Cyrus Stoller home about consulting

Don't hire cheap hackers - write simple programs yourself

A lot of my grad student friends have been asking me where they can find cheap hackers to write “simple programs” for their research projects. I always wonder: if they’re so simple, why don’t you take this as an opportunity to learn how to write these programs for yourself?

They invariably respond that they don’t think it’s a good use of their time. They think it’ll take them years to learn the necessary skills to do what any CS major should be able to do in a few weeks. For some things, this is most definitely true. But, for writing programs like web scrapers, it’s not. My friends would probably be able to write the programs they need in the time it’s going to take them to find and hire a cheap hacker.

As a CS major, these supposedly “simple projects” make me run for the hills. If the person hiring a hacker thinks the problem is pretty “simple” he/she is:

  1. not going to be understanding if it turns out to be pretty complicated to implement
  2. not going to give me room to take initiative or be creative
  3. and probably going to be breathing down my neck asking why I’m not done already

This isn’t my cup of tea. If you’re a good hacker, it shouldn’t be your cup of tea either. You’re in high enough demand that you can find a project that actually interests you.

If you’re someone who has been thinking about hiring a cheap hacker, here’s the danger you’re putting yourself in.

Most of the people who can quickly churn out the program you need probably don’t even want your money if it’s going to be tedious for them.

You’ll probably get someone who’s been meaning to teach themselves how to do what you want to do anyway. Depending on your situation, this may or may not be tolerable. Bottom line is that you’re going to get someone who’s not that quick.

A couple of my friends have hired questionable programmers to help them write web scrapers and simple forms to collect data for statistical analysis. These questionable hackers billed them for tons of hours and ended up not being able to produce. Oops!

[edit: see my consulting service]

It would have been cheaper to hire a more experienced albeit expensive programmer who could have quickly finished the project, or quickly taught him/herself how to hack it.

Remember, if you need to spend countless hours nagging a programmer to finish your project, you may be better off just learning the skills yourself, so that you don’t need to rely on questionable hackers in the future. Moreover, you’ll dramatically increase your value to your lab/organization, since you’ll be much more productive and self-sufficient than your peers.

Category Advice