Startup Resources

By Nicholas Wright, CEO at AppInstruct

In my last post, I asked: how much should it cost to hire an app developer? To create a great product, costs always need to be balanced with the skills required to do the work.

So, how do you select the right developer—or development team—for your project?

Use your network to find someone you can trust

One of the challenges when engaging new freelancers is your lack of work history together. As relationships develop, we learn who we can rely on to be competent, reliable and professional. However, this confidence only comes with time.

While you may not know an app developer, you can often find someone within your existing network who has the skills and experience to help you review code samples and confirm whether it’s “good code”—meaning clean (uses no more code than necessary), logical and effective.

We provide this service to alumni of our AppInstruct program, connecting them with vetted and recommended developers through oDesk’s platform.

Prescreen for clear communication

While this may seem rudimentary, being able to communicate clearly is critical to any productive working relationship.

The first thing you should gauge, especially when dealing with a developer whose native tongue is not your own, is how well their language skills match your own.

Over the course of a project, there will be countless interactions and explanations necessary—on both sides. If these can’t be communicated and understood easily and succinctly, you’re unlikely to receive what you expect.

Find the right skills

Developers can learn to code using different languages, but it’s not ideal to have them do so while working on your project. The most popular mobile languages—Objective C (for Apple’s iOS), and Java (for Android)—are much harder to master than common web languages like PHP and Ruby, so look for someone who already has the specific skills you need.

Keep in mind that the front-end app you see on a mobile device may also need a web-based backend to support hosted content or push notifications. And while cloud services like Parse mean there’s no longer a need to build full-server support for your mobile app, your developer will need to be able to write code that links to the services you choose.

Assessing the right skills

Whether this is your first app or your fourth, you likely don’t know the difference between poorly or well-written code. This is where your friend, mentioned above, can help you screen candidates.

Have candidates provide samples of code they have written, using a service like GitHub or Bitbucket.Then, have your friend review the samples and confirm the code’s quality and originality. Both Apple and Google provide tools for app developers, including code for routine tasks, and we’ve had developers submit this as a sample of their own work. Such code says nothing about a developer’s skills, but a great deal about whether they deserve your trust.

Are they active in the development community? 

There are open source communities, like Stack Overflow and GitHub, where developers can connect, collaborate and ask questions.

How could this impact your project? Participating in these communities gives developers access to peer review; they’re rated and rewarded by other developers for their contributions.

When you find someone who’s both active and well rated, give them more consideration—such peer recognition is a great independent sign of confidence.


The final part of the hiring process is assessing a developer’s prior work.

Look for a portfolio of work that demonstrates their skills. If they have created apps that are available in the app stores, take the time to download and play with those apps.


  • Are the apps rated well?
  • Do the reviews reveal anything?
  • How quickly do the apps open?
  • Are the interactions between pages fast and smooth?
  • Are there any bugs, or are the apps polished?

Before reviewing the apps, ask the developer to describe the project and how they feel about the results. Allowances may need to be made, for example, if the developer wasn’t provided with the budget to add greater polish. 

While these are some tips to put a bit of science behind how to hire a mobile app developer, remember the human element too. You’re entrusting the success of your idea to this person, so it’s important to also consider your own instincts about the person—your “gut feel”—not at the exclusion of the more objective tests set out above, but in conjunction with them.

In my next post, I’ll review different mobile development technologies so you can understand what it is your developer will be building for you.

Editor’s note: To read more from Nic Wright and learn more about mobile app development, check out these related blog posts.

Nic Wright

Co-founder and CEO of AppInstruct

Nic Wright is co-founder and CEO of AppInstruct, which provides courses on how to create an app. He is actively involved in the start-up space, mentoring other founders with mobile, fundraising and legal advice. Nic’s favorite app is WhatsApp, which allows him to remain in contact with family in America and England.