10 Questions to Ask Your Software Vendor — Even If You Don’t Speak Code

Don’t be intimidated to ask for what you want. Here are 10 questions to ask any software vendor and the answers you should look for.

Written by Cory Hymel
Published on Jun. 06, 2024
10 Questions to Ask Your Software Vendor — Even If You Don’t Speak Code
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
Brand Studio Logo

Need to work with a software development vendor to create a new app or tool? If you aren’t an expert in coding — or if it’s been a hot minute since you debugged your last syntax error — that can feel a little intimidating. 

You need to be sure you’re getting efficient, high-quality, scalable and maintainable code. But how can you know if your software development is on point when actual code talk looks, and sounds, like Zapf Dingbats? How can you vet them?

Trusting the fate of your software projects to the hands of others doesn’t have to be an exercise in blind faith.

It turns out there are some simple questions you can ask that can give you some pretty spot-on insights into how your vendor develops, tests and maintains code. And you won’t need a degree in computer science to figure out whether they can deliver the goods.

Top 5 Questions to Ask Software Vendors

  1. How do you decide between writing custom code or reusing code?
  2. What is your code review and QA process?
  3. How would you develop code I could reuse for my next project?
  4. How do you develop scalable and maintainable solutions?
  5. Can you tell me about a time when you had to create cost-efficient custom code?

More on SoftwareWhy Your Company Should Be Using CodeOps


10 Questions to Ask Any Software Vendor 

Whether you’re a seasoned tech whisperer or someone who thinks Java is just a great place for coffee, these 10 questions are your compass, guiding you to make informed decisions that ensure your venture into software development lands on solid ground.

For each one, we’ll share the question to ask, give you some red flags to watch out for, identify an “OK” answer and then share the answer you really want to hear. 

Ready? Let’s go.

1. Can you explain your process behind writing custom code versus using existing solutions?

This question digs into the vendor’s ability to balance innovation with practicality. Custom coding should be reserved for when it truly adds value or addresses specific requirements not met by existing solutions.

Bad answers:

  • The vendor doesn’t have a structured decision-making process. 
  • “We default to custom coding without using existing code.”

OK answer:

  • “We assess the project needs and decide based on what we think is best.”

Good answer:

  • “We conduct a thorough analysis of your project’s needs, compare them against existing solutions and code and consider custom coding only when it offers a clear advantage in terms of functionality, efficiency or cost.”

2. What are your processes for code reviews and quality assurance?

The answer to this question identifies whether the vendor prioritizes maintaining high-quality, efficient and maintainable code.

Bad answers:

  • “We have no formal review process.”
  • “We solely rely on automated testing without human oversight.”

OK answer:

  • “Our developers review each other’s code.”

Good answer:

  • “We have a rigorous QA process, including automated testing and peer reviews, to ensure code meets industry standards and is free of bugs. We also try to reuse code that has already been validated to reduce time and risk.”

3. How do you ensure the code you develop is reusable for my future projects?

Reusable code promotes efficiency and cost-effectiveness in future development efforts. Their answer here will give you insight into how they think about clients long term.

Bad answer:

  • They don’t mention documentation or a modular approach to code architecture.

OK answer:

  • “We try to write clean code that could be reused.”

Good answer:

  • “We follow best practices in documentation and modular design, ensuring code is easily adaptable and reusable. We then catalog and store that code in a way that AI can easily access and recommend for future projects.”

4. How do you ensure the solutions you develop are scalable and maintainable?

Scalability and maintainability are critical for the long-term success and adaptability of any project.

Bad answer:

  • They give you a vague response that lacks strategies for scalability and maintainability.

OK answers:

  • “We build our solutions with scalability in mind.”
  • “We follow industry best practices.” They can’t tell you what those practices are.

Good answer:

  • “We employ scalable architecture patterns and conduct regular code refactoring to ensure the solution remains maintainable and scalable as it grows.”

