14 August 2011 by Published in: rants 2 comments

Apologies in advance for another rant about the state of the iPhone contractor market. I answered one too many e-mails today and I kind of snapped.  So I have decided to leverage my soap box and take it out on you, dear reader.

On any given day in every major city in America, roughly 10 versions of the following ad are posted to Craigslist.  Taken word-for-word from actual ads.  My snide commentary in the (parentheticals).

Wanted: iPhone Developer

Great opportunity for a recent graduate looking for projects to highlight on your resume (we have no money…)

This can potentially lead to a part-time position.  (Oooh, potentially!)

Strong skills and experience in the following: Titanium, ObjC, Java, AJAX, jQuery, MySQL, PhoneGap, SOAP, .NET, XML (Believe it or not, these were listed in a single advertisement.)

Must be LOCAL to [city], we are looking for interns that can contribute a minimum of 10 hours per week helping us build our business. (slave labor)

If you’ve seen the story of Facebook movie “Social Networking” it is kind of the same plan.

Send a detailed resume and previous work for our CEO to review.

Compensation: Unpaid.  Inquiries will NOT be taken seriously if you think this is a paying gig from the start…But we can offer possible future employment, shared office space (if you have your own startup also!), great advice, great future recommendations and food/coffee!  (Not even equity…?)

So here’s what I can’t figure out, after receiving thousands of these e-mails, replying to hundreds, and (quite unintentionally) meeting dozens of these people in person.  Why do they do it?  

  1. How can anyone really believe, not only that they could produce a sellable product with $5k by outsourcing something overseas (which is patently absurd, but apparently believable), but the same with a states-based developer for $0?  If this sounds believable to you, congratulations, you’re my 1,000,000th visitor!  Just send me your SS# to collect your prize…
  2. No seriously, have they ever so much as seen the exterior of a building in which software is written?
  3. How can anyone with no money take themselves so seriously, dictating technologies and hours and all that?  How do you have titles like “CEO” for a company that doesn’t employ anyone?
  4. Why would any developer, even a well-paid one, want to go to 10 hours of meetings a week?
  5. How can you not even offer equity?  I thought I had seen it all with 50/50 splits.
  6. Why would someone distinguish themselves by offering free office space, you know, to do all that free work in?  Is there some lower tier of project somewhere that you pay for your overhead to work for free?  I thought I had reached the bottom of the barrel in #5, apparently I’ve just scratched the surface of the non-compensation rates for non-jobs.
I know, I know, there are a lot of people who want something for nothing, the universe keeps building better idiots, nothing to see here, etc.  But the iOS market has at least 10x the incidence of this than any other type of freelancing, and so I am affected by these on a very personal level, as my inbox is always full.  I’ve developed something of a morbid curiosity about these people, the same way you can’t tear your eyes from two trains crashing in slow motion.  What do these people do for a living?  How much time and effort have they invested into these “businesses”?  Are they as confident as they sound in their postings, ready to fight to the death for the imaginary business, or is it more of a “doesn’t affect my daily life” half-hearted fantasy?  Do they find some 14-year-old to do a GUI in Visual Basic, do they eventually “wise up” to paying some outsourcing firm to deliver some nonfunctional product, or do they just forget about the whole thing?  Do they let it run for days, weeks, months, years?
I am reminded of a particularly insightful HN comment on a story in which a reporter “tries” to build an app.

Yes, she literally just Googled “how do you make an app?”, saw that it was hard, and is now reporting this to us.

And why is this phenomenon endemic to iOS, or to software development in general?  Where are the postings for equity-share architects, or dentists, or educators?  Where are the advertisements offering policemen the opportunity to add some mugshots to their portfolio, the lawyers free office space in which to work?  These are all skilled, educated, publicly-visible occupations around which multimillion-dollar business are built each year.  What is unique about software that breeds this particular sort of non-client?

Even after years of fielding these types of inquiries, I still haven’t got within a mile of a convincing set of explanations about who these people are or what ends up happening to them.  Imagine if someone e-mailed you with a strange business proposition 4x a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  After thousands of e-mails, hundreds of phone calls, and dozens of meetings, you still don’t know who they are or why they keep calling you.  You grow to understand your spam folder a lot better than your ham folder.  It’s a very surreal experience.

In that spirit, I’ve written an ad from my side of the table.  I will keep you posted if any qualified candidates respond.

Wanted: iPhone Client

Looking for a rich guy who wants to add an iPhone project to his portfolio.

Compensation (for me): Excessive

Delivery: No actual product delivered, but this may lead to future opportunities!  I can also recommend you as a client to other iPhone developers who will be equally enthusiastic about taking your money.

You must have experience in:  Sarbanes-Oxley, Cash-Based Accounting, P&L Statements, Collatoralized Debt Obligation, Full-ratchet dilution, clear and convincing evidence (better than all those other so-called evidentiary standards, we want to use this one in our legal proceedings), supernumerary witnesses, third-party beneficiaries, click-through rate, viral marketing, locksmith

Preferred: Passionate about the avocado industry, ability to rip telephone books in half

Must commit at least 10 hours a week, most of which will be doing differential integration by hand over the complex plane.  (My best guess at the personal hell of a business guy…)  Must be willing to meet on-site in the middle-of-nowhere greater area.

If this goes well, it can potentially lead to a part-time position.

If you have seen the movie “Ocean’s 11” it is kind of the same plan.

SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY.  Send your resume and a list of previous non-projects, together with a longwinded letter begging me to pick you, to our Laughing Executive Officer.

Want me to build your app / consult for your company / speak at your event? Good news! I'm an iOS developer for hire.

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