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What type of product engineering partner are you looking for?

No two remote engineering partners are the same, and the industry actually has three tiers to it. When looking for a remote product engineering partner, your two limiting factors are going to be:

  • Scope
  • Budget

As a rule of thumb, the narrower your scope and lower your budget, the lower you will have to move down the pyramid shown here.

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  • Large global IT Contractors
  • Giant IT contractors like Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Wipro, Accenture, and Cognizant are among the largest companies you will find anywhere in the world and their revenues can easily dwarf the GDP of a small country.

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    Large IT contractors are perfect for: 1️⃣ Large companies that require development teams whose headcounts are in the hundreds 2️⃣ Projects whose budgets are in the millions

    Large IT contractors provide clients with consistent delivery at scale, even with teams that have hundreds of people on them. However, that kind of consistency is only achieved by forcing everyone to conform and work according to a very rigorous set of processes and standards that eliminate any chance of providing a personalised service. A large, Fortune 100 company may value this approach, but for an SME, the generic consistency and bureaucratic nature of this approach can be very limiting.

  • Boutique Engineering Agencies Companies that belong in this category are relatively smaller and typically employ between 50-500 people. Boutique engineering agencies also come in many shapes and sizes, but their USP is to provide high quality engineering or find hard-to-hire talent in competitive markets. Cost savings are a distant second. The smaller agencies typically specialise in simple, low-complexity projects like building websites and basic apps, but the larger agencies with multi year track records can take on relatively more complex projects. Larger boutique agencies are also more professional in how they are run, and tend to adhere to globally accepted best practices and agile methodologies.
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    Boutique engineering agencies are perfect if: 1️⃣ You prefer working with a smaller (5 to 50 developer) team 2️⃣ You want a personalised service and wish to build a personal relationship with developers, product managers, senior managers and even founders of the agency (the entire agency is likely to take a high degree of interest in every project on account of their smaller scale) 3️⃣ You want greater flexibility to accommodate your company’s unique needs

    Large IT contractors are bound to a very rigid set of processes—a necessary evil that allows them to operate at a global scale. In contrast, agencies favour smaller project teams because they’re easier to keep tabs on and provide enhanced accountability and transparency i.e. each individual on a team is more accountable for their output and the freeloader problem is largely eliminated. Agencies are also comparatively less regimented, which means developers tend to be more versatile and can shift between industries and tech stacks. They also provide a necessary degree of creative chaos in which talented developers can exercise their intellectual muscles. In contrast, developers at large IT contractors tend to possess deep specialisation in a narrow area of expertise.

  • Freelancers Freelancers operate either on their own or as an informal collective. The most common way to find a freelancer is to surf through popular gig work platforms such as Upwork, Freelancer, and PeoplePerHour, though sometimes even a simple Google search may yield good results.
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    Freelancers are perfect for: 1️⃣ Projects that have very tight budgets 2️⃣ Projects that are extremely simple, like a barebones MVP, customising a framework like Bootstrap, or a platform like Magento.

    Freelancers are self-employed individuals, which means they have to walk a tightrope between fast delivery (and by extension, billing), and quality. The absence of consistent quality practices may seem harmless at first, but once your software product gains traction and needs to be scaled up, ironing out the inevitable code inconsistencies and bugs may end up requiring a more professional, experienced (and costly) team. Even the process of ironing out issues may not be so simple. It could require expensive refactoring or in a worst case scenario, a complete rebuild from the ground up. The process of fixing a long list of bugs can be a death knell particularly if your product has paying customers, as they wouldn’t like to be deprived of services while you fix your product.

In our experience, an early stage startup may be able to manage working with a freelancer or two. But, freelancers (other than for a few exceptional professionals) cannot be relied on to be available for the long haul. Their circumstances may change at short notice and necessitate an urgent replacement, only for the cycle to repeat itself a few months later. In our view, it is extremely unwise to tie your software product’s very existence to the erratic and ever-shifting schedule of a freelancer. If you do, your project is likely to end up being an unmanageable patchwork of inconsistent code.

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