This is part of a series to help entrepreneurs work with external developers. This post will give a brief overview of the types of developers and how they work.
Once you’ve determined a FTE isn’t the best fit, how do you find the right people to do the work? The first step is understanding the different types of development organizations and how they work.

What are the types of external developers?

Here are some categories I use to classify the different types of external development organizations.


     Moonlighters have full time jobs and do additional development on the side. Rates are commonly reasonable. When a dev already has a full time salary, a little extra cash can go a long way. They can be a good source of help for smaller projects with flexible deadlines. Moonlighters are not a good choice for sustained development cycles. When they are crunched for time at their job or at home, your priorities suffer. Burnout is common for moonlighters who work too much for too long. I rarely work with moonlighting developers, but have been on projects with moonlighting designers that have gone well.

Solo Consultants

     Solo Consultants are developers who conduct business by themselves. They handle the sales, billing and development as a single person. With low overhead, they often provide the best development value for money spent. Careful, many solo developers rates are low because they aren’t running sustainable businesses. Devs who aren’t running sustainable businesses will soon be unavailable. They burnout or take Full Time employment from one of many lucrative job offers available.

Dev Shops

     Dev shops are developers who have banded together as a group or have expanded from a work of a Solo Consultant. They can range from 2 people to mid-size organizations. As an organization they tend to be tech heavy with leadership with strong technical backgrounds. The founders often started the company by doing the development work themselves. They charge premium rates and deliver premium value.

Consulting Companies

     Larger organizations that specialize in hiring developers and billing them out on demand. They have a full corporate structure of business development staff, human resources and project managers. Rates can be slightly lower that a top Dev Shop, but usually not by much. Even with a comparable billing rate, the quality of developers varies widely. They can deliver quality work, but don’t have the nimbleness of smaller organizations. Expect to pay more since you’re also paying for the overhead of running a larger business.

Offshore Consulting Companies

     Offshore companies are a subset of Consulting Companies. Their main difference is their development teams are located in parts of the world where the cost of living is lower. This provides competitive hourly rates but communication across timezones and language barriers can reduce, or completely negate, the cost savings.

Note: This is obviously a broad way of classifying development organizations. Many organizations have characteristics of multiple types.

Types of work

Staff Augmentation (Staff Aug)

     A developer working as Staff Aug will act as a member of your team. They typically work at your worksite and will bill 40 hours per week for the duration of their engagement. The client is typically responsible for providing a development machine and workspace for Staff Aug arrangements. Staff Aug is a good option for projects under continuous development. Many developers enjoy the stability of long term contracts and you reap the benefits of having smart people focused on your problems to sustained periods.

Project based

     A developer working on a project basis will deliver features defined by the client. This can range from an entire application to a smaller subset of features. They deliver work on a defined deadlines but manage their own schedule and use their own equipment.

Time based

     Consultants working on time based project bill units of their time. This is usually hourly but weekly is becoming more common. They work during the defined time period and provide their own equipment.

Again, these are broad ways of classifying types of working arrangements, but it gives a baseline to compare.

In this post we’ve given broad descriptions of different types of development organizations and projects. Next post we’ll discuss how to determine which companies are the best fit for your business.

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