Finding freelancers simplified

How to find a freelancer? Where can I find a web developer? Is there a place where I can find graphical artists? Finding the answers to these questions is getting increasingly easier and more complex at the same time. It seems not so long ago the main channels for finding freelancers were the same as for finding new employees – job ads and networking – not any more. The main channels for reaching out to vast freelancing community are now online freelancing directories or freelancing marketplaces. Great sites like odesk.com, elance.com, guru.com and many others taking over from monster.com and indeed.com.

Many of the directories enjoy a large community of freelancers and vendors of varies sizes, an impressive number of customers, and a huge volume of transactions. As a matter of fact the transaction volume for many of the marketplaces has been growing at exponential rate.  The stats are truly amazing. Needless to say such a lucrative business attract many players and inevitably creates a new challenge for both customers and providers – which marketplace to use? Which directory is better for finding freelance writers, which one is for graphical artists and where to find those illusive RoR developers?

A few years ago I created a list of 25 best places to find a freelancer, fairly soon the list grew to 50 some entries, and become notably less helpful. To make it a bit more useful I added Alexa rating and it worked for a while. However recently I got a few comments on quality of the list – it was missing some good sites, Alexa rating was dated, and so on. That called for updating the list and that what I just did with help of my virtual assistant Yesha from Cagyan de Oro City, Philippines. She did an outstanding job cleaning up the list verifying links and rating in just a few days. BTW, I found Yesha on oDesk, she was one 40+ people who bid on my project within a couple hours after I posted it.

Anyway, the list is now updated with new entries and ratings. I also formatted it slightly different – you will now see a list with “the best 25 places” that links to three other list—full list of sites sorted by the Site Name, the same list sorted by Alexa and the same list sorted by Alexa US ratings.

As usual, feel free to comment and suggest new entries. I will update the list in ~12 months from now.

down-to-earth guide to offshore outsourcing

About a year and a half ago I came up with a crazy idea – to approach a couple publishers with a proposal for a book on outsourcing. Not too original or novice idea, there are plenty books out there, yet, I thought I could put together

something better. The first publisher I approached was The Pragmatic Programmers an agile publishing and training company started by Andrew Hunt and David Thomas, the authors of famous The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master. Needless to say the name of my blog had something to do with the choice of publisher. To my astonishment they accepted my proposal and awarded me with a contract for a full size book. I was told that getting a book contract from the first proposal is akin to winning a lottery, so I was honored, excited and… apparently clueless.

What I did not know is that the prize in the lottery is a package of hard labor, countless hours, and ongoing frustration. Even though so much material was already in place I found myself in writing and re-writing for days, weeks and months. This “hobby” on a top of full time job became a considerable burden, nevertheless after 9 months or so I produced ~450 pages of what I thought was great material. Nope, not great and far too much of it, I was told by my reviewers. From that point on my writing changed to a code-test-refactor dance with my editor doing the testing. And that was far more complex than producing the original pile. Hopefully the results would be worth the effort.

So far I am happy with much more concise content, roughly 250 pages, that reads far better than original, is better structured, and caters to the audience I always had in mind, not just to an exact replica of myself. Alas, I’m still far from seeing the light in the end of the tunnel – there are more reviews coming up and some of them may require a significant reshuffle of content / structure and dramatic changes in wording. When I complained to my editor about time it’s taking to get the book out and how profound the last change request were she said that one of the authors has been through 3 technical reviews, three managing editor reviews, two publishing editor reviews, and the book is still WIP… Basically, brace yourself, we are just starting :)

Yep, writing is not blogging and is not for the faint of heart, nevertheless I am already thinking about the day the book will be out. More so I decided to create an email sign up list for those interest in the book. I used wufoo forms to create it – pretty nifty SaaS from the same crew that created surveymonkey. I used their free offering and was quite impressed with what it had to offer. Anyway, the book is going to be a down-to-earth guide to offshore outsourcing based on my experiences and those of my friends and colleagues, and information from books, industry publications, and outsourcing blogosphere. Chances are if you like my blog you will enjoy the book as well, and more so find it easier to read, navigate and chockfull of information. So go ahead and put your name / email in this form. I will be happy to let you know when the book is ready for your eyes. BTW, you also can apply for a role of “technical reviewer”. My publisher is looking for ~10 people to do the next round of reviews. The reviewers will need to read the book, reply to a simple survey, and provide any feedback they might have, in return reviewers get a free copy when the book is published.

