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In Need of Extra Hands: Hiring Independent Contractors and External Vendors

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Hiring

25 June, 2020

Krzysztof Zmudzinski, Director of Engineering at Egnyte, shares a detailed list of recommendations on how to hire independent contractors and external vendors and get a pair of extra hands without regretting it down the road.

Problem

From time to time, you would find yourself in a situation in which you would lack either capacity or expertise within your team. The first scenario -- lack of capacity -- is more prevalent and comes in two flavors: you could either augment your team or you could assign contractors or vendors a separate, close-ended project.
 

Actions taken

First off, you have to secure the hiring budget by discussing your needs with your VP of Engineering or CFO and have them buy-in to your proposal in advance. Be aware of the amount of money at your disposal and plan your activities accordingly (e.g. how many people and for how long you could hire). That should be clear upfront in order to avoid any problems down the road.
 

Identify all independent contractors and external vendors you would consider hiring. The best way to do this is to tap into your network -- you know someone who works or owns a consulting company or your peer managers can refer someone. This is particularly useful when you need a group of people, not an individual contractor. If you are looking for an individual contractor, hiring platforms and well-placed ads would do.
 

After shortlisting a number of vendors, meet with them and learn more about their typical working environment and setup, the actual type of cooperation (onsite, their own office, or remote), their culture, and work process-related specifics (do they own the entire project end-to-end or do they send out people to different companies to be employed on various teams). It’s important to gauge their culture and assess if they would fit your setup. I could share a number of failure stories when vendors used to work on the close-ended projects and my company wanted them to be integrated with our team because the requirements were vague. We often had to pay them without getting much in return.
 

After narrowing the list down to one or two vendors, you want to vet their quality in terms of their employees’ technical abilities. I prefer to do my interviews as I would do with any other potential full-time employee, perhaps just slightly faster. I would bring onsite five candidates from company A and five from company B and compare their technical skills. One of the main concerns with contractors is their (in)ability to ramp up quickly (e.g. to be already familiar with your stack).
 

Once you decide on a vendor, be sure that you yourself are ready -- a setup in place should include a PM assigned to the project, outlined requirements, actionable roadmap, a mentor who could explain the process, and a senior engineer on the team who is responsible for code and design reviews. Since vendors are temporarily hired whatever they build you would have to maintain, therefore ensure that their knowledge and decisions are aligned with your architecture, best practices, etc. and that knowledge sharing is happening. You should assign people on your end to work with them and oversee their work; at least one reviewer should be from your team. Also, take care of some down-to-earth issues like logins, laptops, VPNs, etc. I personally prefer to add contractors to my team, i.e. to augment my setup. By working shoulder to shoulder with my engineers they are likely to feel part of the team and it would be easier for me to exercise control and impose our standards.
 

Lessons learned

  • If you can, always engage vendors over individual contractors since you wouldn’t have to worry about their paid time off, sick leaves, or someone leaving in the midst of the project. Vendors usually have a batch of engineers who could be swapped and plugged in. You would only need to deal with one person on their side, either with a project or account manager, which is easier than dealing with five single contractors.
  • Every hour costs money. Make sure that you could ramp up contractors quickly and be ready on the logistical, product, and engineering side.
  • Make sure that your regular team knows and understands what your contractors are building. First of all, they will need to maintain the contractors' code when they are gone. Moreover, contractors usually would be paid for eight hours per day so when contractors' code causes a production issue outside of their working hours someone would need to do firefighting. If you engage them that would cost you more, and overtime is oftentimes far more expensive.
  • Contracting is a good opportunity to make the right hire. Some companies go for a contract-to-hire agreement and after a year they could acquire an engineer for a small or no fee.

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