The Inside Scoop On Independent Contract Work In The IT Industry

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Considering working as a consultant or an independent contractor?

No surprise there! More people are choosing this route and there has been and will continue to be an increase in this contingent work style.

But what’s it like working as an independent consultant or contractor in the information technology industry?

I get the inside scoop from Jocelyn Yu, a consultant of SAP, one of the foremost enterprise software solutions that covers all aspects of a company’s operations, including sales, finance, human resources, production and customer relations.

Full disclosure: Yes, she is my mom!

Independent SAP consultant Jocelyn Yu

Why did you decide to become a contractor?

Jocelyn: The primary reason why I pursued this is the reason anyone becomes a contractor – the monetary rewards.

The second reason is that my first brush with SAP excited me to no end. I come from an era of in-house programming. With SAP, it was different. I could configure and customize the system to address the needs of the business. I’d never seen anything like it! I could be technical and creative at the same time!

This ultimately led to the realization that sticking with the same company would constrain my growth. I would be exposed only to the same business practices and would be limited to a support role. I didn’t want that. So off to the contracting world I went!

Why should anyone consider doing independent contract work in the tech industry?

Jocelyn: The compensation is a big factor. But more than that, as you become familiar and adept in the contracting world, you’ll come to really value the freedom that it gives you. You can make your own schedule by accepting short-term or part-time projects, leaving more room for you to pursue other goals or interests.

Plus, contracting will open up whole new networks that you might not be exposed to working for the same company years at a time. And for me, personally, I’ve made numerous life-long friendships in this line of work as you value your limited time together a lot more.

Finally, contracting keeps you on your toes. You need to constantly market yourself ensuring that your skills are always current. These constant challenges, for me at least, are incredibly enriching.

Would you recommend IT contracting for everyone?

Jocelyn: Definitely not. Before jumping into this world, consider these things:

  • Every contract has a beginning and an end. Every new contract means starting all over again. This cycle can be exhausting.
  • Consultants, in general, are not popular. They’re generally viewed as highly overpaid individuals who recommend changes to companies they are not familiar with. This, to me, is the more daunting aspect of contracting. Not only are you going to work with people you don’t know, they’re people who have negative views about the nature of your job.
  • There are no health benefits. Although the benefit costs are theoretically factored into your hourly rate, the thought of purchasing one’s health plans can be a turn off for some, particularly those with a family.
  • Securing the next contract can be intimidating. There are no guarantees that the contracts will keep on coming.
  • There’s a cost to being independent. You have to ensure that you comply with the legal requirements of both the company and the government.

Any last advice for recent grads/students looking to do independent, contract work?

Jocelyn: Don’t be greedy. Greed, in the contracting world, comes in two forms:

  • Money: Contracting, particularly for SAP consultants, can be really lucrative and the tendency to make hay while the sun shines is inevitable. Respect your client. Avoid raking in the hours for the sake of money.
  • Knowledge: Keeping the clients in the dark is not the best way to secure your job. Share your knowledge. Train the users and turn over the system properly when you wrap up the project. Clients always come back to you if they are satisfied.

You are not the star. You may have the technical know-how, but the users know their business. Listen to everyone. Everyone has a version of their task and role, and each version merits to be heard.

Fear feeling comfortable. This feeling signifies the end of your growth. Anyway, it’s good advice for life in general.

Do your own performance appraisal and be critical. Keep abreast of new developments and train, train, train. Try different industries. Technical knowledge plus keen business sense make for an indispensable consultant.

Never burn your bridges. The technology resource pool is a limited one.

Be smart about your rate and your finances. Factor in all the benefits of a permanent employee (pension, sick days, health plans, training, etc). More importantly, your rate should factor irregularity in income and the uncertainty of when you’ll nab your next contract (rule of thumb: six months).

Network! All my contracts from the last eight years started from networking. Need I say more?

Would you ever consider becoming an independent consultant in the technology industry?

Technology Week featuring student and entry level jobs from top employers like IBM and Reynolds & Reynolds

Photo credit: Éole

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About the author

Justine Abigail Yu is a communications professional by day and a freelance writer by night. Graduating from the University of Toronto specializing in Political Science and Sociology, her heart lies in the development sector where she has worked with organizations operating in North America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. You can easily lure her in with talk of international development, human rights, emerging technologies, travel, and yes, Mad Men. Or a slice of cheesecake. Read her blog here or follow her on Twitter @justineabigail.