Could you share any statistics, metrics or user feedback from this engagement?
We are a startup, and the service that we provide does not have widespread benchmarking available in the industry yet. Since January , we've gone through a number of iterations, so we've had many, many versions pushed out there. One way to measure the quality of a developer's work is the number of critical bugs in their deliverables. From my experience with this firm, and from my experience with working with other firms previously, I would say that the quality of their development expertise is extremely high. That's half of the story.
The other half is, some bugs are unavoidable. That's just part of the process. Another way to measure the skill measuring how quickly they can diagnose why the bug happened, and how quickly they can fix it. That just comes down to the experience of the person who's actually on your team. Currently, we are working with two developers, one senior and one junior developer. We are working with a front-end guy or designer, a DevOps guy, like a sys-admin, and a project manager. That's the composition of our team from SteelKiwi.
The senior developer is as skilled in Python as I've ever seen anywhere. His ability to resolve bugs is just phenomenal, and that would be an important reason why we are working with SteelKiwi. They are able to provide people like that guy, who have that level of expertise. This gets down to not just how well you can design an algorithm, it's also the experience he has in the field, and they have a very talented QA [quality assurance] testing team. If you go by metrics, such as the number of bugs and the critical bug turnaround time, they are very good. As good as what you would expect anywhere in an offshoring situation.
How did SteelKiwi perform from a project management standpoint?
On that front, they are probably best-in-class, although the side of project management that we have seen would focus less on being strategic because we are a young startup and our horizon is not years, it's not even six months – it's every two months. Now, the side of project management that we do see, and we have seen from the beginning, would be one of three reasons why we are with SteelKiwi now.
If you think broadly about the landscape of people who are in the offshoring business, a lot of them are in India. There are also a lot of them in the former Eastern European countries, Ukraine included. There's also Poland, and there's Russia itself. When I was looking, I was surprised to see how many options there were in China. Now, because of the language issues, China was a nonstarter for us. We just couldn't get over that. Because of a number of reasons, we ended up not going with India. Now, in Eastern Europe, you then have the language issue because the developers speak Russian or Polish and we don't.
What becomes critical, as soon as you step out of India, and work in any other country that's non-native English speaking, is that the project manager really has to be the glue. The project manager and the communication have to be at a level where he or she is able to understand what you're asking of them clearly. We are very hands-on, so our involvement is on a daily basis. We participate in some of the end-user testing on a daily basis. It's not like we define our projects, "Hey, build this, and come back in two weeks." We are really hands-on with them.
The project manager has really been a partner to us, in perfect sync with us not just in what we're asking them to do, but also at times in connecting the dots. That works in two ways: one way is at a very basic level, the language issue. I speak to the project manager, not the developers, who were OK with written English, but not so okay with verbal skills.
Then, the project manager's role becomes very critical in translating what I'm asking to what could be changed, or should be changed to build a platform better. This project manager at SteelKiwi has been phenomenal with that as well. Sometimes I'll say, "Build me this," and then she'd talk to the developers. All of them will discuss it as a team, and then come back with, "We could tweak this slightly. It could reduce the timeline by three days." That really is the role that the project manager has played, which has been so critical to the success of this relationship.
We're also kind of following an agile development methodology. Our company is even younger than young. We are a baby company so, sometimes, we react even faster than agile would recommend. We do follow some sort of an agile shell, but it tends to be more chaotic than that, as you can imagine. We change direction frequently, even more frequently than what agile would allow.
What distinguishes SteelKiwi from other providers?
Their talent pool is a huge factor but also their project management approach. I've really appreciated SteelKiwi's ability to think outside of the box and offer us key suggestions around process improvement or bug fixes or feature designs. That's not what I would call typical of offshore developers.
Is there anything SteelKiwi could have improved or done differently?
If I'm not mistaken, they have about 50 people, give or take. For a company of that size, we have been happy with their ability on the things I've mentioned – the outstanding DevOps guy and the outstanding Python guy. We asked for a designer, and they've come with a great design guy. One limitation of their size is the fact that they are in only operating in one time zone. It's a problem not for today, but it's a problem for a different day. Right now, we ourselves have fewer than 10 employees, so we are not that big yet. If we ever got to hundreds of employees or if our platform ever blew up, then we would probably grow beyond them.
If SteelKiwi had a presence in the U.S., that would be a game changer. If SteelKiwi had a presence in other time zones, so that we have a 24/7 team out there, that would be a game changer. It's not really a problem for us, for what we need right now. I have no regrets with going with them. We did a lot of due diligence, we did not take this position lightly. I can see how we might someday go beyond what a company in one time zone can offer, but that's unfair to hold it against them.