Knowledge Crowdsourcing

I get a lot of spam on my email account I publicize in this blog and yet I prefer to keep it since once in a while something interesting comes in. Earlier this morning I deleted a couple dozens of emails suggesting link exchange and other “wonderful” ideas on improving my blog, for some reason one email caught my eye, and boy I’m glad I did. It was an advertizing of service that I have not heard of. Clearly spam yet unusually so it was worth looking at. The company Mancx turned out to be an outsourcing marketplace with a very interesting model – it offers knowledge crowdsourcing. Think about LinkedIn answers but with a price tag attached to it. Ask your question, put a $$ amount you are prepared to pay for it, and maybe someone in a crowd will answer it. Of course you can be one of many who answer the questions at the same time.

I browsed through the site and instantly found a few things that were wrong with it. I guess the team needs a good product manager and usability expert. Yet I loved the idea. How many times I found myself desperately looking for the answers to questions to no avail? I am sure that many of you did as well. And at the same time the chances are the answers are out there, someone knows exactly what I am looking for, it’s on the tip of their tongue, on the top of their mind… You can do ad hoc knowledge outsourcing. I think it’s one more step towards making the world flat since the person who answers your question could be sitting in a cubicle near you or just about 15,000 miles away.

One thing is interesting though, the business model and software behind the site seems to be so easy to replicate. In particular it could be implemented almost instantly by LinkedIn or Facebook, so hopefully guys Mancx have some tools to protect themselves.

i need a team

I guess I have to start with a profound apology. It’s been incredibly busy few months for me. I left my job with PDR in May and has been consulting to several startups and looking for new opportunities since. At some point I found myself being a part-time CTO for three companies, while still working on my book, running regular home chores and trying to invest time in personal health/fitness at the same time… Needless to say my blog had to take a backseat to high priority tasks and activities. While I am still as busy as I’ve been for months things are stabilizing and once in a while I can now put a few hours to share my thoughts on new challenges and ideas related to IT outsourcing – something that many of us see on daily basis.

Today I’d like to touch upon a topic which is dear and close to many of us working for small companies. An ability to attract resources. And I am not talking about challenges akin to finding RoR developers to work in Palo Alto. That’s a generic problem that everyone in the Silicon Valley, even big guys like Groupon is facing today. Economy may not be showing it but the market for good developers is hot, habanero chili hot. What I’d like to do it to talk about finding decent offshore developers, and apparently market for them is hot as well…

Let me clarify my point – I am looking for decent developers – not “mediocrity in bulk” that large offshore providers would be happy to ship my way. Just a few weeks ago I was looking for a team of 5 Java developers for one of my startups. The team had to come with one senior-, 2 mid-, and 2 junior-level developers. No special, hard-to-find skills required, plain server side Java. I went to three of my long-time offshore connections just to learn that lead time to build such a team is 2 to 3 months! Well, these were very small boutique companies who offer reasonable rates and good contract terms.

So I had to amp up the intensity and go for 2nd / 3rd tier vendors. High price, more restrictive, but surely they can put the team I need in a couple weeks. Nope… Well, they told me they can, and after two rounds on interviews with proposed teams I realized that finding my Java team would be almost as difficult as with my smaller providers. Isn’t it amazing that tons of good people can’t find a decent job and at the same so many companies can’t find decent resources, and offshore takes it to the whole new perspective.

