frequently hurled at technologists is that they gleefully
introduce new gadgets, software and “business paradigms”
without ever thinking of the long-term impact — or whether
these brainwaves should be introduced at all.
At least when it comes to the internet, the technologists
are acting as their own guinea pigs. Take that old saying
about how the internet is going to make a level playing
field for businesses, helping us to compete more fairly with
each other and therefore encourage lower prices. If anyone
is testing that theory, it is
The premise of Rentacoder is simple: if you need a
computer job carried out — a site designed, a program
written, a database created — you put it up for tender on
the website. Freelance developers read your request, ask
questions and name their price for completing the project.
You make the choice, sign a contract and wait for the
software — all online.
Rentacoder has a complex set of safeguards to prevent
either side being ripped off: clients pay their money into a
secure account to guarantee their good faith and there is an
arbitration panel in case the buyer claims the coder did not
do the job properly. At heart, though, Rentacoder is a raw,
undiluted free market.
The site has certainly attracted an odd mix of potential
clients. Most of the bids seem to be either teenagers trying
to palm off their computer-science homework for £20, or
overoptimistic entrepreneurs looking for someone to design
their entire business for less than a grand. You are not
going to see BP put out tenders here any time soon.
Yet, those £20 cheats and £1,000 cheapskates are finding
plenty of takers for their business. Somehow, there is
always one programmer around offering to do big projects for
a few hundred pounds and to take the small change off the
How can this be? The simple answer is most of the bidders
are from developing countries, mainly India and the former
Soviet Union. Over there, £20 is a great wage for a few
hours’ work and a few thousand is six months’ salary.
Rentacoder may be a cheapo dive for westerners, but it is a
staple income to the rest of the world.
So this is what digital globalisation looks like.
Technologists might not be happy about it, but, for once,
they are the foot soldiers in a revolution of their own
And before you indulge in a little friendly schadenfreude,
think about your job. Is there any reason why we could not
export accountancy? Commercial artwork? Medical advice?
E-mail Danny O’Brien at