So my days usually start with a quick scan of craigslist--specifically, the "computer gigs" sections of major US cities (NYC, DC, SF, etc.). This is where people post requests for websites, or web applications, or desktop software applications. Going through it every day, you grow used to seeing quite a few annoying posts. There are myriad sub-genres, but they all fit quite well under the general heading of "retarded". People requesting completely unrealistic applications; people requesting a $5000 website who, unfortunately, can only pay $400; or, my favorite, an "exciting new startup" in the "first rounds of VC" who have planned the "next big social networking site"--they can't offer any pay, but they can offer you "an exciting opportunity getting in on the ground floor" of the Next Big Thing. Never--I mean never--underestimate the self-delusional capacity of an MBA.

Lately I've been seeing more "rally cry" posts from knowledge workers who are fed up with sifting through so much bullshit. While often snarky, they make for great reading. In the world of digital freelancing, it's the equivalent of bitching about the boss in the break room. A post from today's DC board is the best I've seen:

If you want to hire a developer DO NOT request work samples. Doing so indicates that you have absolutely no idea about what is involved in programming an application and you identify yourself as potential employer who is unaware of the actual time requirements and cost of completing the task.

IF AND ONLY IF you are ready to receive gigabytes of source code to analyze, configure a development including web server, databases etc, build / compile and deploy several software applications then DO ASK for work samples. If you actually expect to receive URLs to websites than you are confusing a programmer with a graphic designer and you should NOT ASK for work samples.

It is just as banal as asking choosing a heart surgeon based on pictures of faces of his previous patients. A website will tell you NOTHING about the skills of the programmer. It won't tell you if they can make the site secure (unless you are ready to do penetration testing but will likely go to jail for hacking).

It won't tell you if their code is stable, efficient, well documented, scalable and you can't even tell what language the server side components were written in. What is the point of asking a java or php developer for a URL? There isn't one.

So as not to be a complete ranting troll, I will offer a suggestion as to how you can really evaluate potential developers. The best way is to have them questioned by someone who knows what they are talking about to evaluate their technical skills. You should also evaluate their work ethic and reliability by requesting (and actually following up) reference. This does not have to be always references for related jobs since you want to find out from some source if the person is reliable, committed and won't flake out on you after 3 weeks so that you have to start all over. If you don't have any way to evaluate their technical skills then ask for references for technical jobs so that you can get a 3rd opinion.

Finally, PLEASE - have realistic expectations. Don't expect someone to make a site similar to facebook by next Wednesday for $300. If you get 6 responses for your project and all of them quote you $3000 for some project and one guy quotes you $750 than DO NOT Go with that guy. The cost savings will mean that basically you are going to pay $750 for something that doesn't work and will be unusable by future developers you will eventually hire after he doesn't call you back for 7 weeks.

Amen, brother. Amen.