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How to thrive in the coming tech gig economy

Paul Heltzel | Oct. 27, 2015
The rise of contract and contingent work is shaking up the traditional IT career path. Here’s how to navigate for success.

“On the talent front, millennials are in a prime position for advancing contract work,” Jim Chou, CTO of Work Market, a marketplace for freelance work. “Popularized by the startup companies, they seek independence and freedom to work from wherever and whenever. Larger organizations are taking notice and adapting their policies to cater to this growing workforce demographic.”

Pilot projects and emerging platforms aren't the sole focus of this shift toward contract gigs, according to Chou.

“[We’re] also seeing more and more traditional work categories in IT being packaged into definable work tasks that can be performed by verified contract workers, and with their work measured and priced,” Chou says. “For example, in software testing, we see contract work where companies pay by the number of defects found. Others pay by the resulting algorithms, big data ETL created, or even by the IT trouble tickets fulfilled. We also observe that more and more young IT professionals are taking on projects outside of their workplace -- a twist to moonlighting.”

Doug Paulo, who leads Kelly Services’ IT staffing business, says these free agents prefer contract work because they can develop new skills and have more control over their schedules. They see themselves as entrepreneurs who are in it for the long haul.

Jim Chou, CTO, Work Market
“[We’re] also seeing more and more traditional work categories in IT being packaged into definable work tasks that can be performed by verified contract workers, and with their work measured and priced.” — Jim Chou, CTO, Work Market

“Employers need to be aware of this trend as they manage their talent supply chain,” Paulo says. “To continue to attract professional and technical candidates with the high level of expertise and diverse experience they need, employers will have to keep their doors open to just-in-time talent by offering the more flexible, nontraditional work arrangements that free agents are looking for.”

Skills test: Go deep or go broad

Long-term IT success has always hinged on keeping your skill set fresh, but with staffing mixes trending toward more contract-based work, and presumably fewer full-time gigs, what’s the best approach to developing a bulletproof set of IT skills? Should you dive deep into a certain area or develop a hybrid approach so that you’re able to wear many hats?

“I would focus on depth in a specific area like data mining or security and do my best to gain experience in a specific industry, such as financial services or automotive, for example,” says Margaret Gernert, research director at CDI Corp., an IT staffing services company. “Many of our clients want talent that has both technical skills and knowledge of their industry, which is why knowing your technical discipline and immersing yourself in it is required, but the vertical experience is becoming more and more essential -- it’s literally part of many of our clients’ job descriptions.”

 

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