Hartley Brody

So You Want to Find a Coder...

Anyone who knows me knows that I love building stuff. And not only that, I subscribe strongly to the “do things, tell people” mantra, constantly sharing my projects with the world.

While this lifestyle has been super rewarding for me and has created a lot of great opportunities, one of my favorite consequences is that all sorts of people see me as a resource for advice.

Almost every week this semester, I’ve ended up grabbing lunch with someone I had never met who reached out and wanted to pick my brain. And I love it!

I’ve met a lot of great people with a lot of big ideas and I hope that I’ve been able to help them follow their dreams in some small way.

One of the trends I’ve noticed recently is that a lot of these conversations gravitate towards finding technical people.

It’s a well-known fact that there aren’t nearly enough coders to go around these days, and companies are doing all sorts of crazy things to win the war for talent.

But if all you have is an idea and no technical skills, what are you supposed to do?

Find Where We Hang Out

Consider this your first test as a founder. If you can’t find someone with technical skills and convince them to meet with you, you probably won’t last long in the business world. We’re generally pretty harmless people, so try reaching out.

Although be warned, it can be hard to get through to us sometimes. Any coder who’s known for building cool stuff is going to be getting these sorts of requests fairly regularly, and might have started to tune them out.

And it can be even harder to rely on introductions. I was speaking with a computer science professor just this afternoon about how he tries to protect his students from the hordes of “idea people” banging down his door looking for people with coding skills.

Our friends will often try to ‘protect’ us from you. Just know that you’re probably not the first person to pitch an idea to us, and so you need to make sure that you’re not wasting our time.

Realize What You’re Asking For

The mistake I see most frequently is probably the single biggest turn-off there is: grossly underestimating what you’re actually looking for.

One of the worst things you can do is explain your entire concept to us and then follow it up with “…but I don’t see this taking too long to build,” or “that shouldn’t be too hard for you, right?”

Building something from scratch – especially if you’re working with new technologies – takes a fuck load of time, even if we have a lot of experience.

I’ve probably been averaging about 6 hours a day, seven days a week for the last six weeks, and there’s still a ton of work to be done before we can launch Rompbomp.

What you’re asking for isn’t just a “quick favor.” You’re asking us to dedicate a substantial portion of our waking existence for the next few weeks or months to this project. It’s critically important you understand that.

Proceed with humility.

Don’t Be Possessive

Let’s get this straight: you’re looking for a partner, not just some intern.

The person you’re looking for won’t be doing work for you. In fact, it won’t even really be your idea anymore.

There will be so many things that change as the initial idea bumps into the harsh reality of technology, resources and time. You need to be prepared to relinquish control of your concept and be willing to trust the judgement of your technical partner.

Even if you think you know exactly what you want and have an idea about how you’d build it, recognize that we might see things differently.

Don’t be possessive about your concept. You need to be flexible and willing to let us mold your idea into something we can actually build. It might end up changing a lot in the process.

You have to be okay with that and willing to trust us.

Demonstrate Your Value

Us coders tend to be very analytical people. We already know that we’ll be contributing a ton to this project. If you want want us to buy into your idea, you’ll need to convince us that you add just as much value as we do.

And in case you’re thinking it – no – “having an idea” does not constitute adding value.

What are you going to be doing while we’re banging away at our keyboard for hours every day? I could easily write another article this stuff, but here are some quick ideas:

  • meet with potential customers/users and figure out what they need
  • come up with a brand & logo, buy the domain name, and secure a trademark
  • find out about the other companies in your market
  • spend a few hours every day reading articles by entrepreneurs and VCs
  • find and meet with mentors who have experience in your market
  • work on your pitch: explain the value of your project in 30s or less
  • build mockups of your product using tools like balsamiq
  • start a blog on your domain and write about interesting things in your industry

You should probably have started most of these things before you even start looking for a technical person to help you. If it sounds like a lot of work, that’s cause it is. Remember how much work we’re going to be putting in?

There are a ton of things that need to be done for a concept to blossom into a successful business, besides just building the product. You should try and tackle as many of them as you can to demonstrate how you add value.

Even without a technical partner, it doesn’t take any coding skills to get an initial logo and landing page designed on 99designs, turn the design into a webpage on PSD2HTML and then get that hosted on a wordpress site with a simple “give us your email if you’re interested” form.

You’ll be able to demonstrate that you understand how the internet works on a basic level. Not only that, but if you start marketing your shiny new landing page and actually get real people to sign-up, you’ll be able to demonstrate that there are people out there who actually care about what you’re building besides just your mom.

Those are both super impressive accomplishments for a non-technical founder, and will earn you a lot of respect from us.

But if that all sounds like too much time, money and effort, then you’re probably not going to make it far anyways and should probably give up on your search for a partner. Sad, but true.

Be Cool

Finally, keep in mind you’re working with people. Even though we’re often painted as socially awkward code monkeys, we don’t don’t think of ourselves that way. We have opinions and feelings and ideas just like you do.

The conversations where I get the most excited are the ones where people come to me with their idea, simply asking for my feedback.

Don’t be pushy about how your idea is going to be the next Instagram and we need to join you before we miss out. Don’t be a jack ass. Get to know us. Take us out to lunch.

We have to trust and like you as much as you have to trust and like us. It’s just like dating, if there’s no initial spark or chemistry, the relationship isn’t going to last long.

Overall, realize that we’re cool people who want to solve interesting problems, just like you do. We just happen to have a particularly sought after skill set.

Further reading (all worth checking out):