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Ask HN: On companies hiring remote developers and why don't you do it?
40 points by abuiles on Feb 19, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments
Giving the high demand for developers, I've seen more and more companies who hire developers remotely. Constantly we see posts of developers saying how awesome it is working remotely and how it has worked great for them and their companies.

Analyzing the "Who's hiring thread" for the last 5 months, I found that there are a "good" number of companies willing to do this, but still is not that much and a lot of them say "Just in US"

October Remote: 40 (16.1%), Total Posts: 248

November Remote: 35 (15.8%), Total Posts: 221

December Remote: 39 (17.0%), Total Posts: 230

January Remote: 26 (13.5%), Total Posts: 193

February Remote: 35 (19.4%), Total Posts: 180

Number of people re posting 4 times (1), 3 times (5), 2 times (23), 1 time (110)

I would like to hear, if your company hire remote developers, how has it worked for you, how do you find those guys?

If your company doesn't, what are the main reasons for this? what would it take you to consider a developer in other state or country?

I've seen startups that are fine hiring "consultancy shops" whose developers are overseas but not hiring the developers directly, why is that?

DISCLAIMER: I'm interesting in the subject mostly because I'm working on a current solution to help companies and developers connect through engager.io, we believe there is a giant market of good developers outside the U.S, but unfortunately not all the companies want to hire remotely or can sponsor H1B1 visas.

The last 3 companies I have worked for (one of them a startup I cofounded) I have worked for remotely, I wrote about it http://arandomurl.com/2011/09/03/working-remotely.html

I was actually surprised speaking to a university lecturer today that had no idea companies like Mozilla hired people remotely. I had somewhat taken it for granted as the norm.

I remember reading your post. Really good stuff, I remember meeeting a couple of guys from couchbase in Berlin.

Well, I just got laid off from a company that decided to experiment with remote workers, then pulled the plug after six months.

They never really made an effort to incorporate remote workers into their culture. The development team is about 20 people, 4 of whom were remote. It was a trial and an effort to get work out of them; there were days I wouldn't have much to do. Managers would book meeting times and then miss them; you'd spend an hour waiting for a ping on Google Hangout or Skype, then go back to doing something else. Group meetings required dialing in because they felt having a spare laptop in the room for a Hangout camera was more effort than the voice-only conferencing system "we've always used."

Last week I was notified that the remote workers were being given an ultimatum: move to Silicon Valley or accept a layoff. I have a family, a mortgage, and roots where I live. I accepted the layoff.

I've worked remotely for three companies. At two it worked: the teams were small, and coordinated, and serious effort was made by management to involve themselves in the day-to-day worklives of their developers. Developers weren't left to wonder for weeks on end what their role, assignment, deadlines and deliverables looked like. The third left me exactly wondering that, and wondering why they threw their money away idling us. I guess they just couldn't hack it.

I'm in Melbourne, Australia, working (contractor) on a project based out of Sydney, Australia, with team members working in Georgia (state, not country), Alabama, California and in the Philippines. In the past, I've worked (from New Zealand) for a company out of Finland, and (from Melbourne)for a couple of companies out of SF.

My main experience of remote work is that a 'normal' 8 hour day doesn't work - everyone needs to be a little flexible with their days and hours of work both for regularly scheduled standup meetings and for ad-hoc conversations with workmates. The oft-seen "US only" may be a timezone related concern.

I understand that international payments are seen as comparatively cumbersome, and (for employees, at least) the tax situation may well be more complicated.

Actually that's something I would like more about, Isn't easy for a company to hire a contractor in other country?

I've worked as contractor for companies in the U.S and Germany, normally I would just send them a receipt and received my money without problems in my bank (I did have to take care of the taxes in my country).

My experiences with hiring and paying overseas devs have been pretty easy (I'm in the US).

We have paid using SWIFT transfers, which sometimes require a bit of work to set up, but nothing too onerous - it's like doing any complicated transaction at a bank. Once set up, the recurring payments are generally trivial - as you said, we get an invoice, send payment, and things are merry.

Tax-wise this is an expense like any other to our US-based company. Note that in this case the developers actually LIVE overseas. If somebody is in the US but is not a resident / authorized to work, then it's a whole different story.

