Signs your developer is competent (or not)

Everyone knows the obvious questions (“how long does it take to build a website?” and “how much does it cost?”). But there are some key questions every developer should be able to answer to demonstrate their qualifications. Here are our top 8 questions to ask your web developer when you’re trying to dig in deep and really explore what they’re capable of.

1. Do you do custom theme work, or do you use pre-existing themes?

More importantly: do you use other people’s themes, or do you build your own? We’ve written before about the benefits of using a pre-existing theme rather than doing custom-built from the ground up every single time. But this is largely because those pre-existing themes we’re talking about are ones that we build and understand inside and out. We know its capabilities and what it’s suited for.

And just because we often use pre-existing themes doesn’t mean we don’t do custom work: we can and we do. We just don’t want to push someone toward a solution that might not be best for them. If a developer can’t do both these things (build you a custom theme or adapt one of their own pre-built themes to suit your needs), then they’re likely to funnel you toward the same solution they provide everyone else but which may not be best for you.

2. What content management system do you use?

Everyone uses content management systems (CMSs) these days because they make it easier for non-coders to update their own websites. We believe you should have control over your own website, and that means a good, user-friendly CMS. Our preference is WordPress.

If you’re talking to someone who doesn’t use a CMS (or who doesn’t know what you’re talking about), walk away. They’re either too far behind the times to know what they’re doing, or they want you to have to rely on them to keep your content up to date. Either way, it’s a bad sign.

3. How do you structure content?

This is related to the above and is a question of usability: how accessible will your own website be to you once it’s finished? We use advanced custom fields and custom content types within WordPress so that you can easily edit text and images, and add and/or remove certain content fields without worrying about messing up your code.

A competent web developer can explain how they do this to you in a way that makes sense and puts you in charge of your own content. If they can’t, that’s a red flag.

4. Are you capable of integrating with 3rd-party APIs?

This is a competency question. We believe that doing your job right means continually expanding your craft and not adopting a complacent attitude toward your skill set. It also means knowing what you can do well, and recognizing when someone else has come up with a better solution.

Accordingly, we’ve taken the time to learn now to work with 3rd-party APIs, and along the way we’ve learned which of these plugins work well and which don’t. This means we can work with you toward an ideal solution, and also advise you along the way.

5. Have you ever developed your own plug-in?

Again: competency. You want to know your developer can work with 3rd-party plugins, but you also want to know they aren’t limited to them. It’s all about providing the optimal solution and not being limited by your developer’s lack of capability.

6. Do you do your design in-house?

Does your designer also build websites? Do they understand how websites are built? The world is full of highly-qualified designers who do stunning work for print, but don’t have a clue how websites are made. As a result, they create gorgeous designs that are needlessly irritating to program. They also miss possibilities because they can’t correctly assess the possibilities of the medium they’re working in.

7. How do you process payments?

Do they understand how payment gateways actually work, or do they rely on 3rd parties? Payment processing is a key area in which a competent web developer can save you lots of money over time, simply by running payments through your site rather than outsourcing it. You might pay more up front to be set up your own payment system, but it will pay for itself and save you money in the long haul.

8. Can you show me work samples from clients in industries similar to mine?

If a developer has done a website similar to yours and you like its capabilities and the way it looks, then that speaks well for their ability to satisfy your needs. Don’t stop there, though: ask specifically for a referral from that company. Any referral which they select will be biased in their favor, but if you choose the company you want to hear from, you’ll be more likely to get an honest assessment. And if they’ve done good work, they’ll be happy to provide it for you.

Published 05/27/16 by Laura Lynch