ask the dev: what does it mean when the previous dev won’t help me?

I was chatting with a colleague at a meetup recently, and he shared a story. He had recently picked up a gig supporting a software project via Craigslist. The client explained to him that the previous developer was no longer available. He needed a couple of new features to be implemented, and a bug to be fixed. My colleague thought it would be a good idea to have a brief discussion with the previous developer in order to speed up the transition on the project. The client gave him that person’s email address, and my colleague sent an email, but got no reply. A few days later, he sent another email. A week later, there’s still no response! The client averred that he had tried to reach the dev, too, but hadn’t heard back. He could give no explanation, and just suggested that the previous dev’s help was not needed, anyway.

My colleague asked me what I thought, and here’s what I said: It sounds to me like things ended badly between your client and the previous developer. Since the previous dev is not replying, maybe your emails got spam-collected. The fact that the client is not getting a response either is suspicious… If the previous dev parted on good terms, then I think he would have responded, at least briefly. I certainly would, even if I were busy.

Maybe the previous dev wasn’t paid for some work that was done. Maybe the client made unreasonable demands, rang his phone late at night, or something like that? I’d take this as a sign to “proceed with caution”. Don’t put a lot of work into the project without getting paid.

My colleague was doing the work as a fixed bid project. So maybe he should ask that each task be broken up into smaller, discrete pieces, each of which can be paid at an agreed-upon price. Also, the work should be clearly specified in order to avoid scope creep and disagreements about how the work was defined.

When freelancing, it’s a good idea to keep your initial project with a client small in order to test the waters. This is especially important when you have a couple of signals that your new client may be problematic. Getting ghosted when requesting information from a previous developer is one troubling sign. The fact that the client advertises on Craigslist certainly sets my spidey-sense tingling, too!

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