Sweet and Sour(ce)


I feel a little sad when I neglect my blog, I have to admit. But the amount of work I have had over the past couple of months has been staggering. And knowing how up and down the work of a freelancer is, I am loathe to say no to any particular project. At some point however, I will have to. I have a project coming up that I decided to take as an experiment. Because I don’t really have the time to do the entire thing myself, I will do the design and technical architecture, and then have it built to my spec by a programmer I will hire over the internet. This is the first time I have done this type of thing, and there are all sorts of practical, ethical and emotional questions swirling about my head, for example:

Personal growth – Part of the reason I like being so “hands on” with everything is that I learn more by doing than by directing other people to do, and I generally find it to be more satisfying. I don’t like the idea of being removed or remote from my work product.

Risk – This is somewhat new territory, and a big part of the success of this project will depend on some factors outside of my control, ie a remote programmer. What if something goes wrong and he screws up the project in some way? What if our interaction at a distance does? What if I am left holding the bag and having to recover from something that is on a tight schedule?

Exploitation – There are multiple things about hiring someone in this way that beg the question, “Is this exploitation?”.  If I hire a programmer in India because I can get a good one for $20/hr, is it wrong? Should I hire a programmer in the US at $60/hr with lower (or the same) skill instead? What is the difference? Especially when that $20 there actually goes a lot further than $60 here? Is this a question of loyalty, and to whom? Myself, my country, my planet, my profession, or something else? What about markup? I went to the trouble to find and hire said programmer, am I to recharge my client exactly what I am paying, or a little bit more? And if so, what is just?

Cost and Quality – Hiring someone in this way will actually reduce the total cost to the client, because I am not charging my full rate for anything but the hours I actually work. The quality of what is produced may be better, or it may be worse that what I would make alone.

I don’t think there are necessarily “right” answers to the questions above, but they are the ones that are preoccupying me. I will of course make some decisions in the next few days and time will tell if I have made the correct ones. And really, this is just one small project, not the end of the world. That said, it does represent a distinct change in the direction of my work life.  As such, I must consider carefully if this is the path I want to walk on.


  1. Robert Bentley says:

    First of all, You need to be loyal to yourself. The bottom line here is making money.

    I’ve basically been in the contracting business for 30 years. The biggest risk factor is in the labor portion of any project. (although, you do not really have any materials). Can I complete on time, will my sub create a top notch product.

    The important thing for you, is to ensure that you give your sub-contractor precise instruction as to what you want, what your objectives are and what the end product should look like. I would ask for samples of the subs prior projects for review before offering a purchase order.

    You are between the Sub and your client, ie, if the client does not like the end result. It will entirely be your problem, since your sub is one step removed etc.

    You need to stay “On Top” of the process at all times ask for progress reports (ie, samples of the work progress to date etc)

    As to mark-up, refer to the first comment. Money being the bottom line. I always go for twice my cost on material resale and as to labor, depends on which client it is (anywhere from $125 – $200 per hour) unless you have quoted a fixed firm price etc. (Time and Material not to exceed etc)

    Good Luck (It’s a tough business world)


  2. Stephen says:

    Thanks for the comments, Robert. I am fortunate in the programming and web world that (as you say) there are no materials costs up front. Although with hiring someone over the internet there is money I must deposit upfront in escrow, but that is for the safety of all involved. I will probably be using a service like odesk or elance that deal with all the messy intermediary stuff (and take a cut).

    As for staying on top and progress reports, this won’t be very different from the years I have done just that at other companies, other than it being remote. And even there, the companies I mention above make the contracter agree to install software on their machine that takes screenshots at random moments of the work they are doing for review. You are quite right about needing to be precise in my specs and instructions however, especially with remote programmers.

    In short, though, my worries are not so much the practical ones, and the bottom line is not just about money for me. I am also trying here to negotiate the ethical and semantic questions in what I am doing with respect to my own work and learning, and using the work of others in a fair way.