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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.

Riding out harsh realities and drumming up new business

Providing IT expertise, as with other types of freelancing, can be feast or famine. “At the first scent of an economic downturn, projects get canceled or postponed and IT consultants are either let go or not hired,” Weaver says.

“Many companies still have the old-fashioned view that IT is a cost center rather than a profit center, and as such IT departments are always one of the first places people look when they want to ‘trim the fat,’" Weaver adds.

While keeping a steady stream of work going can be a problem in general with freelancing, some say it’s an even bigger problem for IT freelancers.

“Most engineers and IT folks don’t consider sales and marketing to be their strongest skill, and for them to go out looking for new projects, discussing project road maps, and negotiating on the payments terms is not a fun experience,” says Abbas Akhtar, who freelanced as a software engineer for three years before launching a Web development company called 
Solutions Park.

“Engineers generally would love it if they got a set of requirements, delivered the project, and got a check in the mail,” Akhtar says. “Freelancing means they have to do a lot more than just coding.”

Keeping up with technology changes

As anyone in IT knows, technology and how it’s used are constantly shifting. Freelancers especially are challenged when it comes to staying current with the ever-changing technology landscape.

“The resources available to a freelancer may not be sufficient to get trained on new technology, nor put that training into practice in a business environment to engrain the skills,” says Scott Smith, who has worked as an independent IT developer and database consultant and is currently a senior database administrator in the uTest software testing community.

To keep from falling behind, Smith participates in online webinars and forums within and outside the uTest community.

Sometimes change can put assignments in jeopardy. While working as a freelancer, Smith has participated in assignments where he was brought in to perform a specific task, then the scope of work changed to such an extent that it became impossible to complete the assignment.

“In these situations, you have to do your best to continue to provide value to the companies to make sure your brand is still seen in a positive light, despite not delivering on the initial projects,” Smith says.

Reconciling agile development with fixed-bid contracts

Many companies have adopted agile development methodologies to iterate their projects faster in hopes of gaining a competitive edge.

“This has been a boon for software developers -- both for full-time and freelancers,” says Damien Filiatrault, CEO and founder of Scalable Path, a network of more than 1,000 freelance developers. “Demand is high, supply is tight, and projects are numerous.”


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