Photo Credit: Negative Space
A web developer's job is frequently summed up as "building websites", though the work involved is much broader than the phrase suggests. Some developers dabble in both the "front-end" (design) and "back-end" (server and database applications), while others specialize in certain languages, frameworks, content management systems, etc. In other words, every developer you meet will be different, so finding the "perfect" one can seem like a monumental task.
That said, if you already have a pool of candidates, it's still possible to whittle them down into a handful of people who fit your needs the most. One way to do that is by asking the following questions:
What are the websites you've worked on before?
It's always a good idea to go through a web developer's portfolio first. After all, you want to see whether the developer is capable of building the site you have in mind, delivering the results you expect, and complying with best practices in setting up a website.
Also, don't be dazzled by pretty websites so easily. Take time to browse the sites in the portfolio, check for red flags, and decide whether this is the person you want to work with.
What languages/tools are you familiar with?
Even if a portfolio looks impressive, you still need to dig deeper. For all you know, the developer may be claiming sole credit for the creation of a site, when in fact it was done with the help of an in-house/outsourced team. Therefore, you should also know what specific development skills the candidate has, how well-honed those skills are, and whether they're the skills you need.
Describe your process.
Aside from the developer's skills, their approach to problem-solving is also important. Do they attack every problem with tried-and-tested methods, or are they open to new approaches depending on the problem? Do they write down an extensive plan before they implement anything, or do they prefer the "trial-and-error" approach? Either way, make sure you're comfortable with your developer's working style.
What documentation can you provide?
Since building a website is such an enormous project, it will only help you to have at least an outline of it down on paper. Also, in-project milestones and irregularities (e.g. sudden bugs) should be noted down, along with documentation on how to maintain a website after it's completed. The more thorough the documentation a developer can provide, the better.
Do you use a contract?
The contract spells out the scope of the project, the payment terms, who owns which part of the website, the date of completion and other details pertinent to the obligations each party is expected to perform. As such, it can help minimize any project-related disputes in the future.
It's best to work with a developer who uses a contract with terms amenable to you. If the developer doesn't have a contract of their own, but you're determined to have them on board anyway, ask if they'd be willing to use one of yours. If they're reluctant to sign that, even though the terms are "fair" (however you define that word), you have to wonder why.
How often can we communicate throughout the project?
You need to know how the project is progressing, relative to the timeframe you agreed on with your developer. If it's possible for you to ask questions and raise other concerns throughout the process (and you should!), you can address any problems as soon as they arise. Ask the developer how often they'd prefer to communicate with you, decide whether you're comfortable with that frequency, and negotiate if necessary.
What other services do you offer?
There's so much more to websites than coding and design. If your developer provides other services (such as hosting, registering domain names and SEO), or can at least refer you to good providers of those services, it's a plus.
Will you train me throughout the project?
Unless you're well-versed in web development yourself, it might be difficult to stay on the same page as your potential hire. If the developer is willing to explain things to you in a way you understand, without oversimplifying things, you may have a keeper.
May I have a list of references?
Of course, all developers will claim to be "good" at what they do. The only way to check whether you can take their word for it is to ask for references, and contact them one-by-one. Take note of the ones who give specific reasons why a developer is a cut above the rest, as opposed to showering the person with vague, overused words like "awesome" and "innovative".
Do you have any other questions about my business?
This will tell you how invested the developer is in your project. If they only say "Yes" and "I agree" to everything you tell them, it's a red flag. If, on the other hand, the developer disagrees on some things (within reason), asks sensible questions about your goals/plans for your website, and seems sincere about helping you in any way they can, it's safe to assume that the developer doesn't think of your project as "just another job".
These are some of the questions you can ask an individual developer to decide whether they're a fit for you. You can also hire web development agencies/full-time employees instead, and modify the questions above for them. In any case, if you take time to hire the right person/organization for your web development needs, you can minimize problems, and find it easier to bring your online business one step closer to success.