Benefits and disadvantages of using student programmers

Benefits and disadvantages of using student programmers

Looking at salaries of full time employees, many people start looking for hacks. Some look at outsourcing, some look at extra co-founders and some start looking for student developers / programmers.

Student developers are obviously students (surprise!), and are often studying some branch of software at the university. Depending on where you hire them, it’s normal to have them 10-20 hours a week.

The obvious benefits are:

  • Price. Student developers are cheaper than full time per hour.
  • Less commitment on hours. When you have a 40 hour a week employee, you really have a big commitment – with student developers it’s significantly less (and quite often you hire them per hour).

Before we dig into the disadvantages as well, it’s worth mentioning there are some additional benefits. These are benefits many first realize after the first student developer hire:

  • Positive energy. Student developers are often naive and extremely unrealistic about what is possible, which is GREAT. They have big goals, they want to cater for details and they want to perform.
  • Not so worried about hours. At many companies the employees look at the watch and make sure not to do overtime. Student developers? They often don’t care as much – they just want to make a difference, learn and earn some money.
  • You learn new things yourself. The student developers are often playing around with new technologies, and that can be quite useful sometimes as you can use that for good.

So looking at this, student developers might look like a great idea – a bit like a “mini” employee with added benefits.
Unfortunately, student developers are not only good. There are a couple of challenges that is important to address:

  • No experience. A developer with 10 years of experience does know all the pitfalls, both technically and also with respect to the calculation of marketing-, customer service and economic department into their code as he knows how they influence the solution. Student developers will naively not know this, and you can get solutions with huge elements simply “ignored” or forgotten.
  • Very big variation in code quality. Often the developers make extremely high quality code, but it’s not across the whole solution. Because they haven’t learned how to structure real-life software projects, you will often find some parts are extremely nicely made, while the rest is… interesting.
  • A lot of questions. Student developers are there to learn, and that results in a lot of questions – both technically and about the business. This could just as easily have been placed as an advantage, but I placed it here because you have to calculate the extra time it takes.

Does it mean you should hire a student developer or not?

There are pros and cons. It really comes down to what you’re trying to make.

My experience is they work best if they work together with a more senior developer, who can give them feedback and reviews, as the quality otherwise can be quite shaky. However, if you can do that and are looking to save some money; go for it.

Good luck!

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