How to Find a Developer for Your Startup

Because I teach programming, I get a lot of people who reach out to me for advice on finding a CTO or lead developer for their startup.

Most of the time, I can’t be very helpful. Unfortunately the best developers are in really high demand, so they’re likely to already be working at a well-paying job at an exciting company.

I know all this from first-hand experience, which eventually led me to teach myself how to code in the first place.

But I do have some advice for entrepreneurs looking to hire their first CTO

1. As a CEO at a startup, your most important job is finding and keeping the right talent on the team.

2. Go to places where you’re likely to find good technical talent.

3. Don’t pitch developers on your startup.

4. Figure out what you’re looking for.

I know that as a non-technical founder it can be hard to know what you’re looking for, which is why you want to find a technical co-founder in the first place, but first make it your mission to learn enough to figure out what you need. If you can’t do that, then you’ll sound naive to any technical person that you talk to.

5. Look for developers at just below the CTO level at startups similar to yours.

Definitely make sure they have at least had experience shipping a product if you want to give them the responsibility of building yours.

On a side note… do you know what the difference between a CTO and a lead developer is? Traditionally, CTOs don’t actually spend much of their time coding. Mostly they’re thinking about technical problems, asking questions, and setting strategy regarding technology for the company.

At a startup of course everyone is doing everything, but just know that a CTO’s role becomes less and less about coding over time, so if you’re looking for someone who will be a developer for you for a long time, maybe give them the title of VP of Engineering or Lead Developer rather than CTO.

6. When you do find someone you like, try them out.

The intention is that after a month you both get to evaluate whether it’s working. It’s as much for them as it is for you. If they decided after 30 days that they didn’t enjoy working with you, they’d want the opportunity to walk away also, right?

That’s it, my 6 tips for finding a CTO or lead developer. There are many more valuable bits of advice though, so if you have any others that come to mind, please post them in the comments!

Award-Winning Faculty at Columbia Business School. I write about startups, technology, and philosophy.