The last 6 month I assisted a start-up in developing their first online presence, as Ruby on Rails engineers are a rare good in South Korea at an affordable price, we looked into Elance and Odesk the two leaders of hiring contractors online. I want to share in this article a few insights that I had during the last 6 month. About $10000 was spent altogether. Thanks go to Sooyong Wang of Mintech for being my sparring partner to go over my lessons and Sean Watts for introducing me during the Seoul Business Start-up school program offered by Seoul Global Business Centers that there were platforms like Elance out there.
Is hiring contractors the right thing for you?
When I thought about hiring contractors through Elance I already had plenty of experience working with contractors and also working with remote contractors. My experience stems from working with goRailsgo programming shop from Poland, working with team members at my day job where we collaborate between South Korea, Poland, Canada, US, Argentina and more. I think I have collected a good amount of knowledge working in and with remote teams over the last 4 years.
Also I have in depth knowledge of requirements engineering, mock up design, team management, agile software development methodologies, project management, software development, automated testing. At every time during my outsourcing, I was ready to assist my contractors with issues they had with their development environment, selecting the right approach for implementing a feature or specify fine grained the task at hand to them. If you have never directed software engineers, be careful to start slow to be ready and provide the engineers with sufficient details on what should be developed. Developing a web application, no matter how simple you think it is, will most likely have many possible interpretations and arrive at solution you might not have expected unless you provide fine grained mock ups, user stories, use cases, acceptance criteria and design specifications. If you feel you are light on these skills, you should start with limited outsourcing and fine tune and learn the skills as you see it necessary to communicate with your contractors. Good contractors will already inquire about these details during the interview, so you get a hang on what you need to provide.
On the other hand, if you feel you do not have an IT project manager inside of you, IT outsourcing studios/agencies might be the right thing for you, as a team manager/key account manager will be assigned to you to work with you on the requirements and communicate and coordinate the engineers for you. The rate is higher, but the benefit is certainly that you are not left alone when it comes to directing the engineering efforts. If you have no experience in software development, developing the first release with a studio can give valuable insight on how software development works. You find studios/agencies plenty on the internet but also on Elance and oDesk.
When you hire remote contractors be aware that:
- when you work with people in person you can share your sheet of paper or screen easily, for remote workers you need to become comfortable communicating your tasks via email, Skype, especially when you delegate you do not want to be disturbed until the task is finished, that however required to give detailed instructions, possibly resources to learn about skills to solve the task, it is important to practice detailed instructions as your contractor when working in a different time zone cannot easily check back with you or it will take another 24h to get on with the task
- if your English is rusty and the English skills of your contractor are below average, then you two will have a hard time. Acknowledge that your contractor is most likely not a native English speaker, make sure you loose your accent and speak as clearly as you can, check back with you contractor if he understood the task or duty he is asked to fulfill, ask him questions to assure the task is really understood
- understand different cultures, circumstances and different mind sets, your contractors lives and work in a totally different space then you do. Power outages, internet connectivity problems, crime, living standards all influence how well your contractor can work. He has no short term influence on these factors, neither do you, accept it.
- your contractor has little incentive to stay with your project beyond the time frame of the initial contract if a better job shows up for him.
- you sometimes might not be able to reach them as you do not have them in the office, if the internet connection is down or power is out in the Philippines, you just do not know as fast and easy as you would when you share the same office.
- some contractors just fill they university summer break or some downtime between a job, be aware that they might leave you quickly once their next job starts or the summer break ends.
However benefits are also present plentiful, so it is more a matter of being aware of the pros and cons and selecting the right amount of outsourcing for the position and duties you seek to fill. It is a great benefit when work is done while you are asleep, you can bridge a gap if an employee is sick or you are having a hard time finding the right full time employee.
My jobs on oDesk and Elance
Contractors were hired for the following tasks, each tasks differs and I think it is worthwhile to look into each one:
- copy writing in English about Korean innovation and technology for tech blog
- copy writing in Korean about green energy topics found in English and in Korea for green energy blog
- WordPress administration, updates of modules, enhancing multi-language modules, fixing issues
- Ruby on Rails software development
- investigation on green energy topics in Korean, copy writing in English
- Design for Webapplication (no UX)
Towards the end of the project all contractors were hired through oDesk, I think this is just a personal preference and happened a bit by chance, as it turned out most of the contractors I kept hiring, were on oDesk, I continued to hire through oDesk and kept on Elance just those that I had hired at the start.
Be ready to be called “Sir”, some contractors have a very eager attitude to do business, I can only advise against hiring them. If you hear stories about sick children and it being urgent to hire them right now and them being willing to do anything, that never resulted in a good work relationship for me. Continue reading