Benjamin Curtis

Speculations on Web Development

Pioneers vs. Planners

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Ryan Carson has a post about why you should ditch your freelancer. Having recently joined the ranks of full-time freelancers, I read his thoughts with some interest. Courtenay had something to say about it as well. There’s a little something missing from the discussion, though, and that’s the concept of Pioneers vs. Planners.

When you are creating a new product, or a significant revision of a product, you need developers who are Pioneers. These are developers who enjoy tackling new problems, are good at translating ideas (often more nebulous than detailed requirements) and business processes into code, deal with ambiguity fairly well, and basically can be given a rough direction and be expected to find a way to the correct destination. Pioneers are the ones you want to have on board to help you build your next big thing.

When your development efforts are spent more on bug fixes, small feature additions, and maintaining your product, you need City Planners. These developers are good at following and extending what’s been done before, enjoy the puzzle of figuring out what an application actually does vs. what it’s supposed to do, and thrive on having a specific set of instructions to delineate exactly what is to be done. City Planners are the developers you need to help keep things going smoothly.

Some developers are good at (and/or enjoy being) both Pioneers and Planners. Most aren’t. Most prefer one of the two roles, and have to move out of their preferred work environment to take on the other role. As an aside, this is often what you see at startups when the original developers start leaving the company – from their point of view, all the fun, new projects get replaced with boring maintenance work.

It’s entirely possible that the freelancers with whom Ryan worked had other clients competing for their time or they simply weren’t reliable for long-term work. It’s also possible (and I’d say, likely) that he hired Pioneers to build his apps and then expected those Pioneers to become Planners when it suited his needs. When that didn’t work out, he went and found Planners (maintenance developers) in the form of an offshore team. I’d wager that the next time he has an idea for a brand new application, he’ll find he again wants some of those expensive and talented developers to build it for him.

As a Pioneer myself, this suits me just fine. Feel free to keep sending me fun, new projects that need that talent to be successful. When your project gets to maintenance mode, I’ll be happy to help advise you when you are ready to start looking for some Planners.

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