Is that Dev Shop Really Just a Freelance Broker?

September 01, 2016
By Chris Cali Mar 4, 2015

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of organizations that call themselves “dev shops.” I write those words in quotations because the simple truth is that not all of these really were development shops. Or, more accurately, companies that call themselves dev shops actually fall into two categories:

1. Actual development shops with full-time engineers, and
2. Companies representing collections of freelancers who may be quite far flung.

This distinction is an important one–and one not widely acknowledged–because, based on its scope, your software development project may require a team of engineers. A “dev shop” whose muscle is primarily made up of freelancers can competently handle smaller projects that require one or two engineers, but more serious projects require a cohesive team.

Organizations that rely on remotely distributed freelancers find it difficult develop strong teams. These companies are less capable of supporting their employees’ career development, which can aggravate turnover, and providing adequate training. Collocated work environments are ideal for building the relationships and nuanced communications that make a big difference in training scenarios.

I use the analogy of looking under the hood of a car to describe the kind of verification process that every CTO (or equivalent decision-maker) should go through when selecting a long-term development partner. Just as you would never buy a car without checking out what is inside, you should do your due diligence and assess a potential dev partner’s onsite environment and structure.

In an ideal world, this means visiting the office and assessing culture, environment and competency in person. Do most of the engineers work onsite? How strong are their English language skills? Are employees able to speak honestly and openly (i.e. can they be valuable contributors to a team)? Does the environment promote collaboration and focus?

In many cases, of course, it will be prohibitively expensive to visit a development shop just to verify that their workers are indeed onsite (especially if the developers you are vetting are offshore). In this case, ask pointed questions in your conversations over the phone as to the office makeup–how many workers are onsite? Are they freelancers, hired on a project-basis? How does the vendor conduct trainings and keep their staff up-to-date on the latest technologies? Do the engineers know what is required of them to advance to the next level in their career? I recommend speaking directly to employees and engineers to get a fuller picture of their workforce.

At DevSpark, we’re no strangers to flexible staffing engagements–we have teams in NYC and Argentina, and we frequently send staff onsite to client’s offices to work in staff augmentation capacities. But because we base our teams in centralized offices, we are able to guarantee our engineers’ skill-sets, their ability to collaborate and their commitment to the team.

Contact me at to learn more about our agile team and offerings.

Chris Cali is the CEO & Co-Founder of DevSpark.

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