When companies look to hire a developer to write software, in particular iOS (iPhone and iPad), they expect to hire an expert. However these days everyone and his dog claims to be able write iPhone and iPad software. While this may be true, it is nearly impossible to know if you’re getting a good product. Apps may have great visual design, but in some cases it is just a pretty face. So how do you pick a developer that is going to produce a quality product that is stable, maintainable, and works well. Many projects get passed from developer to developer, so having good quality code to begin with, the app will have a higher change that it can continue without being completely rewritten.
I’ve written software as a contractor for many years and like to think that I know what I’m doing, so here are some tips and questions to ask that may help companies hire a quality developer.
- Does the developer rely heavily on open source? Open source itself isn’t inherently a problem, but should be used sparingly for specific purposes and should be easily removed at a later time if need be. Building an entire application on an open source framework makes things needlessly complicated and fragile.
- How long has the developer been writing Objective-C software (Mac or iOS)? Experience says a lot about how easily the code can be maintained in the future.
- What do the applications that the developer has developed look like? Take a look at the App Store and see how complicated the apps are and how well they work?
- Ask for references. Ask why the developer is no longer doing work for the references. There are a number of ways to say “we got fired”, so be on the lookout for those. If the app is no longer being developed, the company ran out of money, or the developer no longer has time are probably the best reasons; anything else might be suspect.
- Does the developer use source control? This is a pretty basic requirement. If a developer doesn’t use source control for his/her own projects, that would worry me. There are many sites that offer free or cheap source control, so there is no excuse for avoiding it.
- Does the developer use code analysis tools such as CLANG? It’s built into Xcode and there is no excuse for avoiding it.
- Does the developer allow warnings when building the project? Compiler warnings should be avoided at all costs.
- Can the developer provide code samples for review? In particular, an app that can be built using the Apple Developer Tools. This is important as some developers have a huge list of tasks to get a project built. A project should be delivered such that you can unzip the archive and build the project. I’ve seen projects delivered that have a list of steps to build including checking out code from open source repositories. This is extremely problematic and error prone as the repositories could change by the time the app is delivered.
- Ask the developer what is the right way to determine if a feature is available on a particular device. Today I saw code that checked the OS version to determine if Retina display graphics should be used. This is completely wrong because for example, iOS 4 runs on devices that don’t have Retina displays. (Also the code that checked the OS version didn’t properly check the version.) Apple has identified ways to determine if a particular function should be used or a feature is available.
These questions are probably hard for non-developers to ask and know if the answers are legit, so it might be worth spending a few bucks to find an expert, such as me, that can spare a few hours to evaluate a developer, but doesn’t have time to actually do the project.