This is a disturbing post for me, and probably for you. I am an IT contractor in 2013, at least. It was not always that way, because I worked in long term permanent positions before now. I have said many times before I did not aim to be an IT contractor: it just fell in to my lap. However, this is not my beef.
First, of all, it seems that I cannot win with this so-called work-tech-life-improvement balance. On the one hand, to be an interesting software developer to yourself, you have to be or appear to better than the average software developer. So do you actually do this in your career? A long time ago, I learnt from bitter experience to reach out to other developers, engineers and architects. It was the financial industry meltdown in 2002 that precipitated the pursuit of wider community. I wanted to know what other Java software developer were doing and how they were getting on and why I thought I wasn’t at the time. At the time, I thought this would be a way to be indispensable. Well it worked for a little bit, but in my life the truth working like demon was surely isn’t enough. I certainly learnt more from the community, and achieve a lot more than if I furrowed a lonely road. I have built my personal brand, I think. I get to speak at conferences some times, I write this blog entry that you are reading now, I won the badge of honour, and yet I feel strangely still unfilled and I am almost finish typing textual content with my first technical book.
On the other hand, if you go to regular conferences and attend user group meetings on the road of continuous tech improvement, you lose time and energy. That is the truth. I haven’t been luckily or fortunate to work for the big company, ACME, where you get grand permission to go to all the important conferences on ACME time. All of the expenses paid at ACME. I never had the super AMEX or BLACK Barclaycard to pay everybody’s expenses. Conferences, travel and hotels cost money: British Queen Elizabeth sterling. If you are like me and have worked in permanent role, then bang goes that 22, 25 and even 28 days annual holiday allocation, especially if it is taken up by JavaOne, QCon London, JAX, Skills Matter Exchange and Devoxx. Hence, for much of my time, when I ran the JAVAWUG, when I was a contractor from 2003 – 2008 the first time around, it was rather beneficial.
Because contractors are not paid, they accept the monetary losses when they fall sick, have a holiday or need to see a doctor. If your loved ones get sick then you just lost half a day to a couple of days' of wages, especially if you have to care for them. That is the risk that contractors take and also the reason why good contractors make more money than permanent staff.
Contractors have to look after their own affairs. It seems to me that this fact is lost on some people. If a contractor wants training or desperately needs it, then do they wait until a long series of renewed contracts end? Do you just take it in the middle of a working gig? How about in between two gigs? What is different, then, between the time out of training or conference, being sick or caring for the sick and say a family holiday? In terms of the client it is not that big a deal in my opinion. After all, the client pays less money and saves it. Usually, contractors, just like their permanent colleagues give lots of sufficient notice if they do plan any time away. Of course, it is impossible when a contractor consumed with severe influenza. Would you rather have presentee-ism and infection of the entire IT team?
The issue for me and other contractors are the compounded risks. Everyone knows the economy is shot, and typically contracts are now typical shorter. It tends to be 1-3 months long rather than 6 months that I saw myself circa 2005, in my opinion. I personally know of nobody in my social circle who has a 1 year contract. I know a lot of contractors who have had rate cuts by 10% or so or who have had to accept a lower market rate. The competition is at an all time, and we have Bob contractors undercutting decent and high skilled contractors or so. Contractors have to working harder, better and with more quality than the ordinary soul to justify their independence and fact is that they do. The majority of contractor do care about their clients, because they want to satisfaction of providing a good service, that salubrious value-add. We, the good contractors, will gladly come in on Go-Live-Saturdays if necessary. We will arrive early or stay late in urgent circumstances.
Bench time, or the period between contracts, is utterly unpredictable in 2013, I found this to be true so far. As a contractor, if you are not working you are not making money. I accept it as an IT contractor. Life is changing. It changes all the time. Change is inevitable, but we, contractors, are not workaholic idiots. We work in order to serve IT clients. We have lives, family, spouses, kids, ambitions and other interests, and we are human beings. So please cut us some slack and treat us accordingly. Lastly, I want to say to this: I am Black and proud of it. So live with it. I do.