Why not hire part-time developers?
Very few companies even consider this option, and that's a mistake
Having a hard time finding good talent?
There’s now a hiring crisis in tech, which is unsurprising to me considering how stupidly most companies are managed. Covid caused a lot of people to re-evaluate their lives and careers, and there’s been a trend of people wanting to work remotely as well as start their own businesses.
As a developer, the hiring process has been broken for a while; with FAANG companies throwing leetcode problems at us and startups requiring 10 years of experience on technologies that are 2 years old. They want rockstars, but they themselves are not that. Once we do join a company we often spend most of our time working on unnecessary problems, with over-fitted teams (do you really need 40 engineers to build this?), and little room to grow or be promoted.
The fact is, the fantasy that you hire someone who ends up being like a co-founder is a joke. I, like many others, learned the hard way not to ever get invested in a company I don’t own. We don’t get rewarded for it - we get bullshit stock options and pats on the back.
Overall, fewer developers want to be employees anymore.
Maybe a compromise is in order
You want someone dedicated to your company and delivering results. I want to be proud of my work and live my life. I don’t see a conflict there, but I am seeing a growing stack of gripes that aren’t being addressed.
Let me throw one more gripe into the mix: with all of the mentioned above, a lot of us don’t want to, or can’t work full-time. None of us even work full-time as it is, considering that most engineers only have about 4 hours of productive energy each day, unless they’re utterly obsessed with a project or pumped full of stimulants. Even then, going over that limit often causes more problems than it fixes.
Throughout my career I’ve noticed that when I work about 4-5 hours on something, I’m done. Regardless of whether I’ve allocated 6 or 8 or 10 hours to it, I either finish my tasks, or I run out of runway to finish them. Most of the time spent after that is just obsessive tweaking.
When I’m building my own projects, this is great. I simply stop and pick it up again the next day. By being disciplined in putting in the work each day, and not overdoing it, I end up architecting solutions that are simple and elegant.
When I’m working a full-time job as a developer, it’s a soul killer. I pretend to work, take a long lunch, and generally fuck around while I rationalize it as useful in some way. Meetings and other responsibilities pad the time, but a developer generally doesn’t have that many other responsibilities - and I’m currently only talking about developers, not tech leads or managers. It’s a waste of time and doesn’t have much positive effect on the project. I wouldn’t say it has a negative effect on the project, but the gains are minimal. Some days I might have a eureka moment and fix a quick issue before the day is done. On other days, I might start hating the management.
A year ago, as I began trying to build my own business, I realized I need to bootstrap and I only have one option of doing that: consulting. Then I considered the 4 hour problem, and thought: what if I get a part-time job? The company would get a senior developer putting in 90% of the work for half the price - or basically the same price as a junior. I would get time to work on my own projects, and steady pay. Seems like a win-win.
Working part-time could let developers give their best to a project without the burden of emotional blackmail in the form of “9 to 5”. They could be required to be available for meetings and firefighting outside of their 4 hours, and still have way more free time. With a good developer and a well managed project, you wouldn’t even notice a difference in output.
Not a chance. Every recruiter and company I applied to was either extremely skeptical or out-right rejected the idea. They acted as if I was handing them the short stick.
So now I’m a consultant.
Why is it so ridiculous to hire part-time developers?
The answer seems obvious to me: because other people aren’t doing it and it hasn’t been considered rationally. Inertia, or “this is how it works” kinds of excuses that mean employers never have to critically think about their employee structure, team management, or project requirements.
There are some legitimate concerns: like unproven work ethic, the fear that part-time must mean a 4-hour time block before or after which the developer hides in a bunker and becomes unreachable, problems with team management, or maybe just taxes. But I haven’t heard any of these being brought up or dealt with.
It seems to me that tech employers are only willing to negotiate on terms they find “normal”, as opposed to “good for the company”. We’ve seen the 4 day work week movement gain momentum, and remote work is basically offered everywhere now. It’s not so funny anymore, is it?
“We can’t give candidates so much power”
That ship has sailed, but you might also be looking at the wrong ship. All things considered, I’m essentially an advocate for hiring fewer people and with more precision. This isn’t a strategy for every company, but many smaller companies could reap great benefits from doing this.
Streamlining hiring practices doesn’t mean you have to shove everyone into the same box. What if it was considered part of your business strategy? Hire the right people for the right job, under the right conditions. Not using hiring as a means of brute-forcing “more dedicated man hours”. Be a little more deliberate, and build a better team.
Maybe someone could develop a solution that helps companies juggle teams working on different schedules effectively. Maybe that already exists, or maybe I’ll have to do it myself and start a company - in which case I’d definitely be open to hiring part-time employees with proven track records. Why the hell not?