Rent A Coder:How Software Gets Done
When I first decided that I wanted to work remotely instead of shuffle around from site-to-site jobs in Savannah, GA, I did a little investigatory research into my options. By the end of the week, I decided I was left with two safe options: RentACoder and oDesk.
I say safe because, unlike some of the other more notorious contract coding sites on the 'net (*cough* ScriptLance *cough*), there's really no way to be cheated out of getting paid. RentACoder uses an escrow service, which is pretty much a requirement for a fixed-bid system. They've got an arbitration system that works quite well from what I've seen. oDesk is based on an hourly rate system, so its not really that much of an issue and they make the guarantee on their site that you always get paid for hours worked, so that's cool too.
RentACoder works on a fixed-bidding auction-style system. Potential buyers put up projects, maybe set a price range they feel the most comfortable with, and sellers -- that is, coders -- put up bids. Bids are basically how much the coder would charge to complete the auction's specifications before the deadline.
RentACoder has a very low barrier of entry: anyone can sign up for an account and start bidding on jobs. That's definitely a bonus in my book; it's one of the main reasons I chose to try doing RentACoder full-time, but more on that later.
Although I've had my RentACoder account for almost a year, I never used it until about two months ago. That was the first time I investigated RentACoder, and I was not pleased with what I saw. Back then you could view the bids of other coders, both the messages left and the bid amounts, and it was... let me just say that it was a mess back then, in my opinion.
That was a year ago, though, and things have significantly improved in that year's time. Now the site seems a lot cleaner and tighter than it was a year ago.
One downside is that there's very little interaction between RentACoder and the rest of the community -- no forums, the blogs are rarely updated, etc. That's kind of disappointing, since to the timid RentACoder has a kind of a "thrown to the sharks" kind of atmosphere.
Another issue -- slightly bigger to me than their lack of communication with the community -- is the website itself. I'm not saying its ugly, but it seriously needs an uplift, for aesthetics and usability in general. The site is obviously showing its age; the coder financial page, for instance, gets really cumbersome once you've got several completed jobs under your belt.
Despite all that, my experience, after a few weeks of dealing with RentACoder, was really excellent. I don't regret picking them at all. But more on that later.
oDesk is kind of the new kid on the block, and has a radically different model. I guess, in a way, they embrace the Web 2.0 model of doing business. They're a very responsive group; they blog very often, and they're not scared of dogfooding the oDesk model of business in order to develop the software powering oDesk. They embrace community interaction and they're a very responsive group with good feedback, a helpful forum of users, and etc.
oDesk embraces the concept of a "remote workplace" to the extreme. Using oDesk requires using their proprietary software system. It tracks how many keystrokes you've made an hour, occasionally takes a snapshot of your workstation screen so that Buyers -- the people who hire you -- can monitor you during "working hours." Creepy, right?
On the flipside, oDesk also offers a lot of awesome tools for Providers -- coders -- to use. Providers all working with the same buyer (or is it the same job?) all have access to Bugzilla, Subversion, etc -- the typical software development tools people working on a product together deploy, except that everything is set up automatically by oDesk.
Providers can pick their ideal hourly wage, send resumes' to prospective Buyers who have job openings, etc, etc -- oDesk has basically brought the traditional workplace to The Web, which is a great accomplishment.
Most of this information, though, is based on the oDesk forums and the information available on their website... which brings me to the downside of oDesk.
Joining oDesk looks like a real pain -- such a pain, in fact, that after working with RentACoder for almost 2 weeks it didn't seem worth the effort (still doesn't) trying to get through the signup process. It also seems targetted at old people--errrr, people who have been "in the business" for a significant amount of time.
Here are some of their requirements -- stuff you have to go through during the interview process.
1. Minimum 3 years work experience (Preferred but exempted in case of exceptional candidates)
2. Good resume (relevant work experience, experience with remote working, solid educational background)
3. Available to work on oDesk at least 20 hours every week
4. Tech-savvy, comfortable working over the internet
5. Able to deal with customer directly
6. Good knowledge of English language and good overall communication skills
7. Flexible working hours
8. Ready Internet Access (Broadband recommended)
9. Enterprising and ready to take initiative
Yadda yadda, most of its typical. #9 is raw marketing, #4-8 are a duh, #2's kind of strange unless you consider the context of a "remote workplace" instead of RentACoder's auction system, etc.
The two biggest hurdles for me even experimenting with oDesk were #1, and the interview process itself.
For one, I never did really like interviews -- people tend to ask pretty stupid questions, like, "where do you want to be in 5 years" and random shit like, "weeeeelll, use a bubble sort on this array" where saying "qsort(array)" will not get you the job.
My complaints with the interview process aside, I'm just not really comfortable going through that kind of gauntlet over The Web. I'm not really an agile thinker, so realtime interviews -- all of them -- end up as "mushroom cloud"-shaped diasters for me. I also like my skills to speak for themself; I'm pretty secretive and tend not to give out information about myself or what I do other than what's absolutely necessary.
#1 was the real non-starter for me, though. I... don't have 3 years work experience. That's really it. I don't, and I'm not an exceptional candidate -- I'm just Really Good at what I do. I'm not even sure what I'd say during the oDesk interview: "I don't have 3 years work experience, but I'm really good at softare development?"
Although on RentACoder, mentioning Boo in a bid request is what sealed the deal and got me one of my first jobs.
I am, by the way, a rocking software developer -- that's what all of my satisfied buyers have to say, anyway. >:)
As 90% of you astutely gathered, I ended up going with RentACoder. The pay's been slow -- I might have made more in the initial 2 months with oDesk than RentACoder -- but I've been working my way up (in terms of bidding and winning) and my reputation's been spreading, so now the issue of landing a good job really isn't really a problem anymore.
At the time of this writing, I spent some time checking out oDesk again. They've improved a lot -- they have a working feedback system now, for one -- but there's still nothing really compelling enough that would make me endure the interview process. It's a lot of time to spend for a site I might not even get into. Kinda like a high rate club, I guess. The draw just isn't there for me, though.
Anyway, that's all for now.
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