PaaS – Cool Web Apps Engines

August 10, 2009 by

Five years ago if you wanted to built a Web application with five million hits a month it required serious planning. You had to pick a server maker, the software stack, a hosting company, and then optimize for load balancing and burst capacity. It was time-consuming and expensive. The world has changed, and now the all of the routine steps in creating an online application have been taken care of for you. The next time someone asks you what type of server you recommend, give them a dirty look and educate them on what’s cool now. Cool is controlling the data and features of the application without worrying much about how it runs. Cool is figuring out the application and letting someone else worry about scaling, operating, and continually running it – automatically! Cool has a new name: PaaS, or Platform-as-a-Service. These cloud computing-based services offer up a software stack already scaled across a massive set of parallel infrastructure, and a tuned and configured scripting stack ready to serve up millions of hits a day. If you know Python or Java, my favorite PaaS is Google App Engine. They’ve created a nifty tutorial (below) – you can see how easy it is to use! One big reason the Google App Engine is my personal favorite is that for an application or site with up to five million hits, its free. Why not brush up on Python and use the App Engine to save your clients money in their hosting costs? An expertise in navigating the world of PaaS is sure to be in demand, and increase your value as a top-notch developer. While the “simple, free and scalable” approach makes me a huge fan of Google’s App Engine, you should check out a few of the other … Read Full Article

Hire a Better Online Team in Less Time, Part 2

August 7, 2009 by

There is a ton of good advice available about hiring online workteams, but I find that I’m often pressed for time and cannot do everything that one “could” do. At the same time, I never want to settle when it comes to hiring, especially when I’m looking to build a long-term relationship – which is pretty much always the case. Here are steps 2 & 3 of my advice for hiring better online teams: 2. Interview by email first. I much prefer email to other approaches of first-round interviewing (phone or chat). Email has four advantages: 1. You get a chance to collect more information with minimal additional time investment since you’ll be sending a nearly identical list of questions to each candidate. 2. If a candidate’s English-language skills slow down real-time communication, you’ll save even more time. 3. It’s asynchronous, so you don’t need to schedule time to talk with the candidate. 4. All candidates have an equal opportunity to shine. I hate to admit it, but I’m less consistent with real-time interviews. Sometimes timezone issues require that I do an interview at an odd hour when I’m less alert or I might be rushed. Real-time conversations might also take you on tangents that bias your decision. I’ve found that candidates at this stage are also more motivated to provide you with information because you’ve confirmed that there may be a good fit. I suggest positioning the questions as a prelude to a real-time phone/skype conversation or chat if it looks like the candidate is still a promising fit. The specific questions you ask depend on the work you want done and I am more confident asking for more information the larger the work opportunity is – e.g., I’ll ask more if I’m … Read Full Article

Hire a Better Online Team in Less Time, Part 1

August 6, 2009 by

There is a ton of good advice available about hiring online workteams, but I find that I’m often pressed for time and cannot do everything that one “could” do. At the same time, I never want to settle when it comes to hiring, especially when I’m looking to build a long-term relationship – which is pretty much always the case. So what’s the best way to hire top-notch online talent on a tight time budget? I’ll share the approach that I’ve been refining over the past few years. It’s led me to the right hire almost every time. It’s an approach that is particularly well-suited for online contract work where it’s as easy to hire as it is to fire, and where timezone and language barriers need to be broken down. At its core, my recommended strategy is one that recognizes that you’re both buying and selling during the hiring process and recognizes that you place a lot of value on your time. At each stage, you want to sell your opportunity to generate interest from the right candidates (since top performers usually have lots of options) while also efficiently gathering critical information that will enable you to identify the best candidate. I follow three key steps: 1. Write the killer job description. This post will show you an approach that should attract a lot of interest, but I suggest one important twist: tell prospective candidates what you want to see in cover letters including at least one specific request that will be easy for you to evaluate when you are screening applications later. The idea isn’t to discourage applications, but rather to make sure that you collect information that will both enable you to quickly eliminate unsuitable candidates and identify promising ones without needing … Read Full Article