Oddly enough, I'm an American developer outside the US working remotely for a US company.. I'm going to be starting my own company soon (as soon as we wrap up this funding agreement) and will focus uniquely on hiring remote (distributed) developers. As you've said, there is a ton of amazing talent outside of the US, and its actually a win/win by hiring remote. I will consider it as a competitive advantage until all of the "leading edge", "innovative", and "groundbreaking" companies out there in SV decide to catch up

That's true. Also I have noticed a couple of things here, one is that if you are American companies will have more willingness to hire you remotely or outsource work for you.

For instance I know at least 3 companies owned by Americans in my city, all their customers are in the U.S, the developers all locals, and they just act as "middleman". Seems like there are still some cultural barriers here?

I'm going to confess.. we Americans (I use the term "we" loosely..) often have a tendency to think that we're the center of the world, and everyone else out there on earth are no more than a bunch of barely literate savages, that at best, we have the divine obligation to go bomb, liberate, and introduce to democracy, freedom, and God. And our media reinforces this belief, so.. why consider otherwise. From the age of 4 years old, we're drilled with the doctrine of "We're #1!!" and hold our right hand over our hearts every day before school, and recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag http://www.wvsd.uscourts.gov/outreach/Pledge.htm

(my gf thought I was making this up)

So yes, there is a cultural barrier. No, its not fair.. neither is life. I hate it, and even as an American, its still a struggle for me to find remote jobs. But you know what? honestly? screw them. Money talks in the new age, and the rest of the world is catching up very very quickly

I really hate to play the douchebag card here, but the US DOES have several very good reasons to think it's the center of the tech world. Just don't make me start naming names...

I'm not saying the contrary.. but I'm a dev, an engineer (the real kind), and also a scientist.. I know how amazing entities in the US are at those fields, but I've also seen how well places outside of the US can keep up right behind. I think the legislation in the US has helped it keep is head start in alot of ways, as the environment just isn't up to par in many countries. But as far as raw skill of individuals goes, there are many many outside of the US who can keep up, or completely blow us away in all of those fields

Just some states. I think California is the most interesting of them.

But most are freeriders. I don't give a damn about Alabama's tech.

American companies will have more willingness to hire you remotely or outsource work for you.

I would not just limit this to being American. Being British I have felt that it has been a big contributing reason on why I have been hired over people from countries such as China or India.

I've worked remotely for the past 4 years as a contractor. I'm in Santiago de Chile, the headquarters are on Sydney.

It has worked fine most of the time, I remember only a handful of times in which I've had to stay up very late because of problems on the production server (we're 12-14 timezones apart!). The support for another of the products of this business is handled by another developer in Sweden, so it's a very distributed team :-)

I've also worked as a contractor with another team based in Cape Town, South-Africa.

To look for remote jobs, besides HN, check on StackOverflow. They allow you to filter job offerings by those which allow telecommuting, but many of them have clauses like "work from anywhere in the US" or "must be a US citizen or have a work permit to work on the US".

Companies hiring you will likely not want to pay more than the market rate for you, where "market" is defined as your geographical area. This limits the desirability of being a remote worker to begin with. It's also a mistake, IMO; companies that use this approach are likely to find themselves giving programmers nice CVs, who then go on to move to a different country with a better "market".

Another big barrier for smaller companies is the logistical difficulties in payroll, currency, international banking, tax compliance etc. - it's easier to be a contractor.

Thirdly, the company culture needs to be set up for remote working. Otherwise you'll have poor communications, and the remote people won't be plugged in to what's going on.

Companies hiring you will likely not want to pay more than the market rate for you, where "market" is defined as your geographical area.

That's true, I remember a client once asking me why was my rate so much higher than the average (I'm located in Colombia).

One of the most important things in remote development work is good communication between the employer and the client. This may sound obvious but it is still important.

If the employer and the client are not comfortable conversing in the same spoken language, it is almost guaranteed that the project will cost more money and be delayed. When dealing with a client or employer that does not have the competence of a native speaker in your language you must specify exactly what you need, as if you were talking to a child or machine. Most of the horror stories you see on sites like TDWTF are results of poor communication, not incompetence or malice.

Have you been through one of this situations?

I agree with this, as a freelancer/remote worker, one of your key assets is communication.

I'm going to guess that a lot of people in the US, like myself, have been brought in on projects that were originally developed overseas--projects that we're in pretty sorry states when the product owners finally gave up and hired a US developer. While it is obvious that there must be many excellent developers from all over the world, I can still say that my experiences with non-US developers have not been good.

