There are lots of things about being a contractor that I really like. Permanent employees often like to make a big deal about the fact that I don’t get sick days or paid holidays (and no medical, pension, etc), but there is no way I would trade places with them. I’ve been asked a few times whether I could join on permanently and I always politely decline.
When I talk to other contractors, they always feel the same way. It’s not often you see a contractor go permie unless (1) it’s his first contract, or (2) he has been in one contract so long he’s got stage fright over the job hunting process.
Yesterday I had a dentist appointment. I took a half day off (with no pay, of course). Back when I used to be a permie, I would have this fear that my request to see a dentist might be miscontrued as sneaking off to an interview. I would be doing it on company time and mustn’t dilly dally. I don’t need to do that anymore. If I need to see a dentist, they don’t pay me so there is no guilt. If I need to go to an interview, I tell them I have an interview. There’s no disloyalty with this anymore.
Here are some of the other perks of being an IT contractor:
No one is promising me a promotion
Back when I was permie, I always had the promotion or bonus carrot held in front of my face. For this, I would work longer hours, do any crap work that needed doing, demonstrated my loyalty throughout the day, etc. I was also afraid of criticizing the way things were done. If I disagreed with my boss on something, I’d better not make a fuss.
As a contractor, I don’t expect a raise or a promotion. I’m around for a set amount of time. I’m giving them 3 or 6 months. If at the end of that time, they want to renew me, fine. My rate may change (it might even drop?depending on the market). If I don’t like the conditions, I probably won’t stay much longer. If they don’t like me, they don’t keep me. It’s perfectly equal. They pay me what I want to be paid, and I do what they need to be done. I never have to worry about competing with other people for a raise or promotion.
I’m hired for my skill
As a permie, I worked on whatever the company needed me to work on. If we were a classic ASP development team, I had no reason to start trying to learn .net. If the company used SourceSafe, I shouldn’t trouble myself learning Subversion. My learning curve was set by the company.
As a contractor, I need to think about where the market is going. I need to know what’s at the cutting edge and at least start playing with it now. This is often difficult when in a contract. I get up at 4am most mornings so I have a few hours of development before going off to work. It’s a lot more interesting than working on yesterday’s technologies all the time.
I need to know about ASP.net Ajax extensions. I need to know about Silverlight. I need to know about Orcas. I’ve made it my job to know about them.
When I look for a contract, I look for a project I want to work on based on the skills I get to use (and sometimes based on the rate). My clients hire me because I want to work on their projects and not because I am forced to. It’s better for me and better for them.
You may wince when I say that I get up at 4am, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I go to bed earlier and watch less television than most people. Believe me, I never thought I would ever say that.
I’m always loyal
As a permie, being loyal meant that I would never leave. As a contractor, being loyal means that I will do everything in the best interest of my client and keep any confidential information secret after I leave. I have no problem with getting a call a few months after I leave a contract with a technical query?I consider it a professional courtesy.
I’m not afraid of losing my job
As a permie, losing my job was one of the scariest things I could think of. I have a mortgage and kids. I couldn’t make waves.
As a contractor, I always expect to lose my job. It’s in my contract. I know that I’ll be out in 2 or 3 months. I’m also very aware that I could be out of work in a month (or whatever notice period I have on my contract) if things go wrong.
I have to always be ready for the market. My CV has to be up to date. My skills have to be sharp. My suit has to fit. My financial reserves have to be healthy.
As a permie, I lived at or just above my means. As a contractor, I have to live well below my means?because I know that rainy day is coming. Best of all, I can predict it.
I’m in control
Finally, I’m more in control of my life as a contractor. Sure, I’m at the mercy of the IT market?but that’s part of the fun. I choose the technologies I get to work on. I choose when I take on a job. I choose when I’m out of work.
I choose when I go to the dentist.