When it comes to hiring contractors, you want TLC. Too often, you think that means “The Lowest Cost”. What you actually want might be “Tender Loving Care” instead.
Let me start out by saying I don’t mean to give a blanket condemnation of contractors. I know many diligent, attentive contractors; I’ve been a contractor myself and like to think I fit into that category. But there’s the other kind of contractor, too, and that type crops up more often than you’d want.
You know the story: the company has a big initiative to do. Doing it in-house would take away resources from other projects, and would cost more. “Let’s hire some contractors! We’ll save money!” Six months later, the contract is done, the project is up and running – but your full-time geeks are now untangling snarled-up code.
The catch, of course, is that contractors don’t have a vested personal interest in the long-term success of the project. They have a vested personal interest in the success of the contract. If all those terms are met, the contractor is all set. Now, you’d hope that the contractor would give full attention to detail, and many do – but only if they have a sense of pride in their work. It doesn’t affect their bottom line.
(Well, it can, indirectly, in that contractors with sub-par work can get a bad reputation. But to be honest, the people a contractor is going to give you as recommendations are not people who are going to bad-mouth his/her work. It’s hard to get an honest sense of a contractor’s full work history.)
Full-time employees, by contrast, know that they not only have to build it, but also maintain it, update it, and improve on it. They don’t just want the car to run, because they know they’ll be back under the hood time and time again. Full-time employees will put TLC (Tender Loving Care) into their code. Contractors might do so. Doing the project with full-timers might cost more up front, but may also save you money afterwards.
What’s the solution? Never hire contractors? Quite the contrary. Contractors can save you money, if you take the right steps.
- When you’re doing budget estimates, don’t assume that a contractor-built project will have the same maintenance costs as one built in-house. If the cost to maintain is 1.2 times normal, will you still save money? The answer might be yes, but you should make sure you know for sure. (1.2 is a number I created ex recto; I don’t have a real metric here.)
- Make sure contractors have oversight and periodic review by the folks who will take over the code when the contract is done. Keep the contractors on-track and adhering to your company’s standards. Consider giving the contractors a personal interest in quality: for instance, instead of offering them 1X as pay, offer them .8X with a .2X bonus if the project’s code complies with company standards. (When I was a contractor, I’d have happily gone along with this.)
You want TLC. Make sure you’re getting the right type.