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Life as an IT contractor

Ann Bednarz | Oct. 17, 2014
Independence, job variability, earning potential, skills development. But is it worth it?

Employers and contract workers value flexibility

The appeal of contingent workers has risen since the recession; companies today are looking to build lean, agile IT departments that can adapt to changing business requirements, says Jason Hayman, market research manager at IT staffing and services firm TEKsystems. With temporary workers, companies can bring on skilled IT talent to handle specific projects and scale back if demand falls.

"We're seeing a more blended workforce today, of a smaller W-2 [full-time] workforce and a growing variable workforce," says Peter Cannone, CEO of OnForce, which run a cloud-based marketplace for hiring independent IT workers. The platform connects companies that need IT help for short-term assignments with IT freelancers who've been vetted by OnForce (in a typical month, just 10% of the 1,000 who apply to join the community are accepted).

Part of the appeal for contractors is the opportunity to build their own businesses, Cannone says. "Once you get a taste of being your own boss, and running your own business, I think it's hard to go the other way."

Contractors agree — being the boss is appealing.

"I still make mistakes, but they are my mistakes. I own them and it is my responsibility to fix them. I am my own (pointy-haired) boss," says Fred Granville, who has been working as an independent networking consultant in the Kansas City, Mo., area since 2000.

Hiring managers, too, appreciate the be-your-own-boss qualities of contractors.

"We're always looking for people who have the ability to work on different projects, keep themselves on track, set their own times, be their own boss," says Vik Nath, director of recruitment in the Washington, D.C., office of IT staffing services provider Mondo. "If you're hiring a contractor, and you're hiring them for a specific project, you'd like to just let them run with it. You need to find that skill set, find that person who doesn't need to be micromanaged."

Access to new or different technology is another perk that resonates with contractors.

"I like being able to get hands-on with equipment that I would never get anywhere near otherwise," says Jodi Minshall, an IT analyst in the San Francisco Bay area. Minshall recently completed an assignment at Juniper Networks and got to work with the vendor's extremely large core routers for the ISP market. "At any other company these devices would be in a locked room with a select few employees tasked with managing them, and I might be able to see them through a window if I were lucky."

Getting busy and staying busy

IT contractors are frank about the challenges of contingent work. In particular, lining up the next job is an inescapable part of the lifestyle.


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