Writing Lessons from Wil Wheaton

August 5, 2009 by

Wil Wheaton is a writer and actor who shares his stories through regular updates on his blog. I find his writing inspiring and valuable, so I’ve decided to share with you some lessons I’ve picked up from him that freelance writers (or freelancers in any field) may find useful. Let yourself ramble – sometimes. Wil has been known to occasionally allow himself some rambling space on his blog. I’ve found that some of my best writing comes after giving myself permission to write anything at all – even if it didn’t fit the assignment. That paper on Lake Champlain I got an A on in college? It started as a letter to my professor telling him how much I hated the assignment. It gave me a chance to fill the page, pass the first hurdle, and get started on the work at hand. (Of course, the difference is that Wil’s “rambling” is still readable and wouldn’t get him expelled from school if his professor read it!) “Read” the works of others. Many famous authors advise reading as a source of inspiration. Wil does a lot of his reading through audiobooks, proving that you don’t have to sit still and “read” to get the benefits of exposure to others’ works. Wil writes: “One night about three weeks ago, while driving home and listening, one phrase he spoke came out of my speakers, hit me in that part of my brain that makes me want to be a writer, and knocked out a story idea that has refused to let me do anything else until I bring it into the world and make it real.” Very cool, and the resulting story might never have happened without another author’s words to kickstart the idea. Know when to … Read Full Article

The Neophyte Freelancer, Part 2

August 2, 2009 by

There are some experiences that are unique to those newest members of the oDesk community. In the second of this 2-part series, a neophyte freelancer shares her early experiences and success, in the hope it may guide and inspire others as they begin their careers as providers on oDesk. Previously, Verena was getting frustrated, and had very little luck with finding work online. Until she received an invitation to interview for a position after giving up hope: I responded to the invitation with no expectation that I would be hired. I thanked the buyer for picking me from his many profile searches at oDesk. I took this as an opportunity to prove my worth…..or better yet, to point out my skill set, work experience and other proficiencies. After a day, there was no reply. I merely shrugged my shoulders and considered it as another rejection. I’ve dealt with the same already and I was done with it. Until the evening of that day, came another email, this time direct from the buyer. His message said in part, “I appreciate your considering working with the number one office in Florida in regards of mortgage services and lending ….” He also included a questionnaire. “I have 20 more people I am interviewing this week and you were the first in the line so I wish you luck Verena” I answered his queries and emailed him back, still without expecting that anything good would come out of it. I no longer had the same enthusiasm as when I first signed up. In no time, a follow up email from the buyer reached my mail box. It said…”I read all your answers and I like all of them. Congratulations… I think you are the right person for the job. I will forward … Read Full Article

The Neophyte Freelancer, Part 1

July 31, 2009 by

There are some experiences that are unique to those newest members of the oDesk community. In the first of this two part series, a neophyte freelancer shares her early experiences and success, in the hope it may guide and inspire others as they begin their careers as providers on oDesk. The Newbie Excitement My interest in looking for a job online was renewed when we decided to build a new house. Although we had a ready budget to cover the estimates, I learned that in the actual implementation, costs could double (and, yes they did!) This convinced me to work as a freelancer in order to augment the family budget, and the anticipation of more expenses for my son’s college education which starts this school year. After visiting hundreds of websites offering online jobs, I stumbled upon oDesk. What pretty much convinced me to sign in was the fact that there is no membership fee. To my mind, there is absolutely no risk, no cash outlay, the only cost was my time to sign up! After signing in, I learned that I have to pass an oDesk certification test in order to be allowed to apply for jobs. Due to my eagerness, I took the oDesk Readiness Test (ORT) at once before even equipping myself with knowledge of the policies. And – like a soldier without battlefield experience and weapon to match the adversary – I failed the test. I deemed it best to come back in full battle gear of knowledge about oDesk. I was jubilant that I passed the test the second time, earning an award among first-place finshers. The Early Frustrations When I first joined oDesk, I was hoping to land jobs in accounting, bookkeeping, paralegal and other legal-related matters. Read Full Article

How to Build a Website – Tech-Savvy or Not!

July 27, 2009 by

There are thousands of freelance Web developers listed on oDesk who you can hire to build your site. But, how do you… …pick one for the job you need done? …keep costs down? …keep the developer from snowing you on time estimates? In my experience there is one key consideration that determines your best path to hiring a developer. The determining question is: Are you technical? This is a trick question for some people. I have friends that consider themselves technically adept. They enthusiastically read up regularly on geek blogs and forums. They can discuss expertly and in-depth about the latest developments in platforms and applications. However, they do not have any real world programming experience. So when they try to manage their oDesk programmers, they inevitably get into trouble. They think they are speaking the developer’s language, but in the end both parties get frustrated and confused. The work is delayed. They end up burning more developer hours than my non-tech-loving friends. In other words, my technology enthusiast pals know enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be useful in hiring and managing programmers. I am not technical myself but thankfully my business partner is, and he manages all hiring and communication with the programmers. Here is a quick litmus test he created to see what side of the fence you lie on. #1. What is the process that takes place when you upload a file in php? #2. The opposite of rel=nofollow is “followed”. True or False? If you understand the lingo but cannot nail the answers to the questions completely and coherently, then you are not technical. If you are technical: Test your applicants’ coding abilities. Ask each applicant to solve a programming problem. If they try to assure you … Read Full Article

