I am going to post about something I don’t post about a lot, the business side of development.  Scott at the antipimp does a good job of explaining how contracts work from a business perspective.  I am going to give a view from the ground.

First, a little background on myself.  I have recently taken a 6 month contract after about 8 years of fulltime employment.  I have 2 kids, and a stay at home wife.  I took this contract opportunity because I wanted to try it on for size.  I have always wondered whether I would like doing contracts over fulltime employment.  So, in keeping with the theme of this blog I will write this down now so that I may reference it later.

  1. ALL jobs are temporary!
    Right now you may not realize it, most people simply ignore it, but EVERY job is temporary.  Everyone should be planning for life after the money stops coming in.  Sadly, most people do not.  Contracting pushes this issue to the forefront, making you deal with it.  After a month on a contract, I am happy to say that I am saving more than I ever saved in a fulltime position.  Hopefully, I will be ready in case of an extended window of unemployment between contracts.
  2. Networking
    I find it extremely gratifying getting to know people.  It is especially beneficial when moving to a new city.  What better way to go out and meet people in your field than to work a few contracts?  6 months of working beside someone and you get to know them pretty well.  This is one of my favorite aspects.
  3. Technical Agility
    Moving between IS shops takes (or molds you into) a flexible person.  You have to be able to go in and hit the ground running.  This means you need to be able to sit down and start work on a large codebase working in a language that you may or may not have that much experience in.  It is also an excellent way to learn new languages and broaden your technical skill set.  I took my current position to learn Ruby.  A month ago, I had only used it in passing, but now I am using it every day.  It’s a tragedy in this field when people start coding for the joy and love of coding, then become deeply entrenched in their companies methods and technologies that it becomes a just a job.
  4. Less Stress
    I am not talking about the kind of stress you get from a jackass boss.  I am talking about the kind of stress I (or others) experience about planning and future proofing your code.  Not saying I stay up at night worrying whether we have done it right, if that code I wrote today is going to bite me later, but it still creeps around in the dark recesses of my mind.  Careful though, I am not suggesting you write sloppy code; just defer any large architectural or design decisions to the ‘code owners’.
  5. Flexible Scheduling
    It makes me very happy to be able to cut out a few hours early on a Friday (provided the work is done) and start the weekend off early by going to the pool, or taking the kids to the park.  Contracting provides you this opportunity (mileage may vary).  Most of your fulltime brethren will not care, they will be jealous that they’re corporate policy prevents them from doing the same.  However, you must be mindful of situations where this is not appropriate, and don’t over do it.  You are there to work after all.
  6. Affirmation of Need
    Have you ever been stuck in a job where you thought you were underpaid?  Have you ever been in a position where you felt like there was not enough workload for you?  This is not a problem for contractors.  When you start a contract it is understood that you are needed, and the employer knows that you are happy with the terms.

Contracting may not be for everyone.  But, if you develop a relationship with a good consulting firm, keep their clients happy, then they will keep you happy.  They want you to work almost as much as you do.  Just be sure and plan financially for any windows of unemployment.