Programmers and their speed of work

Programmers and their speed of work
I lacked perspective because I used the same people for years
I have had the pleasure or displeasure of needing the services of many programmers in my lifetime.  They are all different in so many ways.  Some get back to you when they are supposed to while others leave you always wondering what their progress is, has been, or will be — if any.  In any case, I had spent too many years with the same programmers and noticed that one of them was pretty fast while the other was sometimes reasonably paced, and sometimes a little slow. I didn’t realize that the speed of a programmer can vary much more than these two.
Programmers quitting & getting fired by the boatload
After this, one of the programmers got fired, and the other quit.  I was left high and dry. So, I tried some other programmers out, foolishly thinking that they would churn out work at a similar speed to the previous programmers.  The first one I hired took three times as long to do similar tasks as my previous programmer.  He used the excuse that he was not familiar with the coding of the site.  I tried another who took four times as long.  Familiar or not, I feel that maybe taking 50% longer makes sense but three or four times is ridiculous.  I don’t know who is right or wrong because I am not a programmer.  All I can say is that I would really like to have my old programmer back.
Don’t pay by the hour as a general rule
The moral of the story from a business standpoint is that you can NOT assign programming jobs to be billed by the hour, unless you are very familiar with the individual doing the work.  Otherwise, you can easily get crazy bills that are high because the programmer is slow, or perhaps they are padding their hours, or who knows what? It is not easy to say unless you know a person’s character or behavior. I only know the bottom line which is that I am being billed for far more hours than I feel is reasonable.
Quality & speed can really vary
Additionally prices for programmers can range from $10-30 per hour in India and from $45-$180 in the United States.  The quality and speed of their work can really vary, and it is not easy to know how skilled an individual programmer is unless you really know them well and have worked with them extensively.  The best way to assess a programmer is to engage them in conversation, see how responsive they are about their work, and use your senses.  If you start having problems with their work, that might not show up for months, so in the beginnning — use your senses.

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One Response to Programmers and their speed of work

  1. Chris says:

    I can understand as a non-programmer your stance on this however I don’t necessarily agree with it.

    If a programmer bills by the hour (and most do), it is because they are billing for their time. They believe that based on their skill-set that they are worth X dollars per hour. Typically that means that other people are willing to pay them that amount.

    Prices are a LOT more varied than you mentioned, for instance there are ‘programmers’ in the USA that will build you an entire website for $100. It’ll be garbage, but you really should know that going in. And in the same city you can go to an agency like HappyCog that won’t even consider working with you for less than $100,000 with an average of closer to $350,000 for a web project. They deliver some incredible results.

    Not being familiar with the code of a particular project is a valid reason for something to take longer, and in some cases, 4 times longer is completely valid and in MANY AND EVEN MOST cases, is the fault of the ORIGINAL programmer, not the new one. Well why is that you may ask?

    Simply put, good code follows a set of pre-set standards, is commented, and should be easy and clean to read. Sure there are minified and compressed files that will increase performance, but the original file should still be kept in the project for any future edits. If a programmer is taking 4 times longer to work on the same tasks as a previous programmer, it could mean that he is not as good/fast as the previous programmer, but if he says it is because he is not familiar with the code base and is trying to familiarize himself/herself with it, it’s very likely that your original programmer is actually to blame for writing shoddy code that is uncommented, mangled, routed and re-routed seemingly at random, overwritten multiple times, conflicting with other areas, etc. etc.

    The best way to assess a programmer is not to engage them in conversation and see how responsive they are about their work. That just tells you how good they are at bullshitting you. The best way to assess a programmer is to find out about their previous work. Have you heard of companies they have worked on projects for before? Are they reputable? Do they have testimonials from past clients/projects that speak to their abilities? Are they participating members of any reputable development communities such as the W3C for web development? Have they won any awards for the work you are hiring them for?

    You of course also need to talk with them and see how they are with communication and deadlines. These don’t have nearly as much to do with their skills as a programmer but more as a professional. A good programmer could easily be terrible at communication and miss every deadline just as a bad programmer could chat your ear off and meet each deadline (with bad results of course).

    You need to know when to reach out to your contractors and ask them for updates, as well as when to leave them alone. I’ve had clients that tried to hold my hand so tightly I have had to tell them to step back because nothing will get done until they do. You have to trust who you hired to an extent, but know how much leash so to speak to give them. Is it enough to let them run wild and do their thing, knowing they will report back with amazing results on time and up to par? Is it just enough to hang themselves, or is it so tight that you’re both wasting time with micro-management.

    Typically the more expensive a programmer is, the faster they are. That is not always the case, as quality tends to increase as well, but it’s common. If I can do something in 1 hour that would take another developer 10 hours to do, should i get paid 1/10th the amount? Absolutely not. That just means I am 10 times faster/better than that developer, thus i’ll charge more for my time.

    Something you SHOULD always do when hiring a programmer is to ask for an estimate of # of hours. That is standard. If they can not even ballpark for you then you should move on. Granted, a ballpark can be a large range, it’ll still give you an idea of whether you’re going to be paying for 30-40 hours of work or 100-150. If the programmer comes in consistently above their estimate, that is something you should discuss with them. Either you make note of it and assume it is always X amount more than they estimate, restrict them from going over the estimate by X %, or whatever else to make sure that everybody stays honest, and fair.

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