How to hire a Rails developer

As the co-founder of Mashion and organizer of Philly.rb I get a lot of emails from people looking for Rails developers. To help spread the word and maybe do a little less typing, I decided it was time for a blog post.

Before we get into it you should know that finding a good developer in any technology is difficult. Even in larger developer pools like Java or .Net, isolating the top talent is difficult. The pool of Rails developers is of course smaller, but also contains some extremely high quality developers. Here are some of the key points I’ve settled on when helping people find the right developers for their company.

1. Get involved

There are probably some user groups near your area. Maybe even a Ruby user group. Google them, go to a meeting. This is easier when you know a little programming, since the conversation will be mostly technical. If you have even one developer now, send them. If you’re the only person in your company, just show up anyway. Establishing a presence in the community goes a long way. The more often people see you, the more likely your company will come to mind when people think about changing jobs.

2. Be a Presenter or a Sponsor

This is a continuation of the first point. Being at the meeting is a great start. Being at the podium is even better. And it’s a bonus if you’re talking about cool technologies or business ideas. If no-one in your company can present on a technical topic, sponsor a meeting. Most groups accept sponsors for food, space, or giveaways. So you can probably find an option that works even if your budget is pretty tight. In exchange you’ll usually get mentions in the meeting promotions or a chance to talk about your company while everyone’s paying attention. This varies between groups, so contact the organizer for info.

3. Don’t talk about your degree

Whether it’s technical or business-related, most of what interests Rails developers doesn’t come from a classroom. People are much more interested in hearing about your experiences in real companies, delivering real products. If you don’t have any experience, that’s okay too. Just be honest about it. Rails developers are very aware that good business ideas can come from anywhere.

4. Have a business plan

How are you going to make money? Knowing your target market and having a marketing plan is best. Having a good shot at a buy out is passable. Selling advertising is unlikely to get anyone’s attention. If you’re profitable today, pitch that. If you’re not profitable yet, emphasize what your company has to offer in technology or lifestyle interest. Having VC backing is fine, but it’s not a big selling point. Same goes for equity offers. Most of us experienced what happened in the dot-com bubble and are not eager to repeat it.

5. Don’t hire a “Rails” developer

The best developers I know don’t classify themselves as “Rails” developers. They might do most of their business in Rails, but they also do JavaScript, Clojure, Erlang, Objective-C and a multitude of other languages. They have side projects using technologies even I haven’t heard of yet. The web development landscape changes rapidly, so you’ll need people who are constantly challenging themselves to learn more.

As with any blog post, these are just some ideas that have helped me. If you have some points of your own, please comment. I welcome the feedback.

Good hunting.