I'm a software engineer, and have been on both sides of the hiring process. (Not online - just locally.) I have to say, on both sides, genuine interest matters a great deal. When I am interviewing, I almost always jump-in and start making design suggestions. This almost always gets me the job. (Caveat - I am a contractor, work through an agency, and employers are well pre-screened. If I do not find the work interesting, I decline to have my resume sent to the employer.)
On the other side, when I have been asked to help evaluate a candidate (interestly, these have most often been for permanent positions, even though I am a contractor) again, what impresses me most is a genuine interest in the project, as well as when they start to solve the problem then and there.
I'm hard to BS, so I don't ask trick questions or ask them to solve puzzles - which seems to be a favorite technique of many.
(My most bizarre interview ever as a prospective employee was one where I was asked if I played a musical intrument. The position had nothing to do with music or audio. The hiring manager was of the opinion that musicians make better programmers. I didn't get the job. For the record, I HAVE done work with digital audio... I'm just not musically inclined. I believe the term is "can't carry a tune in a basket.")
If the knowledge, talent, and interest is there, it will come out in the interview, when they start solving the problem, suggesting the right tools and techniques.
(Oh, I have one other rule. Wearing a suit will get you a polite, 1/2-hour interview. And that's all.)
That's good to hear, as I've considered trying this. I only want to do some small projects to get my feet wet. Was wondering if anybody would hire somebody with zero feedback.
I imagine there must be people who are explicitly looking for people in their own country or at least that speak their language natively. Sometimes cultural differences can cause a problem. As well, language and time differences. A cheap programmer overseas doesn't help if the manager refuses to get up in the middle of the night to communicate with them.
I've worked with a couple of Russian programmers. In one case, on-site (he was from Russia, but lives here now - but was originally hired as a telecommute). That one was a bit of a cowboy, difficult to get along with - you could not disagree with him, and unfortunately, he was put in charge of a project. Produced OK but not great code, but a lot of it in a short time. Did not make great design decisions, IMO.
Second one was a telecommute. This time the tables were flipped or perhaps we were peers. He worked for a small specialized stock broker, the CEO was essentially the project manager (and was actually qualified to do this, as he had a technical background). I was the sole technical talent (and partner) for one of the broker's customers. They were developing a new order-entry API, and we were the broker's lead customer who would use the API. Anyway, it worked out very well - he did a great job - a good design, "got" what we were looking for, and was very diligent about fixing bugs.
My one frustration was communication. I am used to being able to pick up the phone and clear things up and work things out interactively. I finally twisted the broker's arm to get the guy's phone number (guess he was afraid we would hire him away), but it was a futile effort. I quickly discovered that all communication had to be in writing so that he could take his time to work out the translation.
My point is - I imagine many customers would prefer not to go through these communication hassles, and would specifically want somebody in their own country.