airpairHow do I poll 20 APIs concurrently and stream the results back to the webpage? Should I combine Mongo with Elasticsearch? Why is Sensei DB randomly running out of memory ? What’s a good algorithm for real-time sentiment analysis? airpair is here to help with all those tough questions by connecting you to expert developers and helping you get things done faster!

Fellow coders, hats off to you! You are today’s superheroes, completely reshaping the world through amazing software that makes lives richer in every way.

You are part of the largest community on earth, that spans across many different cultures and does not care about age, gender or religion. As part of this community, you’ve selflessly shared billions of lines of code in dozens of different programming languages, so that technology can evolve.

And your hard work is paying off, since technology is moving at such an incredible pace these days. The tough part is that it’s becoming harder and harder to keep up. New technical challenges keep popping up faster than forums and Q&A sites can handle. Cutting edge technologies have increasingly bad documentation because there’s literally not much time left for that.

Roadblock up ahead, deadline around the corner. What do you do?

So what do you do when you hit your head against a wall? How do you keep your speed up when you face a new programming problem? You could spend days google-ing for answers that might just not be there. You could post a question on StackOverflow and not only hope enough people see it, but that among them, someone has the expertise to help. What if you could directly ask someone who knows the answer and can literally walk you through it?

Enter airpair

I got into some really hard tech trouble myself a while back and after weeks of trying – and failing – to get help in all the usual places, I stumbled across airpair and got in touch with founder Jonathon Kresner. His mission is this: help developers build software faster with help from experts via 1-on-1 video pair programming sessions. 

Jonathon was kind enough to answer some of my questions so read on for some good stuff on building a lean startup! But first…

Here’s how airpair works:

  1. You sign up and fill out a form with details about what you’re trying to achieve and the problem you’re facing. You select the hourly rate you’re willing to pay an expert developer and specify the times you’d be available to chat. Expert rates range from $10/h to $230/h and each developer sets his/her own rate. Airpair fee depends on whether you’re willing to make the session publicly available, keep it private or need the other party to sign an NDA first. The fees are likely to change until the startup matures and figures out the optimum pricing thresholds.
  2. The airpair algorithm suggests the best matches and from that the airpair team hand selects their 3 favorites after reviewing your request.
  3. You pick one of the three, choose the number of hours you think you’ll need to get your problem sorted out and proceed to payment.
  4. Once you set the time, you’re connected with the expert via Google Hangouts, one of the most versatile video calling solutions that not only does audio and video but also two-way screen-sharing. The expert doesn’t code for you, but instead works in tandem with you to blast you through your development barriers!

It’s easy to see why the system works:

  1. The expert developer gets to make extra cash without having to actually write code. He doesn’t have to quit his day job or abandon his other projects.
  2. The client gets problems solved faster with the solution being explained and vetted by a seasoned professional.
  3. Based on the feedback they’re getting, it seems that experts love teaching and airpair gives them a chance to improve their communication and problem solving skills while building their online reputation

What kind of programming languages can you get help with?

The most requested languages are Ruby on Rails and Javascript, as you’d expect, with specific sessions going into node.js, backbone or angular. Jonathon even mentioned Puppet – which I had never heard about – so, as he puts it, “it’s a mixed bag, I love it!:)

Do you fancy yourself an expert? Join airpair for free and start making money in your spare time! In need of assistance? Just ask and get on with things.

Ok, ok, but what about <enter concern here> ?

Ok, I admit, I’m excited about this service as it could potentially save me hours when working on my next business (I did tell you I do most of the coding for all my businesses, didn’t I?). However, the fact is, airpair is relatively new and, as it also involves upfront payment, you’d be forgiven for holding back until they have a stronger track record. As both a customer and a developer considering signing up as an expert, I also had my concerns, so I decided to go ahead and ask Jonathon about them. Let’s get down to it: should you trust airpair? 

1. Technology – is the business “for real”?

They launched the service using only Google Docs forms, and still rely on Google Hangouts to hold the 1-on-1 sessions. For a company that pitches expert developer help, not building any technology of their own raises a red flag, doesn’t it? As it turns out, this is not Jonathon’s first startup, and his current approach is based on previous experience:

“I’ve spent YEARS in my previous 2 startups building features that never got used. Everything that gets built for airpair gets built because we need it to scale the service and what we’re building has already been done manually using another piece of existing technology. Airpair’s sweet spot is the hour where an expert and customer come together – everything else we build is to make the experience around that hour smoother and more efficient. We had customers that LOVED us and have now come back multiple times even when all we had was a Google forms solution from both ends.”

2. Quality control: what if the expert I get proves to be inefficient or too slow?

If I’m going to pay upfront for an expert to help me with something I already know is quite hard, how can I make sure he lives up to the promise? Here’s airpair’s approach:

“We record every session not only for quality control, but also so the customer can refer to things again in case they didn’t fully understand the experts knowledge during their session. We do Full Money Back Guarantee if you’re not happy. We haven’t had a problem yet.” 

Of course, the more precise the client is in knowing what he wants, the better things work out, and that’s something you need to remember whenever you seek help, in any form. That being said, some of the feedback airpair gets is quite impressive. Here’s one that caught my eye:

“My first experience with airpair was awesome. I got hooked up with a fantastic developer who taught me a lot in our first two hour session. Jonathon made sure everything was set up and that I was happy with the service. I highly recommend using airpair. I plan on doing so regularly.”

3. Sustainability. Will this startup survive? Does it makes sense for me, as an expert, to invest my time in this platform?

This question basically answered itself when I checked out airpair’s profile on 4 months in and they’re already pulling in $1000 / day in revenue so they shouldn’t have a problem raising money, if that proves necessary.

— To sum up, I really think you should give airpair a try. And if you like it as much as I do, why not consider joining the team? They’re hiring! —

Lessons from Jonathon

This March, airpair was featured on TechCrunch, when Sarah Perez opened the flood gates to the young startup. Back then, they were taking signups via a Google Docs form (THAT’s how you do a lean startup!) and weren’t quite ready for prime time, so plenty of requests (mine included) didn’t end up in a programming session.

However, that’s all just part of launching a startup, and you just have to listen to Jonathon talk about airpair to know the service is here to stay and the entire team is committed to providing a kick-ass service.

Lesson 1, on failing to service the first batch of customers: A startup cannot succeed on one set of customers

“It has to be able to go out and find new customers everyday. At that point we still needed validation that customers were out there and even though we didn’t service most of them, it validated airpair as a needed service.”

Lesson 2: Learn from what went wrong

“Our failing to service the first batch of users provided a great insight… in our business we have to service people straight away and cannot leave them hanging. Our aim is to pioneer REAL-TIME software help and pair programming support. We are obsessed with every possible way to shrink response times to as low as half an hour from request.”

Lesson 3: Focus

The key to success is to correctly identify the most important part of your business and make that your only focus. “airpair’s sweet spot is the hour where an expert and a customer come together – everything else we build is to make the experience around that hour smoother and more efficient”.

Lesson 4: Don’t guess, get answers

Airpair builds features based on client feedback, not on hunches. Starting with no proprietary technology and gathering feedback very early is a solid strategy, as long as you’re quick to build on it.

Lesson 5: Like Matt’s Facebook page

Ok, I’ll admit, Jonathon did NOT say that but deep down, I know he wishes he had! ;)

So, there you have it, my shameless excitement for airpair. What do you guys think? Will you sign up? Is there anything else you want to know from Jonathon?

Ask away!

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