The Essential Guide To Hiring A Ruby on Rails Agency

Written by David Jackson

Ruby on Rails Developer Graphic

You've got a great idea sketched out and you're ready to take the big step into development.

You've probably heard that Ruby on Rails has consistently ranked as one of the most popular programming languages among web developers. You've probably also heard that Ruby is easy to use and enables developers to deliver high-quality apps in a relatively short amount of time. If it's so easy to use, any developer should do for your project... right? The short answer is NOOOOOOOO!

When you go out into the developer world, you will be delighted like a kid in a candy store to see all of the choices you have for Ruby developers. In fact, as of September 2016, more than 890,000 active websites are built on Ruby. There are hundreds of Ruby on Rails agencies in the USA and tens of thousands more around the globe.

However, while it's always nice to have choices, it also makes finding and hiring the right Ruby on Rails agency that much more difficult. Hire the right agency, and your project will be completed on time and under budget. Hire the wrong agency and you'll likely end up with a sub-par application, delivered late and over budget, after experiencing months (or years) of unneeded stress. We don't want that for you.

But as a business, how can you make sure you hire the right agency? The truth is, it's not easy. Because we care about you and want you to have the best experience possible, we've taken everything we've learned from our years of experience in the Ruby development community and the tech business, and put together the following guide to help you hire best developer for your project.

Ask for Examples of Previous Work

When looking for a mechanic, would you choose someone who has spent years merely reading about cars? Or would you choose someone who has spent years building and rebuilding cars from the ground up? You'd choose the person with grease under their fingernails, right?

Well, the same goes for Ruby developers. You want someone with a little code under his or her fingernails. So, for the love of your project, start your screening process by asking for examples of previous Ruby applications the agency has built. Not sure how to get started? Here are our dos and don'ts when asking for and reviewing portfolios of previous work:

DO:

  • Ask to see several examples. An experienced Ruby agency should have a full quiver of complete applications that they've built... if they've only built one or two, it's best to keep on looking.

  • Look for good design and ease of use. Properly built, modern Ruby apps should be visually appealing, and easy to use. Is there a clear purpose for each page and each feature? Are buttons easy to find, and do they have a clear, easy to understand purpose? Does the app have a clean, uncluttered layout?

  • Ask for references from past customers. I know it sounds silly, but some people ask for references and never call. If you've gone through the trouble of getting a number, you call! Have a conversation about the project, how it went, what the best and worst parts were, whether the budget and deadlines were met. Channel your inner investigator and go to town!

  • Not familiar with Ruby? Hire a Ruby Consultant. Not everyone is a coder and that's ok. If you're not technical, or if you're not familiar with Ruby on Rails, consider hiring a Ruby on Rails consultant to conduct a code review for you. A lot of apps look nice, but haven't been built correctly, which will make them prone to bugs, difficult to build on top of in the future, and difficult to scale. An experienced, freelance Ruby consultant can spend an hour or two reviewing the agency's code, and tell you if they build high-quality, clean, well documented code, or if their code is sloppy and poorly written.

DON'T:

  • Rely on resumes alone. A lot of agencies will tell you that "we can build with Ruby" but that doesn't mean they HAVE built with Ruby. Insist on seeing examples of real, live Ruby applications that the agency has built from start to finish. Don't just take their word for it that the agency knows Ruby.

  • Be their guinea pig. Beware the developer that quotes you a super-low price to let them try their hand at Ruby development. Software development is complicated, and requires hands-on experience...you don't want them learning on your dime.

  • Take everything they tell you at face value. Ask pointed, direct follow-up questions. Did their company actually build the example Ruby apps, or did they outsource the work to a subcontractor? Do they have Ruby developers in-house and on payroll? How many? How experienced are they?

Check their Reviews

When thinking about trying a new restaurant, what's the first thing you do? You head to the internet to see what others are saying, right? You understand that driving across town to try something new, only to have your culinary senses disappointed is not on your list of things to do. Likewise, you don't want to fork over a significant amount of your hard-earned cash to a developer, only to find your entire project languishing in the pool of ineptitude that is your Ruby developer.

Luckily, there are quite a few sites that can provide you with equally effective screening tools for vetting Ruby development agencies. And we recommend checking them all.

  • Yelp — Yes, even your go-to app for finding your next meal has become increasingly popular among business-to-business service providers and their customers. It's a quick and easy starting point in your quest for answers.

  • Clutch — Think of Clutch as Yelp for the B2B world. It offers many of the same features, like business directory listings, customer reviews, and work samples, but focused on agencies in the software development, graphic design, marketing, PR, and similar markets. Clutch focuses on agencies, as opposed to individuals or freelancers. Clutch also boasts that its site reviews are checked to ensure legitimacy.

  • Google+ —In the last few years Google has started displaying large summaries of company Google+ pages and their related reviews. Because of this, a lot of companies have made a push to get customer reviews on their Google+ page, making it a valuable vetting tool for hiring professional service providers.

  • Better Business Bureau — In our opinion, the Better Business Bureau isn't nearly effective as it used to be, and the BBB rating can't be relied upon for much. But disgruntled customers will still file complaints with BBB, which will be displayed on their website. So it's worth checking to make sure there aren't negative reviews or open issues.

  • RipOff Report — This is another site worth checking for bad reviews... we've seen negative reviews of several of our competitors in the past.

  • Upwork — Formerly oDesk and elance, Upwork was formed when the two companies merged in 2015. Most people think of Upwork as an OK way to find offshore freelancers (if you feel like taking a risk), but they also have a section for agencies with customer reviews.

