AirPair{}Me Provides On-Demand Access to Elite Software Engineers

Patricio Robles
Mar. 18 2014, 07:00AM EDT

You have a major development project launching next month and your team needs help. Perhaps it's a vexing problem related to the Ruby on Rails ActiveRecord API. Or an optimization issue with the AngularJS $animate service. What do you do?

You could ask Google in the hope that somebody else has published the information you need. If that isn't the case, you could try asking a real human on StackOverflow, Github or a message board.

Or you could use a novel young service called AirPair. The company gives individuals and companies on-demand access to expert software developers on an hourly basis through live video chat and screen sharing. Experts can provide assistance through a variety of services, including pair programming, code review and collaborative problem solving.

"It's like Uber the taxi/car service, but for knowledge," explains Jonathon Kresner, AirPair's founder and CEO. "Customers come to us because we have the best experts. They can assume quality and get help fast."

With growing demand—according to Kresner, the company's revenues are currently growing at a 40% month-over-month clip—and relationships with top engineers established, AirPair is today launching a new service called AirPair{}Me. Like the company's core offering, it gives individuals and companies the ability to tap into the expertise of experienced software professionals on an as-needed basis. Unlike the AirPair core offering, however, AirPair{}Me eliminates the need to submit a request that AirPair matches to its pool of experts. Instead, the new service allows individuals and companies to book a specific expert for the specific number of hours it needs at an hourly rate set by the expert.

Participation in AirPair{}Me is limited to experts that AirPair has hand-selected. These experts consist of core contributors to prominent open source projects, published authors and the experts on AirPair who have built up the best reputations.

A new model for engineering teams

With its core offering and now AirPair{}Me, AirPair is trying to prove that there's a new model for companies to maximize the productivity of their engineering teams. Because of the value of technical know-how and intellectual property, many companies insist that all software-related work product be developed and maintained by employees. AirPair, however, believes that companies will increasingly come to rely on outside experts they can tap into on an on-demand basis—experts who, unlike most consultants, ultimately aren't responsible for products, fixing bugs or meeting deadlines, but who instead are uniquely capable of helping companies connect the most important engineering dots and fill in the most frustrating development blanks.

To some, the notion of companies bringing in experts here and there for as little as an hour or two will seem very new and perhaps even "futuristic," Kresner says,  but he is convinced that great things happen when companies tap into the expertise that's available outside their organizations in this fashion. He points to the experience of Nathan Ward, a software engineer at Intel, as an example of why the AirPair model is so compelling.

Ward was building an application using Ember.js, one of the most popular JavaScript application frameworks, and sought guidance on how to optimize the performance of the application in several areas. AirPair connected Ward to Stefan Penner, a developer who is more than an Ember.js expert—he's a member of the core team behind Ember.js.

Working with Penner through AirPair, Ward was not only able to come up with the optimizations he sought, but the first-two hour session between the two developers also led to the creation of code that was contributed back to the Ember.js community. This, according to Kresner, is one of the most powerful aspects of AirPair that isn't immediately apparent. While experts are compensated very well for their knowledge, Kresner suggests that the non-monetary compensation is just as important to them.

"We are not just giving the market help. We are giving experts a new and unique feedback loop," he told me. Many experts are contributors to popular open-source projects that are constantly evolving and improving, so AirPair interactions that introduce new challenges and opportunities can be beneficial to their projects. Every interaction will not produce code that can be contributed back to an open-source project, as was the case in the Intel example, but working on challenging problems is a big draw for experts.

"I didn't know that until I did my first AirPair," Kresner told me. "Teaching and getting people unstuck is incredibly rewarding."

A new market for expertise you can't recruit

Penner is one of the experts that AirPair{}Me is launching with. Other experts involved in the launch include Yehuda Katz, a core contributor to the Ruby on Rails, jQuery and Ember.js projects; Phil Sturgeon, a well-known member of the PHP community; and Ruby on Rails expert Backnol Yogendran.

"Companies cannot hire these people," Kresner says. "They are the best of the best and already working where they want because they can work anywhere." But they are available through AirPair{}Me because they trust that the company will bring them interesting challenges and make it easier for them to monetize their knowledge so they can focus on their true passion: writing code. With AirPair{}Me, experts can share their AirPair{}Me link in GitHub readmes and email and forum signatures, for instance—an effective, low-effort tactic for promoting themselves to relevant communities in which their expertise will be most needed and valued.

Because its core offering and AirPair{}Me are providing access to experts who can't be recruited, AirPair believes it is effectively creating a new market that didn't exist before. "We are creating a knowledge market to distribute high-level software expertise that is too fast for traditional educational channels like courses and is too niche to package for the masses," Kresner adds.

If AirPair has its way, this kind of market will be an increasingly important part of the enterprise software development ecosystem in the future.

As a special promotion for ProgrammableWeb readers, AirPair has made the following experts available to the first reader that books them for a discounted price of $40 for the first hour with the code "pgweb".

Todd Motto (html5)
Adam Bliss (android+gooogleglass)
Tim Caswell (javascript)
Felienne Hermans (excel)
Erik Bryn (emberjs)
Phil Sturgeon (php)
Greg Osuri (devops)
Stefan Penner (emberjs)
Jack Watson-Hamblin (rubymotion)
Backnol Yogendran (rails)

Patricio Robles Follow me on Google+

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