Can You Really Rent a Coder?

Interesting. If it encourages you to write specs, it might pay off in terms of quality the long run.

The problem is that most of the buyers on these sites a) don’t know what they want, and b) don’t know how to write a spec (other than $500 for eBay clone).

This actually just reminded me of what the {programming,web,flash} teacher at my high school does every so often. Since he speaks geek, used to be a programmer, and is very good with people, he acts as a mediator between clients and these sites. He figures out what the client (generally a friend) actually wants, and then gets the job done on there.

So, in short, unless you could do the project yourself, these sites probably won’t work well in the common case.

The problem with all of these sites is that they are not built for people that know what they are doing. The fees are high, dispute resolution is unfair, they force you to use some of the worst collaboration tools ever created. Just about any other way of getting work would be better for both buyer and seller. Anyone good enough to have a choice will find long term clients and leave, which doesn’t help the average quality much.

I believe this sort of site could be done well, but it would have to be very different to the way these sites are currently run.

Actually I was thinking about outsourcing some components (classes) of a project via one of these websites and planning to give the spec doc with unit tests.

What do you think about such an idea? Do you think this websites would work with if the Unit Tests given with the spec?

I heard most buyers on those sites are programming students paying to have their homework done!

I use RAC all the time to make beer money. It’s not my full time job: if it was, I would probably be a lot more stressed.

The trick is to be very selective about what you bid on, be very clear about what your bid includes, and don’t be afraid to compete on quality, and not just price. I would never bid on the $500 eBay clone, and I would never bid lower than my normal hourly rate. If the bidder doesn’t want me, it’s his loss.

Also, there’s keywords that steer me away from bidding on certain things. Stuff like This should be easy if you know what you are doing and any client who asks for reasonable bids. Most of the I want a clone of… requests are not realistic. You can tell a lot from the wording (or lack thereof) of the request whether it’s a good client or not.

Specification documents are hard enough to write when everyone involved is a coworker sitting in the same room. I can’t even imagine the difficulty of agreeing on what it is you’re building when the participants are thousands of miles away and have never met.

Believe me, it’s hell – especially if those coworkers don’t even know your language. It warms my heart to know that you are not among those who suffer from that inevitable reality.

I’ve done some work on Odesk for extra money, and had reasonably good experiences there. RAC Guru are out and out awful, Odesk at least has some redeeming features (guaranteed payment for hourly work the top one). I have a full time job, so finding clients any other way isn’t nearly as easy, and it’s good playing around money - I’m able to charge the same rate as my salary, and at that price, the buyers aren’t fooling around.

I’ve been browsing these sites lately looking for some side work to pick up some extra cash. The amount of work involved to find a quality project (where the customer knows what they want) is nearly impossible. Not worth my time.

There’s only 1 thing you need to remember in life and it applies to anything.

You GET what you PAY for. Don’t expect amazing code you paying the guy next to nothing. I think you can rent a coder but you’ll need to pay him well

Yes. Yes. Yes!

As a coder it’s an underwhelming experience, so I can’t imagine it’s much better as a buyer. I did 3 stints on Rent A Coder. Only one of which was grateful for my work and rehired me for more work. One was complacent. And the last wanted the world and still wasn’t happy when I delivered. I faced all this aggravation and self-demotivation for a lousy ~$200/pop. McDonald’s pays better.

I am an independent software developer that uses Rentacoder and have been for a couple of years. I’ve been using it as an introduction service and have found all of my long term clients through them (even the guy that turned out to be located down the street).

Things I’ve learned:

  1. some people are willing to pay a reasonable for someone who can construct a complete English sentence or two (the others, you don’t want to deal with anyway).
  2. specialize (I do Windows Mobile work) in an area where the competition is less. I usually end up competing with 3-4 other bidders, not 30-40. And, I have developed a large library of solution templates that speed development for almost any project that comes up.
  3. respond quickly. If I’m not one of the first responders, then the likelihood of a successful bid is minimal
  4. never bid in the first response. Always review their documentation and ask clarifying questions – even if you think you understand everything they want. These guys are, by and large, naive about the development cycle, so you want clients that give thoughtful responses. At this point, I can spot the troublemakers and steer clear.
  5. If you find a client that you can work with, take them outside of RAC and work directly after that.

I agree with you on the high level - renting a coder isn’t practical in the business world - but it’s almost a year that I’m trying to find a solution for my need:
I’m a Computer Engineering student but I don’t have time to fully understand the firefox/thunderbird extensions API. But I need a copule extensions that I’d release as open source. I’d pay small amounts for them (30-40 euro each).
On slashdot it was told to go and ask to developers of a similar app first. But which developer should I contact and how can I be sure that he/she has the knowledge on the specific part of the code I need?

rentacoder, imho, fits that niche.

Oh, and don’t underestimate the power of CS students submitting their MPs on such websites. I’d bet it’s a steady growing market.


Elance seems to have worked for Kevin Rose and Digg.
Owen Byrne was hired by Digg founder Kevin Rose on Elance to create the PHP code behind the original digg site for a cost of $200. His code was considered bug free enough in December 2004 and the beta site of was released receiving 578 registered users in the first week.