Top Ten #oTip Twiveway Tweets

July 20, 2009 by

Whew! Do NOT try to say that title aloud ten times fast! Last week, we had asked everyone to submit their best “Remote Working” or “Remote Management” tips for a chance to win a $100 Amazon Gift Card. We received many wonderful responses, and we managed to narrow down the list to our top 10 tweets. It’s a good thing we drew the winner randomly, because all of the tips we received were great! We had a hard enough time picking our top 10, let alone a single winner! Thanks to @chaviebugsey on Twitter (our unofficial random number generator), our winner of the $100 Amazon Gift Certificate drawing is: @tjlytle (Tim Lytle):Make sure you (and your client) know the difference between an employee and a contractor.Tim Lytle is a Technology Consultant & oDesk Contract Web Developer. Owner of ltd since 2003, his oDesk adventures have been mentioned on the BBC’s Click and in Forbes Magazine. Congratulations, Tim! Here are the Top Ten #oTip Tweets (in alphabetical order) and our responses to them: @AnneSemana (Anne Semana): That’s simple. Use oDesk!!! – Best tip ever! Our response: Yes, we like shameless self-promotion! Who doesn’t? @arronguy (Arron Washington): Don’t friend clients on Facebook. Ever. Our response: Funny, but true. We doubt you’d want your buyers knowing which Twilight character you should marry, or the top 5 people you want to punch in the face. @CrystalsQuest (Crystal Woods): Silence ISN’T golden. New clients need reassurance of you checking to clarify anything unclear BEFORE you go ahead and do it … Read Full Article

The Themes of Structure ‘09

July 17, 2009 by

It’s everywhere you look in IT media these days–cloud computing. This constant news and analyst cycle has a downside though–figuring out what the heck is really going on in the cloud space has become complicated. That’s why I went to a premiere event for cloud computing a few weeks back to get the latest directly from the sources: the world top cloud computing companies. I learned a lot, but the number one takeaway from the event was how important cloud development skills will be for developers in the next few years. Today, there is a solid barrier between development and operations, but new platforms such as MS Azure, Amazon‘s AWS, Google’s App engine and others make developers the front line of IT operations. Freelance software developers who want to command top dollars a year from now need to be paying attention to these markets and reading their expertise and skill. It may be an amazing opportunity to differentiate yourself from the pack and increase your billable rate. The following are my notes from the conference, and I will be paying close attention to the cloud space and checking in as major developments unfold. (excerpted from Primitives The two biggest web technology players at the event (Facebook, Google) used this term often in referring to their programming discipline. The Register has a nice piece covering a passionate exchange between Microsoft and Google engineers on adherence to consistent primitives. Google said MS would fail at matching its speed because they lacked discipline around programming simplification. Google forces developers into narrow development frameworks driven by GFS, map-reduce and big table. If you want to create a service it must be built on those–end of story, game over. Read Full Article

Pricing Skills and Services as a Freelancer: Part 3, Understanding CLV (Customer Lifetime Value)

July 16, 2009 by

Even big companies fall into the trap — pursuing market share and underestimating new customer acquisition costs. American auto makers such as GM fell into this trap, building cars and offering discounts in the pursuit of market-share. Eventually, the cost of acquiring customers was greater than the profit they generated. As a freelancer, it’s also easy to focus on the big numbers: hourly rate and total income. But are you measuring your customer acquisition costs? The body of marketing theory and research focused on the costs associated with acquiring a customer vs. the benefits of retaining them over time is known as CLV. Every freelancer should have a firm idea on their costs of acquiring new customers versus the costs of going above and beyond to further cement lasting relationships with existing clients. Do you calculate your time spent prospecting, interviewing, scoping and communicating to land new customers? Does it take you 5 hours to land a 40 hour job? That equals a 12% hit in your overall hourly rate for the week. What if you delighted an existing customer by investing an extra free hour or went above and beyond to deliver something amazing investing only 2 hours to do it? What if that subsequently landed you a 200 hour job? Suddenly you’ve gained a 12% hourly pay increase. Some good CLV resources on the web: An overview and introduction for small business owners to CLV; Harvard Business Press’ online CLV calculator; and CLV guide for consultants. Key takeaway: Giving your top customers occaisional free and delightful extra help can actually pay more in the long run! Keep in mind how much it costs to get a new customer vs. cementing a longer relationship with an existing … Read Full Article

