Main > Writings > How much does it cost to hire a programmer?

How much does it cost to hire a programmer?

I wrote this as a comment to the following article:

The question is not how much it costs to hire great programmers, the question is how much it will cost in lost income not to hire the very best programmers.

Programmers are like racehorses. Bad ones cost a lot, good ones cost a lot more, but only good ones win races.

You cannot know that a programmer is a great hacker until you have seen his work. And you have not seen his work until you have hired him and worked with him for a year. See Great Hackers by Paul Graham at

There is no guarantee that a great hacker will produce great code when working for you. There are many variables that contribute to great code being written and the great hacker is just one of them.

Companies and founders make the mistake of developing a system in which they assume to fit in great programmers, only to realize they will at best end up with average programmers who need supervision, and will produce a tangled mess of code. Granted, for many companies, that is the only option. But if you want to build the next Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, or, dare I say it, Microsoft, you will need to spend a lot of money, the kind of money that will make paying Joel on Software or Stack Overflow Careers (which btw I don't use--don't want to pay to post my resume) seem completely insignificant.

So, just like horseraces: you burn through (b)millions of dollars getting top talent, or you content yourself never finishing in the top 5. There is no alternative.

Oh, and on culture: there is already a Hacker culture: embrace it and live it, and hackers will gravitate to you; don't, and they'll stay away. Of course, you can only live the hacker culture if you are yourself a hacker, therefore it is impossible for companies founded and run by non-hackers to naturally attract hackers, and furthermore, if by sheer monetary incentive or plain luck a great hacker should come work at your non-hacker-led organization, he will naturally gravitate away, so you will have to bend over backward financially and corporately to keep him or her.

This is why I said developing a system that will handle average programmers is the only option for most companies.

On hacker culture: You may want to read this a few times.


Written in June 2010.

Comments? Contact me.

© 2010 Christopher Mahan