I have used Rent-a-Coder for three small wordpress plugin and one theme. They worked great as it delivered quickly and cheaply. I think the key is to break down the project into very small pieces, and is workable, and programmer can actually estimate the cost realistically. As regard to client relationship, I found it is easy to build up a relationship, two of my projects are completed by the same programmer. I can in the future, I will keep use the same coder.

The main value add of those sites I argue would be the connection. It connects to programmers in other parts of world that you won’t have access to otherwise.

Hello Jeff,

I’m from Romania. A place where you can easily guess that salaries are low. I think the average is about $500 a month (personal estimate only).

In the last couple of years there has been an invasion of small sized companies from the better world that do development here because the people are so cheap.

I also happen to live in a rather small city, with few IT companies. The salaries are one third of what’s considered normal in the Capital and there is no real work done. I’m actually a low-level programmer with experience in UNIX world, Windows world and embedded world. I happen to prefer the UNIX world.

I can’t work at local companies because besides the fact that they don’t develop real applications, most of the people working there are clueless. I mean less then 30% of the companies use version control. You can’t do real development unless you are using a version control system – even an old, limited system like cvs.

People working there are the kind of people that don’t care about warnings, as long as the code compiles. The build logs literally have millions of warnings in them and nobody cares.

Because I can’t find any place to work in my town, I tried to find somewhere to work remotely. I mean real work, not Rent-A-Coder and such. Somehow, I wasn’t able to accomplish that either because from my experience companies are not looking for expert people that know what they are doing. Companies are looking for cheap code monkeys that don’t really need to think and don’t really know how to do programming properly. I have yet to find a place where somebody would hire me for my knowledge and expertise.

Next step was to find projects on Rent-A-Coder. I did that until recently and have a few thoughts to share:

  1. Most people are looking for poor quality, fast to implement hacks than real software products. That is because people that are interested in quality software don’t come to freelance sites like RAC in the first place.

  2. The work is severely underpaid. I am talking about 5 to 10 times less than it should be. This should not surprise anyone – that is why people post projects on those sites in the first place.

  3. People don’t know what they want. I find this very hard to believe, but it is true. They have vague specs. If they don’t really know what they want, why are they posting in the first place? I mean how can the software be of any use to them?

  4. Almost all programmers I’ve interacted there with are clueless and with very limited English skills. Hey, don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against non-English speaking people, but non-English speaking people are incapable of providing documentation.

  5. Programmers make poor quality software not only because they are inexperienced, but also because there is no real relationship between the buyer and the seller. In the worst case you can pretend you died and nobody knows anything about you any more. People are not motivated to do high quality work.

  6. A lot of buyers are scamers and trick you to do interaction outside of the web site, so that when they get a copy of the product they cancel the product and don’t pay you anymore. Last year I did work worth of $7,500 and never been paid. Even if you give them a reduced functionality demo, they cancel the product and hire another programmer for 10% of the price they promised you, to finish the rest of the project. Unfortunately, the documents you sign protect the buyer and not the programmer.

  7. People what stupid, or impossible things.

  8. People want a certain problem solved in a certain way. If you hired me in the first place, let me do the thinking for you. It is very likely that I know much more than you in that field. In 95% of the cases, the way you want to solve the problem is completely wrong, dangerous and insecure.

Because of this issues I no longer work on freelance sites. But hey – now I don’t have a job.

Is Jeff telegraphing what is up next?

He and Joel could easily leverage the platform that Stack Overflow was written on (if designed to be re-used) and come up with a better alternative for these types of freelance sites.

All they have to do is use the voting mechanisms and have independent evaluators evaluate specs and deliverables to come up with ratings. And let programmers evaluate the jobs people post as well so a job can’t be put up to bid on unless it is vetted to be rational (i.e. not one of those write facebook for $500 jobs)

Let the programmers rate other programmers as well as rating of the buyers.

For all those jobs that fall below the line, let people bid on them to write a specification. This must require a minimum deposit by the buyer and the winning bidder is paid hourly for their services.

It seems most of my clients are people whom previously used Rent-e-Coder or Elance and in the end were delivered a piece of crap. The biggest problem is the client who is receiving the code, is not a technology person. They do not know how to test it for scalability and see if the code is well written. And - that is the sad truth!

Aram: I think you should pack your things and move to a developed country ASAP. Even in the middle of the recession, experienced and competent developers are highly sought after and paid well. Since your English is quite good, I think you could easily find a nice and interesting position here in London in the matter of weeks.

I’ve used template slicing/dicing contractors for xhtml/css coding and have been quite satisfied on all fronts. I know that’s not in the same league as real programming work, but for this sector of the industry, the template slicing services are amazing. For dirt cheap, somebody else takes your finished design, builds it with semantic code, tests in all major browsers (including IE 6) and sends the completed files back in a week or less.

If you guys did ever want to try your hand at bidding on one of those sites, or just seeing what’s out there, I made what I think is a cool tool for aggregating and exploring the projects on all of those sites:

Let me know what you think.