RFS: A Call for Software Handyman

Posted on Feb 18, 2024

Living in a house that’s in need of repairs and upgrades over the last few years has presented me with a wealth of learning opportunities. Just in the last year I’ve had to: repair our dishwasher, fix a leaky washing machine, rewire our dryer to work with our electric system, replace some doors, install new walls, and a thousand other smaller fixes along the way.

Fortunately, I’m quite handy and for the things I don’t already know how to do, I’m able to YouTube-tutorial my way to success. Many of my fellow homeowners aren’t though and they use a solution that should have a parallel in software development.

That solution is to call a handyman.^1 They know someone who is familiar with how things are done, can come in over an afternoon, look at how stuff is set up, and get it working in the way the owner wants.

My question is: wouldn’t it be great if this was possible with software?

Now, before everyone gets upset with my trivializing software development what I’m not saying is that we should just have all software development done part time. Like in buildings there are hundreds of thousands of people who are fully dedicated to developing systems, tools, parts, building codes, and processes. These are all essential for the handyman to work on top of. There’s no real replacement for having a dedicated team of highly invested and capable engineers building things.

However, it seems like there’s plenty of adjustments that should be able to be made without having the most highly educated (and paid) engineer in the world come in and make the change.

What I imagine is that there would be a certain class of software handyman available for the odd jobs. To keep with the housing analogy, there would be people who know how to wire a light switch but aren’t electricians. They can fix a leaky faucet but aren’t a plumber. They can unstick a broken flue but aren’t chimney smiths. In the original sense, they are jacks of all trades and masters of none. They can get things done but also know when something is beyond them.

One of the key distinctions here is that these are people who are not trying to build a big business or brand. They don’t have employees, they work mostly in cash, and bill hourly. They are fundamentally different than, say, getting 5 quotes from different roofing companies before having a team show up to take on a major project.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this existed as a category in software development? We have things close to it for fractional, contract developers through systems like Gun.io, Toptal, etc. But as far as I’m aware, there’s not something out there that connects you with a regular handyman who can just pop in and accomplish tasks for you.

The difficulty as I see it is that so much software is extremely customized. But for common tech stacks - Supabase/React, for example - there should be a class of person who is known to just be able to jump in and take on some tasks without spending weeks onboarding.

If such a thing exists, please let me know! And if it doesn’t, would you consider facilitating it?

^1 There are also plenty of things I don’t do. We needed to get the connection from our electrical panel to the street upgraded so we could install a low-temperature heat pump. You better believe I did neither of those things!