Finding your first employee — or even your first freelancer — can be a nerve-wracking experience. You need to know that he’s going to be able to really do the work you want him to do, before you ever sign a contract.
In the past, that could be problematic, because few developers maintained portfolios to show prospective employers or clients. But today, there’s an incredibly easy way to find a bunch of coders with great skills and go over code they’ve already written before you even talk to them. It’s GitHub.
Find First, then Hire
Almost two million developers have repositories on GitHub these days. You can search for languages, keywords and other information that can help you find several ideal developers, without having to go through an exhausting application process.
The best coders, after all, probably aren’t putting in too many applications for jobs. Freelancers may be a little more likely to pitch for a new project. If you’ve got a specific skillset in mind, though, you need to go out and find it. Don’t wait for the perfect programmer to show up on your doorstep.
So, take some time to browse through public repositories, preferably long before you actually need to hire someone. Start bookmarking the people that would be a good fit — and maybe even a few of the rockstars who may be a long shot but who may also have an interest in what you’re working on. Search for anything that has a connection to what you’re working on.
Take a Page from Big Business
Major companies are already using GitHub as a recruiting ground (I can speak from personal experience on this one), but because you know your own code inside out, you can actually go one better. You don’t just want to see skill with a specific language. You probably have some clear ideas of what projects you’re going to throw at someone long before you find a good fit for the work — you may want to look for familiarity with a particular API, the ability to optimize or even some really good documentation as you’re rummaging through a potential hire’s public repositories.
One spot that those major companies are falling behind, though, is that they don’t look far from the actual code: I know of a couple of cases where recruiters tried to convince someone they’d found through GitHub to apply for the job they actually already had (same company and everything)! So dig a little deeper and make sure you’ve got the right person for you. Check LinkedIn pages, personal sites and so on.
Once you’ve got your eye on a few specific candidates, it’s time to start contacting them. Start with the first coder on your list. Send her a short email and find out if she’s willing to even consider a job with you. You may go through a couple of people who aren’t interested, but you will find someone ready to move to the next step. That means interviews and the due diligence you need to do to make sure that this person is as good as she looks on GitHub.