If you don’t know how to fix cars, how can you tell if your mechanic is any good?
If you haven’t been to medical school, how can you tell if your doctor is any good?
This is the expertise problem. Non-experts aren’t good at identifying experts.
Because of this, we tend to evaluate people on the characteristics we do understand, even when they’re not a true indicator of ability.
For example, you feel confident you have a good doctor when they look like a doctor, speak with authority, and appear incredibly busy. But an actor could easily do any of these things and we’d be fooled.
For a developer, you might mistakenly assume competence with how quickly they respond to inquiries, how they dismiss your requirements as simple, or the number of cutting technologies they list in their capabilities. These aren’t great indicators of competence.
The bad news is that there isn’t any way around this problem.
The good news is that there are heuristics and techniques to lower your risk.
2 Areas to Evaluate
As you begin to evaluate providers, keep in mind that you need two things:
- Someone with the technical capability to complete your project.
- And someone with the communication, reliability, and trustworthiness to see your needs through to completion.
You should be evaluating for both of these vectors. Untrustworthy “brilliant” people are as worthless as high integrity, but low-skilled coders.
Past & Future Performance
The best indicator of future performance is past performance.
How this plays out with developers is pretty simple:
- What past projects have they worked on that are similar to yours?
- How long have they been in business?
Any specialization that matches your needs is going to lower your risk, especially if it’s backed by a track record.
You should be looking for case studies and testimonials that are close to your situation. Testimonials like, “x person did an excellent job,” don’t help because they’re non-specific. The job could have been fixing a typo or building a custom WordPress integration with an API.
Especially for freelancers, you need not only their skill, but also a level of professionalism, and ability to manage your project. Time in business is a decent signal of commitment and ability to deliver value.
Good developers care about what they do.
And people who care have certain characteristics and patterns.
For WordPress developers here are a couple of things to look for:
1) Do they have any contributions in GitHub? Have they submitted patches or worked on projects?
GitHub is a popular social code repository where developers can share their work and contribute to others. Ask potential hires for their GitHub username and look them up.
2) Have they participated in WordPress?
Has the developer answered people’s questions in the forum, spoke at a Wordcamp, or contributed a free or commercial plugin to the WordPress community?
Ask them for their WordPress username or for links to some of their public work.
3) Training and Certification
Committed individuals invest in training and in proving they know their stuff!
Has the candidate completed any training around WordPress, PHP, MySQL/MariaDB?
Do they hold any degrees or certifications in design (for a web designer)?
Have they taken live or online training? For what and when?
Additionally, for technical skills, you can have promising candidates tested using one of the services below:
Again, a good referral from someone is one of the best ways to get a lot of information about someone’s capabilities and how they work.
Often our “gut” picks up on signals that our brain can’t make sense of. If you feel hesitant about hiring someone and can’t put your finger on why- don’t do it! Keep looking. It’s a common story among my agency owner friends that we’ve ignored this signal and regretted it. Learn from us and don’t make our mistake.
You Don’t Really Know Until You Know
All these tactics to find and vet developers will take big steps in reducing your risk. But you’ll never be able to see how well suited a candidate is until you actually work with them.
The next and final step in reducing your risk is starting your project the right way.