  • Google Search — And finally, don't forget to do a good old fashion Google search for the company's name. Remember to try a few different search variations, "use quotes to constrain the search to your exact search term." Running a search on the names of the owners of the company is also useful to see what else they've done outside of the agency.

Check Their Citizenship Scores

One of the advantages of choosing Ruby on Rails for your development project is the robust community of Ruby developers around the world. The best Ruby agencies tend to be active, recognized members of the community. What does that mean exactly?

  • They contribute to open source projects;

  • They help new developers learn Ruby;

  • They participate in meetups; and

  • They provide thought leadership.

But how do you know if the agency you're evaluating is good citizen of the Ruby community? The best place to start is by checking out your local Ruby meetup. Nearly every city in the USA has a Ruby meetup group that meets once or twice per month. You can check www.meetup.com to find the meetup near you.

Meetup leaders are typically the best Ruby developers in your city, and generally run or work for the best Ruby agencies. Take some time to attend a Ruby meetup and get to know the leaders of the group, or simply reach out through meetup to start a discussion.

Verify Where Your Project Will Be Done

At least once a month we receive a call from a prospective client looking for help on a project that's gone sideways. Unfortunately, the story is often the same. The client found an agency that offered them a really low price for their project, and promised wonderful results. The low price was so attractive that they didn't really vet the agency, and instead rushed into the project, hoping for the best. Months later, after multiple missed deadlines and budget overruns, the client starts asking the tough questions, only to find that the agency they hired outsourced the project to a low cost development shop in India, in an effort to maximize profits.

Don't let this happen to you. The agency you hire needs to guarantee in writing that all work will be performed in house, by their own employees, and that no parts of the project will be outsourced overseas. If an agency is quoting you pricing that's well below other quotes you've received, it's most likely because they intend to outsource the work. As is usually the case in life and in business... if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.

Ask About The Developers That Will Be Working On Your Project

After you've confirmed that the agency you're evaluating doesn't outsource work, you'll want to learn about the individual developers that will be working on your project. Some things to consider:

  • How much experience do they have?

  • How long have they been with the agency?

  • Are they employees or contractors?

  • Do they have formal Ruby on Rails training?

  • Have they completed other projects for the agency?

  • How many developers will be working on your project?

  • Who manages them and oversees their work?

If they can't answer these questions, or if the answers aren't what you expect, it's probably best to find another agency.

Ask About Their Project Management Process

Building software is an intricate process with a lot of moving parts. A dedicated project manager is critical to oversee the project and keep it on track. The project manager will likely be your primary point of contact during the project, so compatibility is key. Having an understanding of them and their process is critical in selecting your Ruby agency. You'll want to have a solid understanding about things like:

  • How will you communicate with the project manager?

  • How often should you expect updates?

  • Will you have scheduled meetings each week?

  • What will the major milestones be for the project?

  • How will you know if the project is on track or off track?

  • Do they use project management software?

  • Will they provide you access so you can collaborate with the team?

  • How will change orders be handled?

Asking these questions upfront can prevent problems down the road.

Ask Them If They Willing To Say No To You

Few people like hearing the word "no." It tends to trigger our inner 2-year-old and makes us a bit cranky. But honestly, sometimes "no" is the right answer. No might keep you from burning your finger on a non-user-friendly idea, or a shortcut designed to save a few bucks. The best parents tell their children "no" for a good reason... so do the best Ruby developers.

The best Ruby development shops have years of experience building web applications. They have a clear understanding of what types of apps and development projects are likely to succeed and which ones aren't. The best agencies will have opinions on your project, and will offer suggestions on what needs to be changed. Your project will also be a showcase for their talent, so they will have a vested interest in making the app the best it can be.

Most importantly, when they know you're making a mistake, a professional Ruby developer must be willing to say no to you.

If the agency you're evaluating only says yes to everything you propose, and never offers alternative suggestions or opinions, they are likely desperate for your business, or lack real experience, and should be avoided.

Take the Tinder Test... Is it a Match?

You and your developer will be working countless hours together creating the baby that is your project. Building web applications requires a great deal of communication and collaboration over an extended period of time, which often can lead to interpersonal conflicts, hurt feelings, and stress, if not handled properly. The last thing you want to do is spend all that time working with someone you're not compatible with. It's critical that the two of you actually enjoy working together.

By talking directly with the agency, reviewing online reviews and talking with agency references, you can get a solid feel for things like:

  • Does the agency have strong communication skills?

  • Are they friendly?

  • Are they happy to hear from you when you call and email?

  • How will they react to stressful situations?

  • What's the culture of the company like?

  • Do the employees seem happy?

Anything Worth Doing Is Worth Doing Right

Choosing the right Ruby on Rails agency is critical to the success of your project. Hire the wrong agency and you'll face:

  • missed deadlines;

  • significant cost overruns;

  • low quality software riddled with bugs;

  • stress, heartache, and damage to your business.

The Bottom Line

You don't want to come out of the process feeling like a piñata at a 10–year-old's party. Choosing the right agency will result in high quality software, delivered on time and under budget, without taking you for a ride on an emotional rollercoaster.

Do yourself and your project a solid - invest the time vetting prospective agencies using the guide above. There can be true love in the Ruby development world. We want you to find it!

Written by David Jackson

David runs the business side of things at FullStack Labs. He has over a decade of experience building technology companies, products, and teams for leading Silicon Valley companies.