Where did my developer go?

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    I have heard from several entrepreneurs that their offshoring "horror" stories included working with an individual software developer, completing one project successfully, then a second project successfully, and then somewhere along the line they just stop hearing from the developer. They seem to disappear. Maybe the developer completed the project that was in process, and maybe they didn’t before they disappeared. Maybe the client has the source code the developer was working on and maybe they don’t. From larger companies I have heard similar complaints about intermittent communications from the individual developers they are working with.


    In both of these cases, the companies have been working with individuals who are working out of their home, not in affiliation with a service provider. Many of these cases are shedding a bad light on offshoring when in reality working with a developer who is working out of his home brings different risks than working via a professional vendor.


    Additional risks to consider when working with an individual developer who is working from home are:


    1. They do not work for you on a regular basis; you work with them on an “as-needed” basis. The same as anyone in business for themselves, if they have another job, or jobs, they may not be available to work on your project when you need them, and they have no one to bring in to help them work on your project.


    2. If they do become sick, or someone in their family does, there is no backup, they usually cannot replace themselves with another qualified person. They are it. These emergency situations may come up very suddenly (as most emergencies do) with little regard for your deadlines.


    3. Even if you have a backup phone number or phone numbers for the person just in case, if you need to contact them because you haven’t heard from them for a while, phone numbers may have changed, especially mobile phone numbers. You have no one above this person to go to find out where they are, nor get a replacement if something permanent has happened to this person.


    4. Your source code will be sitting on an individual’s computer where it will be difficult to determine who else has access to that computer. Also if something happens to them, you have no one to contact who can go in and pull that source code off of their work station.


    Rewards to working with an individual developer working at home:


    Cost is usually the biggest advantage, or most buyers think that it will be or should be much cheaper to work with someone working out of their home, no overhead. Given the additional risk, this should be the case that it would be less expensive. Sometimes I have seen that it is less expensive to work in this manner, but I have also seen just as many cases where it is not less expensive than working with a service provider. If the buyer or entrepreneur is not aware of the cost level for that country or geographical location, the price they are sometimes quoted from an individual developer will be at or greater than the cost of going through a vendor. Given the increased risk of working with an @home individual the cost should reflect the additional risk.


    There may never be a guarantee that all will be well if you work through an individual developer, but you may be able to take some steps to mitigate your risk.


    Mitigate the risk:


    1. Have the developer upload the new code that they are working on daily to the source code library, or backup it up daily to a server that you control. Therefore you will always have the latest of what they are working on, even if they disappear.


    2. Ask them to provide regular communications in the form of a “status” type report informing you of what they are working on, what they plan to do next, and any issues they may be having, etc. This may be on a weekly or every few days basis.


    Start out slow working with your new developer, with a small project see how they respond to doing these types of tasks. If they are getting paid on a fixed bid project, make sure that they know these are requirements up front so they can figure this additional work in to the cost of the project. Be prepared that they may not want to take these steps because they may be worried about your disappearing and not paying them, which also happens.


    In the end, if the risks of working with an individual developer working out of his home out weigh the cost benefits, you may wish to step up to working through an established offshoring vendor.

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