So what can we do? What is the path towards building your team in today’s hot market? Here are just a few ideas that I am testing as we speak –

  • Settle for less. Wow, you may say – that’s a loser’s talk! We only recruit the best of the best!… in this case good luck to you, and you will need it, and even more so you will need a lot of patience, as cream of the crop is hard to find. In meanwhile I will be looking for bright and not necessarily so experience guys. I will put more emphasis on personality match and not necessarily on tech skills as I am prepared to help them grow.
  • Be swift. Hold your horses, you might say. We put every developer, offshore or hire, through 10 rounds of interviews, before we bring them on board. Of course that’s great, and by the end of 10th interview you could be still wrong (happens to the best of us) and so many months behind… Carpe Diem… You snooze you lose. That’s particular true with offshore, and what makes this strategy very forgiving in offshore world that if the hire doesn’t work out it’s easy to let them go, no HR to deal with.
  • Trust your vendor. Well, Nick now it’s way too much, what a nonsense! Well, if you do not trust your vendor why are you still doing business with them? Of course trust mean to delegate not abdicate your responsibilities. It’s the team you putting for yourself, and nobody can help you better with your task, your vendor just need to be managed so they can help you in a meaningful way. Ask your vendor to help, trust them, and help your vendor to help you…

OK, it’s high time to run to the airport, back to San Francisco, I miss it so much.

Mid-term sales call

I looked at my previous post and felt rather embarrassed, it’s been over four months since I wrote anything. That gets me thinking of a line from Leonard Cohen “I’ve been running through these promises to you | That I made and I could not keep” Am I running out of things to say? Am I too busy for even a few lines? Is outsourcing is no longer an interesting topic? Well, none of that is true, I guess it’s just a combination of little and big distractions amplified by work pressure and self-inflicted pains of writing… yep, I’ve been cheating on the blog with some other creative work – writing a book based in a large degree on this blog. I’ll talk about a book later, for now just a few thoughts triggered by my latest meeting with an offshore provider we use at PDRN.

A few weeks ago the president of my company requested updates from our technology offshore providers. Not being sure what were his specific needs and objectives, I turned to my vendors asking them to present their companies as if they were selling their services. Of course update need to include to-date achievements and other relevant topics. For me the sales pitch was most interesting though. The first vendor already had their 60 minute of fame and frankly I was quite pleased with what I saw.

  • The first thumbs up goes for bringing big guns – flying several senior folks from different cities. That’s quite common for sales calls, and treating customer to some brass in an engagement midterm is a good idea.
  • The presentation articulated well a few “key differences” mildly spiced with competition slander. If that was my first offshore presentation I would probably believe most of them. Well, even with understanding marginality of the differences it was impressive.
  • The capabilities of the vendor were communicated well and that transformed into risk mitigation in minds of the audience.
  • The relevance of the vendor’s capabilities to my company needs was well position and generated a few requests that might result in some business down the road. I guess that’s the area which could used a review with me prior to the meeting. Would probably generated more interest, and so on.
  • Also, what was interesting even though it was cut short by the brutal clock is a quick presentation on technology trends. That got me even somewhat jealous – those guys have the time to stay current with the trends and ideas brewing in the market! According to the slides the technologies that are still only on my horizon are already obsolete, boy, I’m driving a slow car nowadays.

Expending a bit on the last bullet, can be your offshore provider be also your technology guiding light? Can you entrust an offshore company with forming your technology vision? Of course the answer is as always – “it depends” :) It depends on capabilities of the vendor, on their focus and MO, and on many other factors. And yes, if you are interested in outsourcing technology vision it is quite possible. There are a few important point to consider

  • Your partner should have people capable of doing the task, high caliber true technologists, not just the gadget geeks and trend chasers.
  • Your provider should not have a conflict of interest. If the vendor has a bunch of .NET developers on the bench chances are the “next big thing” would be .NET.
  • You should be able to define SMART goals and objectives for the “technology research” deliverables.
  • Make sure that you request some interim and collateral deliverables that will allow you to understand the background behind the findings.
  • Consider multi-sourcing the vision or at least getting second opinion, as R&D tasks could be heavily biased by guru’s opinion and personal preferences.

Well, I think that qualifies for a “come up for air” post and I should dive back into my day job chores now :)