Horror Stories I: Freelance Developers Gone Bad

Published Mar 20, 2017Last updated Jun 14, 2017
Horror Stories I: Freelance Developers Gone Bad

It’s 2017, and freelancers, independent contractors, and consultants now make up close to 15% of all workers in the United States. Thanks to a rising number of freelancing platforms, hiring talented freelance developers from all around the world is just a few clicks and a couple of Skype calls away!

However, the world of freelancing is not all rainbows and unicorns, and the recent explosion of freelance work has not been without casualties. Whether you represent the hiring side or the hired side, there are plenty of horror stories to tell. You might want to read these with the lights on.

1. Directory Gone Wild

“We seem to be experiencing some kind of performance challenges with our WordPress website,” a client told Moose WorldWide Digital, a dev house.

The website seemed fine on the surface, so CEO Alan and his team at Mose WorldWide Digital dug a little deeper.

After downloading the client’s WordPress site, which had been designed and implemented by a freelance developer who had since left, Alan and his team were completely shocked and speechless.

“To our amazement, the site had nearly nine hundred thousand files in it,” Alan exclaimed. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if they were working with a very complex site, but this was a 9-page website.

After downloading this beast, they discovered a strange directory structure:


As it turns out, three years before, the freelancer had modified the WordPress core to write every SQL statement to a text file on the server, creating a new directory for each year, month, day, hour, and second. What’s worse was that the developer then left it running for three years.

Though Moose was eventually able to remove the debug hack and delete the folder structure, the freelance developer’s failure to write maintainable code cost their client extra time and money fixing a problem that should never have existed.

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2. Bought Myself a Lawsuit


Back in August 2016, Karrie Sullivan and her team at Culminate Digital Consulting were brought into a huge company scandal — one of their clients’ in-house developers had leveraged the company’s website to siphon revenue from them. The desperate client ran to Karrie and asked her to rebuild the website.

The client had a very complex website, and Karrie knew she had to find a group of phenomenal developers to help accomplish this task. Karrie found a group of freelance web developer to estimate and build the new site.

The freelance group made an offer with two conditions:

  1. they will develop the website in Drupal 8
  2. they must be paid by the hour.

“Rest assured, we’re all experts in Drupal 8!” said the developers. Though Karrie had concerns about developing the company’s website in the newest version of Drupal, she decided to trust that the developers knew what they were doing and signed a contract with them.

A month later, they noticed that they were paying invoice after invoice but not seeing any results. Concerned, Karrie picked up the phone and called the developers. They reassured her: “Don’t worry about it, the project is just a bit complicated. We’ll call in a couple of additional freelance developers to help out!” Though Karrie decided to give them another chance, the same problem persisted. Eventually, Karrie and her team decided to call in another development shop to audit the work.

Fast forward 6 months, and Culminate Digital Consulting is now headed to arbitration and has had to hire an attorney to fight bills for hours that weren’t worked. These freelancers essentially turned a terrible situation into a real nightmare!

When asked why something like this happened, Karrie said: “When you get to the bottom of it, you’ll realize the biggest problem is that freelance shops usually don’t have project managers to keep things on track — it simply doesn’t work in freelancers’ interest. If the client doesn’t have a great IT project manager and a tight scope, they should insist on paying a fixed fee upon the project’s completion instead of paying by the hour.”

In fact, we’ve found that one of the top reasons why freelance projects fail is the lack of adequate project management. If you’re looking for freelancers on various freelance platforms, make sure to find one that offers project management services

3. Sunk Cost, Sunken Business

A few years ago, Ian Wright, now the successful founder of British Business Energy, wanted to create a website that would make comparing the prices of diamond jewelry easy and straightforward. He wanted to make a website where users could create semi-customized jewelry by simply filling out a few forms.

He had a brilliant idea — all he needed was someone to bring it to life.

Lacking experience with freelancers, Ian went on one of the popular freelancing site to look for a few freelance developers. Not knowing what to look for, he simply went for the cheapest developers he could find. Though there are certainly good developers who charge lower rates, these were not the ones Ian found.

After hiring them, Ian realized they could barely communicate — not only was it nearly impossible to do this, but, due to the language barrier, they could barely understand each other.

To make things even worse, with very little experience, Ian assumed he could just give general specs to the developers. After endless back-and-forth and many failed attempts at communication, Ian received a sub-par product that was far, far from what he had in mind. Though he continued to ask these freelance developers for revisions, after countless delays, he eventually ran out of money before a viable MVP could even be launched.

“I know it wasn’t completely their fault,” Ian admitted, “it was partially my fault for not being able to communicate my ideas clearly.” With that said, it is even more important to find qualified freelancers than simply going for the cheapest ones.

4. Stranger Things


(Spoiler Alert): If you’ve seen Stranger Things, you’ll know what happened to Will Byers. After a fun night of Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, Will disappeared while holding a gun in his own home. (End of Spoiler Alert)

Didn’t think something like this could happen to a website? Well, Sarah at Enigma Digital Ltd. can tell you otherwise.

In the summer of 2012, everyone at Enigma (Infinity Wireless Ltd. at the time) was filled with excitement that their startup was finally ready to launch a new project into a new market! All content for the website was created internally and was ready to be inserted into the site design. Everything went off without a hitch.

Happy with the end results of the site, Sarah and her team found freelancers to do some simple work to optimize the design of their website. Little did they know, this would turn into their worst nightmare.

Instead of making the website better, the developers deleted all the content on Sarah’s website! If this was not bad enough already, these freelancers did not create any backups before they made changes to the site! What this meant for Sarah and her marketing team of two (including herself) was countless nights in front of their laptops, reformatting and re-inserting one page at a time. Not only that, the two of them spent weeks on internal rewriting and amendments.

Yes, mistakes happen, but the developers you work with should be responsible ones who truly have your best interest in mind. They should follow common practices such as creating backups during site updates. Making the best of their tragic experience, Enigma later developed their own software to help smartphone users who have accidentally deleted their data!

5. Face/Off (Identity Theft)

If freelance developers appear to be the villain in all freelance horror stories, consider this: apart from common difficulties freelance developers run into — unclear and ever-changing specs, communication and time zone issues, payment delays, etc. — sometimes, their identities get stolen.

Stephanie Caudle, a freelance web developer and founder of a micro job platform created to help connect African-American women freelancers, Black Girl Group, found that her identity had been stolen a few days before Christmas.

Stephanie had been freelancing part-time for quite a while, but only recently did she take a leap of faith and decide to go all in. Before she became a full-time freelance developer, Stephanie had surveyed the landscape and signed up to countless freelance sites. She made sure to keep all her information secure to protect herself on these websites.

A few days before Christmas, she received the horrific news that someone who had posed as a “new client” to her on Upwork then turned around and stole her identity. Not only was the individual using her portfolio, he or she was also using Stephanie’s name, images, and social security number on other job sites.

Stephanie was shocked to the core. “Why would someone do that?” After calming herself down, she did a little research and found out that the person was trying to get Stephanie to pay the taxes on his or her work.

The issue has since been resolved, but the feeling of being violated still haunts Stephanie.

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Avoid Freelance Horrors 😱

Don’t be afraid — not all freelance stories are as frightening as these. With the right project management support and proper vetting of developers, most of the issues we’ve discussed can be prevented altogether. If you want to avoid project nightmares and low quality freelance developers, CodementorX may be exactly what you're looking for. With our rigorous vetting process, our team has a thorough understanding of each freelance developer’s technical abilities and communication style, which can directly influence a project’s success.

After all, our mission is to help you succeed!

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