(note: Most of the reason for this is because US companies going overseas are primarily doing so to save money and probably are trying to cut more corners than they should.)

What you said is true, but you can also find horrible code written by people in the U.S, so is not an I'm an American and you not issue.

I've seen projects like the one you mention above too, they were people who hired guys for $5/hour and expect to have the best work in the world. You get what you paid, I guess.

Yes, I agree. I think its cultural baggage from past dealings.

Can you articulate more on your bad experiences? and why this experiences are overseas-only problems?

I think it's just a question of all the "normal" problems associated with development but then amplified by language, cultural, and timezone issues. No big mystery there.

Well, we[1] don't hire remote workers, because we don't hire any workers yet, as a self-funded, bootstrapped startup. But, when we do get to a point where we can hire people, here's what I'm thinking:

1. If you limit yourself to "locals only" you stand to miss out on some good talent.

2. Distributed software development teams certainly can work in practice, just look at many F/OSS projects.

3. Guess what, all our stuff is OSS anyway.

4. But, there is extra coordination cost and overhead when it comes to dealing with remote workers.

5. And there are times you just want everybody in a big room together to hash things out. This is obviously harder with a distributed team.

6. All of that said, we'd almost certainly look into remote workers. Within that framework, I think there might be some slight preference for people in the US (less language barrier, fewer time zone issues, etc). The idea of "rural sourcing"[2] strikes me as interesting as well.

7. But we would definitely consider non-US as well. I've heard good things about working with folks from Eastern Europe (Latvia, Ukraine, Estonia, etc.), as well as the Philippines. I think South American countries like Brazil would be intriguing as well. But, at the end of the day, it's about a match between talent, skills and the needs, weighed against the tradeoffs of cultural barriers, timezone issues, language issues, etc.

8. Perhaps surprisingly, I see India as lower on the list of places to seek remote talent. Partly because the timezone, language and cultural mismatches seem more severe between India and the US, compared to some other choices. And also a perception (which might be flawed) that there are fewer individual developers in India looking for remote work. My perception is that it's all Infosys and their ilk when going to India, and that doesn't interest me so much. That said, I'm not saying we wouldn't work with folks in India, just that some other areas seem like they might be better options. But time will tell.

[1]: http://www.fogbeam.com

[2]: https://www.google.com/search?q=%22rural%20sourcing%22

disclaimer: all anecdotal experience

I work at a big co on the west coast and we have had developers in India, hired by the company's India arm, on some projects.

There are coordination issues because it's exactly halfway around the world, especially if a project requires collaboration with another department. Projects sent overseas need to be well-defined and self-contained to get a good result. This alone could cause you to shy away from hiring in other time zones.

Expectations and the engineering culture are different in the two countries. I have worked with India developers who produced work that was worse in terms of depth, quality, and maintainability than the same project later taken up in the US. I do not have an anthropological explanation, and the developers from India I've worked with stateside didn't have the same issues. /fireproof

More experience and tech muscle is concentrated in the US team. How about this: if you were highly skilled and experienced, as a rule you would have moved to the US for the greater opportunity and the big bucks. There's a positive feedback loop here, because banging together lots of skilled workers creates more opportunity and attractive companies, creating more motivation to come, and so on.

Thanks for you answer :), yeah, I know time zones is one of the main problems companies faced.

How about this: if you were highly skilled and experienced, as a rule you would have moved to the US for the greater opportunity and the big bucks

Makes sense, though there are a couple of things to consider one of them is visa issues. Also, not everyone wants to live in the U.S or Europe or leaving their hometown.

I dont really consider 'outsourcing' to be remote working, and as for the 'anthropological explanation' its pretty simply explained that outsourcing projects (to anywhere) are typically a self fulfilling prophecy of failure.

I'm a Canadian doing Android, BlackBerry 10, and other assorted dev work. I've done a mix of working remotely and working in the Bay Area. In fact, I'm here in the Bay Area right now. I don't mind a mix of the two, since it is straightforward for me to move back and forth. Most startups seem to like local workers, but it does vary.

From my experience, coding is something really easy to do as a remote worker. However, if you're more into "product design" or in a position where you have to take lots of decisions and communicate with the teams, I found it harder. Also, nothing beats the coffee machine or the beer after work to brainstorm on new ideas.