Factors to Freelancing Success

July 15, 2009 by

A few months ago, we listed out the Top 100 Freelance Blogs. The blogs on that list are people who have found success through freelancing and are kind enough to share the tips and tricks they’ve learned with the rest of us. Many of the top blogs – Freelance Switch and Freelance Folder, among others – also tap into the expertise of many freelancers in diverse fields for a comprehensive view on the freelance experience. In the spirit of those blogs, we’ve asked freelancers to take part in a panel to discuss the factors contributing to their freelancing success. Thousands of people try to get started with a freelance career every month, but find that it’s hard to promote themselves, get jobs, and build a strong reputation for securing ongoing work. While many dip their toes in the freelance waters, only some rise to the top. These individuals surveyed below are some of the best from around the world – including freelance software developers, freelance designers, and virtual assistants. Top providers were surveyed on the following factors to freelancing success and the results compiled for you. Each factor was scored on a scale of 1 – 4 for importance to success and the consensus or standard deviation of answers is displayed alongside each factor. The freelancers that contributed to this post are from several different countries and include programmers, designers, writers, and virtual assistants. All of them have exceptional feedback scores and have been very successful in their freelance careers. Meet the Panel of Experts. Top 10 Factors to Success Bottom 10 Factors to Success 3.87 – Communication 2.00 – Low Number of Candidates on Job 3.81 – Feedback Scores 2.19 – Portrait 3.80 – Attitude … Read Full Article

The Unplugged: Developers Changing How the World Works

July 14, 2009 by

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Ruven Meulenberg (author of “The Unplugged“) who had mentioned oDesk in his book and wanted to delve a bit deeper into our motto of “Changing How the World Works.” We had a very fruitful conversation, and you may see future guest posts from Ruven and his team on this blog, but I wanted to begin by introducing you to the book and some of the principles presented in it. There are some extremely powerful ideas addressed in this book, especially when  you consider the entire thing is only 95 pages long! The writing is a bit “rough” but the concepts are solid and definitely worth diving into. It starts by discussing the effect change has on a project (specifically a development project, but I think the idea can be almost universally applied.) As developers know, it is the change process in a project that complicates things. Freelance software developers feel this pain especially, as the specs for a project change and they may have to shift their contracts to account for additional time spent moving this item over there and modifying that background color from red to blue. The key to managing change, Ruven says, is moving all change to the beginning of the process. That’s right. All changes happen early on. In order for this to work, the second principle needs to be enforced. This is understanding that every development should be fundamentally the same and accepting the need to lay out a roadmap that can be applied to all development projects. Ruven asserts that all projects run the course of Cloud – Create – Contstruct – Control. (Essentially: brainstorm, design, build, test/tweak.) The book delves into this concept deeply, and I think … Read Full Article

Always Appear Professional: Learn from a Famous Media Prankster

July 13, 2009 by

Whatever you may think about the current fascination with obnoxious media pranksters (Ali G, Bruno), their results are somewhat stunning. They manage to hack their way through layers of PR consultants and access some of the world’s better known personalities for fake satire interviews. In this video, the farcically clad Ali-G (Sacha Baron Cohen) interviews the ex head of the CIA. While the whole scene is surreal, it is made possible by meticulous preparation on the part of the production company to make the interview offer look as official and legitimate as possible. When dealing with unknown companies and personalities – as we all do on the Web – we are conditioned to look for cues of legitimacy and signals of professionalism. We will often choose to move forward with a relationship if the right professional signals are in place, even if the company is otherwise unknown to us. An exposé into the snaring of these prank victims revealed the elaborate lengths the producers went to make the interview offer appear legitimate. “The letter is so thorough that the URL in the e-mail address at the bottom actually goes to Somerford Brooke’s fictitious one-page website. (Potential interviewees for Baron Cohen’s libidinous Kazakh persona, Borat, say they have been contacted by United World Television which maintains a suspiciously similar site.) The producers have even gone to the trouble to make sure Somerford Brooke and their other fronts are officially registered companies.” (, 2004) When a proper and professional business appearance is in place, the prank unfolds. Despite the inane and sometimes insulting questions, the interview continues, all on the premise of its legitimacy. I can think of no greater proof of the power of professional appearance. So What? Before you dismiss this as a bizarre outlier, … Read Full Article

