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The hidden pitfalls of going freelance in IT

Bob Violino | Dec. 1, 2015
Independence has its upsides and downsides. IT pros lend firsthand advice on the challenges of going solo.

“A freelancer will usually have no leverage to negotiate the restrictive covenants, or the scope of confidentiality,” Jaskiewicz says. This creates several risks, he says. For one, a signed form might prevent a freelancer from being able to make good on future job opportunities or require the freelancer to give ownership of a work product to the employer, without commensurate compensation for what the freelancer gives up.

Furthermore, such restrictions can accumulate rapidly over a career, making it hard to keep track of what you can or can’t do when presented with future job opportunities.

“The freelancer must keep careful records -- and constantly update one’s own knowledge -- of the restrictions to which he or she is subject,” Jaskiewicz says.

The alternative is to pay a lawyer to check each new job against all prior agreements, which is an economically unrealistic proposition for most freelancers.

“One freelancer I know has an exhaustive knowledge and well-indexed records of what he has signed, but he is the exception,” Jaskiewicz says.

A practical alternative (on the confidentiality side, at least) is to request the “standard” exceptions to confidentiality, Jaskiewicz says. These include prior knowledge, public knowledge, independent development without use of confidential information, receipt of information from a third party not bound by confidentiality with the disclosing party, and compelled disclosure (that is, in response to a subpoena or deposition).

Dealing with anti-IT sentiments

Many people “just don't get or trust IT,” says Marc Weaver, an IT
 consultant who recently formed his own company to provide cloud
 database solutions.

Even within IT departments there can be issues with your presence as a freelancer.

“When a consultant is placed in a team of permanent employees, there is sometimes some resentment toward the consultant, as they are usually earning more,” Weaver says. This can result in a lack of information sharing or the highly skilled IT work being allocated to full-time employees, with the menial work going to the more expensive and experienced consultant, he says.

This mistrust is even more pronounced when you want to change the way things are done -- even if it’s part of your contract.

“People immediately start panicking,” Weaver says. “They would rather have the painfully slow manual process that needs intervention on a daily basis than one that runs automatically and rarely breaks.”

Weaver’s business specializes in moving databases and applications into the cloud, and there is often resistance.

“Getting people to understand that [concept] is really, really hard work,” he says. “There isn't sufficient IT knowledge, and tech companies don't help, as new products aren't explained in a simple way that most people will understand.”

Educating people about IT and simplifying the details so that everyone can understand is key, Weaver says.


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