Recruiting Students Developers for a Startup Project


I have a startup idea which I want to implement speedily this year. I have developed the concept fully. However, I want to engage a team of 5 students in working on the project. These students will work from their various universities. I want to know if there is a unique recruitment process I should take in ensuring that I get the best developers.

I would be grateful If you can point me to any document that can be sent to selected students so that they can fill and I would evaluate them by their response.

Also I want to know if these students should be rewarded with shares or I should pay them for work delivered.

Startup Costs

asked Jan 31 '12 at 18:25
59 points
  • I don't know why i'm being voted down here. – Stanley 12 years ago
  • Not sure, this is a valid question. Anyway, you should work on your accept rate (it is 0%). – Christian 12 years ago
  • Why do you want to "hire" students? Because you think they will work for free? Because they have free time? Because they know all the cool new technology? – Tim J 12 years ago
  • The reason is because here in Nigeria, they are the only sets of developers that don't have to worry much about basics needs since their parents contribute most to their upkeep at school. So they do things because they are passionate about it. – Stanley 12 years ago

5 Answers


The thing is, regardless of your own motives in this, many people will be biased by what they've seen before. And the 'hiring student programmers' idea is often brought up by people who desire an unfair deal, one which more mature programmers would never consider.

want to implement speedily this year.

Then hire an experienced crew. Past experience in the exact same problem domain is the number one predictor of development success.

These students will work from their various universities.

Working alone at 5 different locations brings loads of communication challenges and greatly increases overall project risk, especially for a shorter-term projects where the participants haven't worked together before.

point me to any document that can be sent to selected students so that they can fill and I would evaluate them by their response.

There is no way to asses a programmers competence based on a questionnaire.

should be rewarded with shares or I should pay them for work delivered.

I'd say your developers deserve a fair market salary plus a substantial options package. Be aware that taxation of options can matter a great deal, and with 5 potential locations that's 5 potential tax codes to consider.
answered Jan 31 '12 at 21:27
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points
  • Great Jesper, thanks for taking time to explain in details. Actaully, i wasn't looking for an unfair deal. I currently have one student on board, and he has a 50% shares though not documented yet. Since he alone cannot work on the project, i intend bringing other students programmers on the team. My reason for going for students is because they will be patient with what we are doing since they don't necessary have other personal responsibility at the moment. – Stanley 12 years ago
  • +1 - This is about the only useful answer I have seen so far. – Tim J 12 years ago
  • 1. 50% to one student developer is far above market. 2. DOCUMENT it, you must document is ASAP. Just having 50% of the shares is insufficient. Is he going to get them 50 years from now? etc. 3. I ended up hiring professional grade engineers because the students (even smartest) aren't great at understanding deliverables properly. 4. Try getting 5 from the same university 5. If unpaid internship, document it. 6. DOCUMENT everything related to getting work done by others. It's a COMMON source of litigation in startups with disgruntled workers. Think 1+ years from now. – Sid 12 years ago
  • Thanks Sid. I will document that ASAP – Stanley 12 years ago


You should pay them the market rate, especially if you want the brightest and best, as they'll likely have other offers.

I suspect that most good students these days know that their side projects and summer jobs are at least as important as their studies, when it comes to getting top jobs at the end of it. So, palming people off with the pseudo-kudos of working for nothing on a startup is unlikely to attract the best talent.

You might want to throw in, say 5% equity to each, but that should be a bonus, not the only compensation.

answered Jan 31 '12 at 19:27
Steve Jones
3,239 points
  • Thank you Steve for your response. Do you have any idea about the recruitment process because i'm very unfamiliar with recruitment and i would be doing this over the internet. Thanks – Stanley 12 years ago
  • Yes, I've recruited dozens of IT people for various clients over the years. It'll be hard over the internet, as recruitment is really about relationships. If you want just anonymous outsourcing, then maybe it'd be easier. – Steve Jones 12 years ago


I have accepted a startup prototype development once. I told him I have no time, so he accepted two students who developed the prototype and me looking at what they are doing. He paid so less money, it was a pain. But the students wanted the job, and well, I know them for a time and then we accepted.

We made everything according to his templates. But finally he was unhappy, and we were too.

The amount of work compared to the money outcome was frustrating people. Yes, they knew it before. But when you experience it it is somehow different. The customer agreed with having a few bugs. And students said: cool, we don't need to test. And I said: f*ck, why do I need to deal with all the heated calls from my customer?!?

Then the customer said: wow, i want to go live, while we are speaking of a prototype. He said: i pay so much money (!) it needs to go live. We said no, but he didn't listen. Now students thought the customer is an idiot and he doesn't deserve their work. I mean, you can only think like that when you are a student.

Then the customer said: can't it be quicker? Its just two or three features! We said: no, because students must go the university too. The customer didn't understand and his expectation was they all work 40hours a week. In fact, it is good if a student does 10hours a week.

Finally the customer was making so much pressure, the students finally said: no seriously, we stop after the prototype. Go looking for somebody else. Guess who was the guy who told that the customer?

Now everybody was pissed. T

he customer didn't even pay the less money, even when he had a working prototype at works. He said, he does not have developers to develop this item anymore.
The students were pissed because the only got 25% of their $ expectation. Even 100% would have been less, but...
I was pissed because I had to improve code quality on many places. Sometimes code was real bullshit. I mean ok, students, they simply don't know everything. Maybe it is different when they come from an elite uni, but finally they are fresh and have no experience. i have lost 40 hours worktime, none of them paid. In addition I had all the heated calls leaving me awake for many hours.

My conclusion is, you can't have quick AND students. A students prio is the university, not your tool.
You can't have 100% code quality AND students. A student is fresh, he is even allowed to make mistakes.
A student will leave your project with a regret and without looking at your reputation.

Personally I will work with students again, but ONLY for internal projects which do not need speed. with oversight and patience such projects can have a good quality.

answered Feb 1 '12 at 00:13
3,590 points
  • Thanks for sharing your experience. – Stanley 12 years ago


If you want 5 students who are the "best developers" I would think that there are many great universities such as MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, IIT (Indian Institutes of Technology ) etc. where you could easily find all five on one campus.

Most schools have a placement office whose job it is to help students find jobs and internships both before and after they graduate. The placement office is a great resource for you and you should contact the placement offices at some universities that you consider turn out the best developers, tell them of the job opportunities you have and ask them to assist you in advertising the jobs at their universities and arranging interviews.

You should also speak with the head of the Computer Science department (which can be arranged for you by the placement office if you like) and explain to him or her the opportunities you have for students and ask them to recommend candidates. These professors will likely be quite familiar with who the best CS students are.

answered Jan 31 '12 at 23:08
Jonny Boats
4,848 points
  • Great post. The o/p should look in one place, then the people will hopefully know each other's strengths and weaknesses, so management will be easier. – Steve Jones 12 years ago
  • Thanks Jonny for your suggestions. However, i'm talking about a startup in one of the African countries. – Stanley 12 years ago
  • the best CS students are likely NOT the best coders or people you want working for you on a project. – Tim J 12 years ago
  • Stanley: As for African countries, my advice still applies. There are several world class universities in Africa; why would you discount Egypt or South Africa for example? As an aside, when entering questions like this the more information you provide (like looking for Africa) the better the answers you will get. – Jonny Boats 12 years ago


You mentioned in a comment that you already have one student programmer working on the project. I don't see why you can't leave the programmer evaluation and expanding the team to the person who is most qualified. As others mentioned, a questionnaire is of no use.

answered Feb 1 '12 at 12:41
Jeff O
6,169 points

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