Pricing Skills and Services as a Freelancer: Part 2, Tips and Quotes

July 9, 2009 by

Last week I began my series on pricing with some heavyweight current theory. I believe it’s almost always worth the time to become a better pricing and negotiation expert as the actions taken in the few hours of settling on terms can affect the output of countless hours working under those terms. A big part of negotiation is confidence and mental conditioning–how you react and respond will signal how ready you are to do business. People found ZOPA a valuable topic and I’ll find a way to drill deeper into it in future posts – the gist to keep in mind with ZOPA is all about knowing your customer intimately. This is a topic many bloggers cover and, in that spirit, this week’s post is about exercise for the pricing mind. I’ve collected some of my favorite blogs on the topic of pricing programming and freelance services and extracted the quotes I found most useful. A web design service’s blog tips on pricing: “Some potential clients will think your prices are high no matter what you charge. Some clients will understand what’s involved with designing and developing a website and others will not. Because there are people out there willing to design a website for next to nothing, some clients will think that you should be willing to do the same, even if your service is completely different. Try not to worry about turning clients off, and focus more on proving a service that’s worth the price (and being able to explain why it’s worth the price).” A web design blogger’s top pricing tips: “Some jobs will present challenges and opportunities for you to improve your skills and your experience. If you are interested in learning a new aspect of design, … Read Full Article

Reviving your Website, Reviving e-Commerce

June 26, 2009 by

Is your website or online store not doing so well? Is it in need of a spruce up? One way to breathe some life back into your online store and get people interested and visiting your website again is to revive it. With time, all websites can become stale and outdated if we don’t pay attention to them, and we should make efforts keep them fresh and current. Here are 6 tips to revive your website: 1. Have your site checked for broken links and remove them. It’s a cardinal sin to have a site with links that don’t work, and its one of the fastest ways to alienate your potential customer. Whilst you are there, check all existing links, and update the information to ensure its current, relevant and details any specials you have. 2. Give your homepage a facelift by adding new graphics, text, and information. Consider adding a creative banner. Remove old and dated images, and add new, fresh ones. Research your keywords and revamp your text with some effective keywords. 3. Add a new area on the website filled with resources, information, and maybe even some special deals for your customers. Use relevant keywords to improve your search engine ranking. For example, if you own a web design company, offer web design and development tips and advice. Show other businesses how to make the most of their web presence, or what to consider when looking for an e-commerce solution. By providing information and resources along with your products, you are giving people a reason to keep coming back. This is how you build trust with your visitors and get more sales. If you haven’t yet tried blogging, learn how to blog and get one added to your website. WordPress is an excellent … Read Full Article

Building on the Cloud

June 23, 2009 by has helped build a group of certified developers on oDesk, making our marketplace one of the best resources for buyers looking to use CRM solutions on the platform. And we’re hearing from the providers offering skills that being part of this latest certified group on oDesk is paying off as “cloud computing” reaches new heights. Rakesh Aggarwal is a developer in India who says demand for implementations has brought him a steady stream of customers since a buyer brought him onto oDesk last summer. “I was already developing applications on when one of my clients insisted on working through oDesk,” he says. “After my first successful job through oDesk—now I insist that my clients work through oDesk!” In its first three weeks, the group on oDesk has grown to about 60 programmers. Jobs were already on the rise—a year ago, about 10 jobs involving Salesforce CRM were being posted each month on oDesk. Today it’s between 40 and 50. Rakesh says the technology has a lot of appeal. “I knew this was the future of technology because it’s the fastest, most trusted and most complete platform for building and delivering applications in the cloud.” The cloud idea is simple—offering the full software platform as a service, so that the applications and data reside on the Internet (conceptualized as a cloud of servers), where a business can access them. This keeps in-house IT costs down and allows more flexibility and faster rollout of new services. Rakesh says a wide range of companies are taking advantage of the concept. “I’ve worked with individual developers who wanted to push their applications to Appexchange, and also with companies with more than 200 licenses, … Read Full Article