Software Engineering · Offshoring

Considering the offshoring option for software development


April 8th, 2014

I'm trying to develop a software prototype on a bootstrap budget. Given the rates that hourly developers charge stateside, I'm considering an offshore development option. However, every (domestic) developer I run into advises me against it, and commences to tell me horror stories about cultural disconnects, sloppy coding practices and potential extortion risks. Does anyone have any:a) happy endings related to offshoring software development; and b) recommended approaches that I should take in the event that I do go the offshoring route?

Brian McConnell

April 8th, 2014

Unless you have technical management to oversee the developers (who is OK with being awake in the middle of the night for conference calls, and is experienced enough to detect bullshit and/or sloppy work), you might as well throw the money in the fireplace. You get what you pay for.

Michael Brill Technology startup exec focused on AI-driven products

April 8th, 2014

This topic has been covered extensively in previous FD threads. Do a quick search as there's tons of great advice in there that probably doesn't need repeating.

John Wallace President at Apps Incorporated

April 8th, 2014

Before we hire developers, we give them a programming test that should take 4-6 hours to complete. It's a test any competent programmer should be able to ace. Our pass rate is only 20%. Bad developers are everywhere. The challenge is weeding through them to find the good devs. 

Nicole Donnelly Creating HappyCampers Every Day

April 8th, 2014

Hi James, It really depends where you go to outsource and how you work with them. I have an outsourcing company in the Philippines and I'd never do dev in India and I have worked with developers there. I've also worked with the Ukraine and other countries. It totally depends on you and how you test them and work with them. Or if you go with a company like ours, how we test and how you train them. Let me know if you want any best practices on hiring your outsourced person. Happy to share. ᐧ

Robert Tolmach Entrepreneur and Social Entrepreneur

April 8th, 2014

I have a guy to suggest who attended Parsons, worked for them, then worked for us in NY for several years, understands the US system, and continues to do freelance work for us from his current home in India. Stronger at front end than back end. (Our sites are Ruby on Rails). $50 an hour. Glad to connect you if it is a fit. Certainly do not work with anyone overseas who you or someone you know and trust has not worked with. There is also an org that does coding in return for equity: Started by a Cornell grad. US-based, I believe. Have not worked with them. Best Robert

David Fox

April 8th, 2014

A topic near and dear to me, given that I run a offshore game development team (based in Armenia). I believe it comes down to what I call paired management:

1) An onshore product manager / dev director with technical chops. Needs to be in a similar time zone and, more so, mind zone to to the client, and understands the client's needs in and out.

2) An offshore technical director who runs the team and knows her engineers strengths in and out.

These two people should have a rapport and be joined at the hip -- looking at the same tasks, specs, code, and bug tracking on a daily basis.

When that happens, things go perfectly smooth -- or at least as smoothly as a local team, given the controlled craziness that is software development.

Ahmad Zahran Non-Linear Thinker | Strategist | Entrepreneur

April 9th, 2014

We've outsourced much of our development for many years. We've tried developers from India, Philippines, Ukraine, South Africa, UK, US, Canada and a bunch more. What nobody tells you is that the location of the developer/development team is irrelevant as long as you're willing to put up with the long distance communication style that's needed. 

What' more important though is that good and bad developers are everywhere and it can be very tough to weed out the good from the bad. If you land a crappy developer it could cost you dearly as a startup since most of us don't have enough cash to make mistakes. Watch out for low cost development. As a matter of fact I would recommend you use price as an initial indicator of of how to weed out low quality. There's a reason a developer charges $20 an hour and it's not because she/he is in high demand. As the saying goes, if you pay with peanuts you'll get monkeys.

Mark Lummus

May 15th, 2014

Are you still looking for answers? If not, what did you decide?
if so, here's my $.02.

I would not hand off a project to any outsourced team to do, as in 'build this widget for me'. This is kissing your money goodbye.

I would use contractors to augment your in-house team. Use an agile process (like scrum) and get them working as a part of your in-house team, participating in daily meetings, adjusting their schedule to increase time zone overlaps. You can use video conferencing tools (Skype,, et al.) to improve communications and develop rapport with them. If possible, have them come to the US for a week or two and work on-site - this is invaluable if you can do it.

You will absolutely need someone in-house to own the work and lead the team - could be a product owner, or a dev manager - but you absolutely need to be leading from an in-house person. Allowing your leadership to be outsourced is a very dangerous position, as they can definitely leave you empty-handed. Especially if you are developing critical IP. 

WRT location, I have used contractors in Mexico, Romania, and China. I highly recommend Romania - the quality of engineers is very high, their english skills are good, and you can get many hours of timezone overlap (we had 6 hours here in Atlanta). The problems with China (and India) have been stated - the timezone difference is a challenge to manage around. Now I am hearing about good engineering solutions coming out of Brazil. Anything in Latin America will be good from a timezone perspective.


Mike Moyer

April 8th, 2014

I've been doing offshore technology for about 10 years and have spent thousands (maybe millions) overseas. I am not a developer myself and I have plenty of horror stories as you mentioned. Now that I have experience I can tell sh*t from shinola, but I didn't start out that way.

The best thing to do is start dabbling now with design and front-end marketing-type development that's not mission critical. You have to be very specific about what you want done and communicate constantly. I have my guys to a daily report of what they are working on. If your communication drops off so will their activity.

Next, move into light development projects for proof of concept work. Most of the stuff I do overseas is basic. I wouldn't do enterprise-level development unless I had a stateside technology cofounder.

Today I have full and part time development staff in the Philippines, Serbia and Canada.


April 8th, 2014

There are some places that have a hybrid model. For example, They have offices in China and Europe and have a near continuous development cycle, reducing development time and keeping costs low. For full disclosure, I used to work there, but do not anymore. But I would recommend them if the price is right for you.