them as they are able to build their own team.  It seems counterintuitive, since Im a recruiter, and am essentially giving away business. But ultimately Im in support of these clients success, and its what makes sense in many cases.


There are tons of these dev shops, but the key is to find ones that have been personally recommended to you by people who have used them and can vouch for their quality, price, ability to meet commitments, etc.  I have recommendations to the following types:

·       CTO for hire/Tech Advisor - I know a couple of high level CTO/Architects that are one-man shows, who can validate architecture, scalability and tech stack choices.

·       Onshore - I know two local shops that can do the above, as well as having a selective crew of engineers to execute.

·       Nearshore - I know a couple of shops that have local people managing the clients and engineers, but the engineers are nearshore, hand vetted, and much less expensive than local engineers.

The people in my network range from focusing on So Cal, though some are as broad as North America. Happy to share the info, or I recommend asking for local similar contacts so you know the engineers are a little bit less of a shot in the dark.


Gregory Pierce Vice President, Technology at GreenSky Credit

July 7th, 2015

I find this discussion very interesting and relevant having participated in that process on the other side as a consultant. I found that the vast majority of the work was poorly specified making the bidding process very difficult, there was very little that one could do in terms of *verifiable* differentiation (portfolio projects are generally awful ways to sort through people). 

At the end of the day I pretty much walked away from it because people didn't seem to care if you made quality work - just that you did it as cheap as possible regardless of whether or not it sucks - and that wasn't really my thing. I cared too much about what I was doing to produce crap.

Joe Walling Experienced software developer, software architect, owner of custom software development shop

July 16th, 2015

I agree with @Imran, that many do not provide good specs and that is one big reason for failure. However, even with good specs a majority of the projects will be a failure for another reason.

I spend a fair amount of money vetting developers I will sub-contract to by giving them test projects that are not something I get paid for by a client. These test projects are difficult but well spec'd. Despite good screening prior to offering developers a test project, I would consider 60+% of the tests a failure because of either quality, time to finish, or not completing. 

Given my experience with failure rates, I can't imagine someone staying in business long using the sub-contracting route if they are purely sub-contracting based on price.

Dan Oblinger Founder at AnalyticsFire

July 16th, 2015


I could not agree more about simply directly testing on a precisely specified sample task.
We spend $300-$400 on this step every time, but I don't think our wash out rate is as high as yours.

So we still have a notable washout in the first month of work.  If you would be willing, I would love to swap
test task specifications with you.  I have been thinking about updating ours, and would love to see the test you have.  (ours is a standalone JS app, which has a modestly complex CRUD style expected implementation.)

let me know, thanks,


Jake Carlson Software Development Manager at Oracle

July 2nd, 2015

Toptal etc might work for you.