How To Compete With Cheap Programmers?

Written By John Sonmez

There's no doubt that the job landscape is going through profound changes. The internet has linked all continents and people can now communicate all around the world. However, this didn't come just in forms of communication, but it has also changed how people hire and the optimal way for Software Engineers to work.

It is no news that now, despite being locally limited, you can now compete with programmers from all around the world. It can be good because you're not limited to a geo area anymore but it also has some downsides. One of the biggest downsides is competing with cheap programmers.

How do you compete with them? If pricing is one of the major factors that come into play for hiring someone, how do you get to bypass it?

Today I'm going to teach you how to compete with cheap developers from India. I got this question, and I get this question a lot about how to compete with cheap programmers. It's not meant to be offensive in any way. It's just an honest question. This I really something that you have to worry about if you're a developer especially if you're a freelancer today and especially if you're using platforms like Upwork and whatnot.

Robert says, “Hello. I want to be a web developer an also a freelancer. There are a lot of cheap web developers from India and other countries. What should I do different if I want to be better and also be hired? Should I learn more languages, more frameworks? I also want to be better paid than them. What will make me different?”

I definitely have a lot of opinion on this simply because I've been on both ends of this as a software developer, as a freelancer and especially now as someone who hires a lot of people off of Upwork. I spend a lot of time. I hire programmers off of there. I just hired a programmer off of there and for fairly cheap and got a good job done on it. I'll tell you what I'm looking for. I'll tell you what makes a difference. I'll tell you why you can compete with that guy from India that's charging $5 an hour to do PHP development and he knows 15 different frameworks and programming languages and it really seems hard to compete with him.

The biggest thing that you can do, bar none, is to communicate effectively. This is why this channel exists. If you want to read more about this, I mean I'll talk about this briefly in the video. Definitely check out my book if you haven't already. Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual. But the key thing is communication skills and the ability to instill confidence in the person that's going to hire you. If I put out a rec on Upwork and I'm looking for a developer, I had a job out for someone to convert my Photoshop so I did a 99Designs for a landing page for one of my—for my book, actually for my new book. You can check that one out. Actually, it's called The Complete Software Developer's Career Guide. Go check that out and you can check out the landing page and the trailer and everything there, but I had someone design that and then I had to hire someone on Upwork to convert Photoshop to HTML to the web and get it working on WordPress, so stuff that I could probably do, but this is the kind of tips that I hire out now, not super programming work, not in depth technical things, but the thing—what I was looking for was not—I didn’t go and look.

When I'm evaluating the people that apply for the job, I didn't go and look and say what kind of skills do they have. I didn't look and see how much years of experience of PHP or HTML or web development they had. I looked at a couple of things. I looked at their portfolio to see if they've done work that's challenging, but before I even looked at that I looked at how they responded and communicated to me, because I made a pretty detailed job description saying what I wanted and some of the pitfalls and some of the concerns that I had. There were certain people that responded that addressed all of my concerns that said, “Look man, I understand.” They got me. They're like, “Okay, I see what you're trying to do here. You want to make sure that this I done right. You did this on 99Designs. You want this to be pretty much pixel perfect. You want to put this is in a content builder so you can edit this. Okay, this is how I can do this. I'll make sure that I get this done for you. No problem, don't worry, I understand what you're taking about, what your requirement is about being able to edit it because you're going to be need to be able to change it and you don't want to have to mark-up he HTML. We can put it into a page builder that you have on your site, on your WordPress site.” Described all the stuff and alleviated all my concerns.

Those people that did that, those were the people that I looked at strongly and I ended up hiring because they demonstrated more than the technical proficiency, because I know that if someone communicates at that level, if they look at what needs to be done and they could tell me where there's going to be issues, if they can tell me how they're going to execute on that and regurgitate to me my own concerns on the project and the things that I've described in there and actually take the requirements and break that down and say, “Okay, this is what—” and to even have some questions for me, that means that they get it. I trust them. I trust their competency because that's an expert level of competency and that's someone who's going to deliver on the work.

I'm not looking for the cheapest person in that case, whereas a lot of people responded to that job and responded to a lot of jobs I put out for programmers or anything on Upwork and they say, “Yes sir, I can do it. I'm your man.” In Upwork, you can put questions and you can ask certain questions that they have to fill out. I ask always these evaluation questions asking them about have you done this before or what do you think about this issue or—I ask some questions to filter people out. There will be developers from India and from other countries that will just say, “Yes, sir. I've done it.” Or give me, “Yes, yes” one-word answers or say, “No worries, no worries, man. I can handle it for you.” That doesn't instill a lot of confidence. There's no way I'm ever hiring one of those guys unless they're like 2 bucks an hour and I hire someone else and I just hire them just to see what they end up doing, but I have no trust and no confidence in them.

The difference can be huge. One of these guys could be charging 5-10 bucks an hour and actually the guy that I ended up hiring I think ended up charging 35 bucks an hour or 40 bucks an hour. I've hired people at 100 bucks an hour on Upwork. Why? Because they communicate. Even though there are competition, even though there were people that had more skills listed on their profile or on their resume, even though that was the case and those people were charging $20 an hour, I might hire the $100-person because I know that they are going to communicate, because they understand the project, because they've done that.

In summary, this is what I'm saying is basically this. If you want to compete with those guys don't try and compete with them on technical skill. That's silly. That's ridiculous. These guys can spend so much time improving their technical skills or putting all this stuff on their resume. If you're in a third world country, I mean some of you are, if you are, you know if you don't have a job and your only source of income is Upwork and if making 10 bucks an hour is going to let you live pretty nicely, you can spend a whole bunch of time learning technologies and getting all this technical knowledge, but the application of that, the ability to communicate and actually execute on the project, that's what's more important and that's what I'm looking for and that's what a lot of people that want to work with you.

Because it doesn't matter. I mean there are tons of people that have the technical skills, but if I have to spend my time, if I have to spend 2 extra days communication with you because you misunderstood it wrong or giving you explicit instructions because you don't get it that's more expensive. I'd rather pay someone twice, 3 times what you're charging and have it done right and trust them and not have to meddle in it as much. That's how most entrepreneurs, that's how most businesses think. That's what you've got to think about. Don't think about competing on the technical level. Have the technical competency, but when it comes down to applying for a job or soliciting prospects for the work that you're going to do make it very clear.

I'll give you some real simple explanation. One, make it as clear as possible that you understand what they're trying to do, regurgitate it back to them, paraphrase it, and make it very clear that you understand what they want. That's the biggest thing that's going to help you more than anything else. As soon as you read someone who does that response to a job, you get this sigh, “He gets it.” You have that confidence. Number 2, communicate the expert level stuff, the problems you have, questions you have, how you plan on doing things, implementation details that show that you're not just bullshitting. You're not just saying, “Oh yeah, I can do this job. I can do anything.” You actually have thought about it and have communicated that. Those are going to be the biggest things that are going to make the biggest difference. That's why I dedicate what I do at Simple Programmer to helping developers in other areas of life especially in soft skills because that is so, so important especially as more and more development jobs become commoditized this is going to become more and more important so pay attention here and make sure that you do that if you want to be able to compete in this global marketplace.

For you guys also that are in third world countries, if you're in India, if you're in places like this and you're on Upwork and you're just responding with “Yes sir” to a job, you're ridiculous! Stop wasting your time responding to every single job application that comes out there and start responding to a few of them with very detailed responses like I just gave the advice here and you're going to kill it. You're going to kill it on Upwork, I promise you.