Seems that the nodejistsu guys have a strong team overseas: https://www.nodejitsu.com/company

"8 timezones: Covering the past, present and the future 7 countries: Equal chances for all employees"

Any Jitsuka here that can tell us more?

How are this stats correlate with odesk/elance and more companies stats? is there a similar trend? what about separate them by industry field? I imagine that financial companies are not hiring that much remote developers.

I'm a remote consultant, and I have no issues getting clients. But, I'm in the USA, and I'm an American citizen. I also have no problem hiring remote workers. My designer is from Canada (I got him through Reddit).

I am from brazil, and I wonder why noone want to hire me remotely (not even in Brazil!).

I just don't understand all those "US-only" hiring.

Hi speeder,

I have hired a number of devs in Brazil for telecommuting work in the past. We've done a fair amount of mobile dev, but mostly it's HTML / JS single load apps, not usually native iOS, and mostly apps, not games. I'm not sure if that would be a fit for you.

If you're interested, send me a resume please, and who knows? I may not have anything right now, but things come up here and there. Best of luck.

That is quite opposite of my skillset :P

I make apps, but I am focused in games, and I use C++, C, Obj-C, Lua, Java...

I don't know JS at all.

I'm not hiring right now (I'm solo) but like to have your resume... finding devs is hard, specially on latin america (is my impression a lot of latin america developers don't know about odesk and sites like that..)

Brazilian here. I think it just ain't accepted here yet. There is a strong culture that "if you aren't at your table, you aren't working". (when the employee actually just wants to take a walk to get fresh air and maybe solve the hard problems that need creativity...)

Have you tried writing to the companies who say "remote" in the "Who's hiring thread"? What do they say?

Many of those that say "remote" also specify that it is US-only.

I am wondering why.

And I don't tried to actually get hired yet (I have a startup, that yes, is running out of money, but no, I won't give up that easily :P)

But I am paying attention, as plan D in case my startup fails in plan A, B and C.

It's not so much the U.S. employment issues as it is the international/cross-border financial transactions compliance issues. Cross-border payments are generally subject to significantly greater (tax) compliance requirements and the penalties for non-compliance are generally steeper than they are for purely domestic compliance failures.

When you have int'l employees, you have all that plus the additional headache of figuring out which nation's employment laws apply to your employee, and when, and in what proportion. Thus, a US employer might have to pay FICA/Social Security for a foreign employee, or it may have to pay the foreign nation's simlar such employment/payroll taxes. The fees for the legal/tax advice could easily be a multiple of the foreign employee's salary, as could the penalties for non-compliance.

It's much less paperwork and trouble hiring somebody who has a U.S. work permit when you're a U.S. company. No worrying about e.g. Brazil's employment or tax laws. That's basically it. Boring and unfortunate, but true.

It is a much better set up if the overseas worker can set up their own company, especially in the case of Brazil. Then the US company does not need to worry about any of this, they simply wire (via SWIFT) payments monthly, for example, and there is very little overhead to the US company.

In the case of Brazil, the worker is also better off in this set up in general, as they'll end up paying a corporate tax rate, which will be much lower.

In theory this seems like an excellent idea. But in practice its a bad idea, for the very same reason as doing this for all your US employees is a bad idea. Generally if a person works exclusively for a company on an ongoing basis then they are an employee in the eyes of the law.

Yeah I've even seen pushback hiring from additional US states as there is more paperwork if the company doesn't already have employees there.

Hired as an employee - yes.

Hired as an independent contractor - no. Then the boring bits are to do with the independent contractor who has to just satisfy the hiring company they are compliant with Brazilian laws

I'm hardly an expert in Brazilian law, but in e.g. the Scandinavian countries, the company must register itself if it is paying more than one such contractor, i.e. paperwork. I'm sure there are other compliance issues judging from how adamant virtually every U.S. employer is that their candidates have U.S. work permits.

I work from the UK for a US company. They are not registered here, I had to fill in some forms with the US IRS but apart from that it was plain sailing.

Job advertised on LinkedIn, Interview on Skype, contract by email, never actually met my co-workers. Its the future folks !!

What about oDesk? It's as simple as using your credit card.

Could you please link to the "Who's hiring" thread, I can't seem to find a recent one and I'd like to take a look, thanks.

Just search "remote" in http://hnhiring.com/

I did not know this existed =| Seems like alot of companies are definitely jumping on the bandwagon now

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