What skill set should my first developer have?

The Most Important Thing Is Not Be What You Think

Most people ask this question looking for a list of technologies a developer will need to know to build their app. If this developer is your first technical team member, though, a list of skills is far less important than other qualities. You need a team member who can understand your business and can use technology to help you achieve your goals. What the developer knows about running a business, shipping a product, and selling a product will be far more valuable in the long run. You want someone with a broad technical skillset, but you don’t need someone with a PhD and 30 years experience in Objective-C. This person will help you answer the question you came here to ask.

If you’re not a developer yourself, it would be crazy to try to figure out what tech stack you should use so that you can look for a developer with experience with that stack. There are too many variables that only an experienced developer can navigate. This is why an understanding of what your business needs and what technology can best get you there is critical for your first technical teammate.

Your Job In the Search

This makes your job in the search a little bit different: rather than trying to guess at a tech stack and hoping you hit on one that works well, you need to make sure you can convey to candidates everything they need to know to marry the right tech to your business. This is going to be way easier than trying to pin the tail on the tech stack since you probably know better how your startup should work than you know how to develop software.

When you start talking to people, come to the table with everything they might need to know. Bring specifications for the software you want to build, wireframes showing how you envision the software working, and user stories that tell what your users want to accomplish and how your software will get them there.

Gauge Their Understanding and Ability to Deliver

Do they understand what you want to build? Do they already have ideas for how to get there?

Don’t expect everyone you talk with to understand your idea right away. This doesn’t mean they’re the wrong candidate. You’re much closer with the idea than anyone else. Others need time to get there. Are they asking probing questions to gain a better understanding? This is a good sign.

Get them to talk about products they’ve delivered in the past. Finishing a product is hard. Lots of people start them, but few people finish them. You want someone who has a track record of shipping.

Now, Figure Out the Tech Stack

Once you’ve found the person who has broad knowledge of software development and a track record of shipping products, you can now turn toward the tech stack. Work together to find what will work best, and, when it comes time to bring on another developer, you’ll know which skills they need to have.