5. Can you tell me about a time when you had to do custom development and how you ensured it was cost-effective?

The vendor’s answer to this question will highlight their capacity to make strategic decisions that align with both technical needs and budget constraints.

Bad answers:

  • “Custom development is our go-to solution.”
  • Their response demonstrates lack of consideration for cost-effectiveness.

OK answer:

  • “We’ve done custom development when we had no other choice and tried to keep costs down.

Good answer:

  • “In a recent project, custom development was essential for a specific feature. We minimized costs by using open-source, our own and the customer’s code libraries where appropriate, as well as ensuring that custom work was as modular as possible for future reuse.”

6. What specific libraries, frameworks or third-party services do you commonly integrate into projects?

The vendor’s response will reveal their knowledge of and willingness to use existing resources for efficiency and innovation.

Bad answers:

  • They overly rely on a narrow set of tools.
  • They’re unfamiliar with current libraries and frameworks.

OK answer:

  • “We use a few popular frameworks for front-end development.”

Good answer:

  • They share the specific options they use for the back end, integrating with services for scalability and for specific functionalities, and how they use libraries to ensure they don’t waste resources on solving common problems. Competent developers will use existing tools and frameworks to speed up development and reduce costs.

7. How do you keep up with the latest development trends and technologies?

Staying up-to-date is crucial to take advantage of the latest advancements that will benefit your project.

Bad answer:

  • Their response reveals they have no structured approach to continuous learning or reliance on outdated sources.

OK answer:

  • “We attend a few conferences and read online articles.”

Good answer:

  • “Our team dedicates time each week to research and experiment with new technologies. We also contribute to and follow leading industry forums, attend workshops and obtain certifications to ensure we’re at the cutting edge.”

8. How do you estimate project costs? Can you walk me through an example project, including how many hours you spent on custom coding?

This question provides insight into the vendor’s transparency and the value you’re getting, particularly regarding custom work. It basically ensures you aren’t getting fleeced.

Bad answers:

  • They demonstrate an unwillingness to provide detailed estimates.
  • They provide no examples of past project costs.

OK answer:

  • “We estimate based on the project’s size and complexity.”

Good answer:

  • “For a recent project, we detailed each phase, showing hours allocated to custom coding versus integration. This breakdown is part of our initial estimate to ensure transparency and align expectations.”

9. Can you give me an example of a time when you optimized a project’s development time and budget?

This provides evidence of the vendor’s ability to deliver efficiently and cost-effectively and can demonstrate their expertise and approach to problem-solving.

Bad answers:

  • They respond without concrete examples and are reluctant to share detailed outcomes.
  • They focus only on cutting costs without mentioning the impact on quality.

OK answer:

  • “We’ve managed to cut costs on several projects by streamlining our development processes.

Good answer:

  • “In a recent project, we optimized development time by X percent and reduced the budget by using reusable code components and efficient third-party integrations, all documented in our case study.’ They’re able to provide the case study.

10. How do you decide when to integrate existing solutions instead of custom development?

This question assesses the vendor’s priority for cost and time efficiency, as well as their expertise in finding the best existing solutions that can be tailored to fit your project’s needs.

Bad answers:

  • They have an immediate inclination toward custom development.
  • They demonstrate a lack of proper research into existing solutions.
  • They have vague or non-existent evaluation processes.
  • They don’t mention how they keep abreast of the latest and most efficient technologies and frameworks.

OK answer:

  • “We look into what’s available and choose what seems best at the time.”

Good answer:

  • “We start by thoroughly mapping your project’s requirements to potential existing solutions, evaluating them for fit, scalability and long-term support. Our team uses a combination of industry benchmarks, community feedback and our experience.”

More on Maintainable CodeWhat Are Code Smells? (Examples With Solutions.)


Have More Questions? Ask!

The important takeaway here is: Don’t shy away from asking questions.

Questions are absolutely the way to a successful project outcome, ensuring a development process that’s efficient, cost-effective and aligned with your business goals. 

Hiring Now
Magna International
Automotive • Hardware • Robotics • Software • Transportation • Manufacturing