Don't Hire That Developer!

Wednesday Aug 11th 2010 by Eric Spiegel
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What’s more profitable for a developer: keeping a full-time job or working as a contractor?

“If I were in management, I’d never hire another software developer.”

Pretty strong statement, I thought. Having just landed a fine software job in a lousy economy, I was pretty stoked about my new job and was attempting to share my good fortune with my friend Sam over a few drinks.

Sam had similar software skills to mine, but he had a different take on my new found opportunity.

“Man, I don’t see any job as an opportunity. I see no point in taking a J-O-B, unless it’s a contracting ‘job’ where I’m working for myself,” Sam said. “In the world of technology we live in, almost every job is project driven. At the end of your project you risk being seen as overhead, which puts you on the firing line. Literally.”

In my mood that night I didn’t want to hear this. I must admit I was a getting a bit red under the collar. Sam wasn’t usually a provocateur, but tonight he seemed to be in rare form reacting to my good news. At least I thought it was good news.

“Ok buddy,” I retorted. “I just landed a great job with a Fortune 500 company that invests a ton of money in application development and is always rated as a top place for IT professionals to work -- and you just scoff at it? Why can’t you be happy for me?”

Sam, chewing on some beer nuts, rolled his eyes. “I don’t mean to rain on your ‘look at my great job’ parade, but I’m also not going to be all fake about it,” he said. “You know I’ve been contracting for a couple years. Well, I love it! And I think being an employee is usually a false path, especially for techies.”

“A false path to what?” I asked a bit incredulous.

“A false path to job security my friend!” he exclaimed with a slight smirk. “Look, if I take a full time job with a company, does that really provide any more of a guarantee of regular income as opposed to taking contract jobs? You could get laid off or fired at any time, while as a contractor I’m in more control of my destiny.”

“Are you serious?” I asked. “While I’m collecting a paycheck that includes group health insurance, a matching 401k and paid training on the latest technology, all you get is a check for your work. And worse yet, when the contract is over your check stops. Now I’m the one still collecting a check -- and you’re paying bills from savings while desperately trying to find your next project.”

“Ok, I’ll grant you there are some benefits while you are employed, but once you get let go as an employee it’s harder to find your next job because you aren’t always in that job-seeking mode like a contractor is,” he said. “Besides, my original point was that as a manager I wouldn’t hire employees to write code.

“Instead, I’d only bring on resources as needed. And that’s all we really are – resources. We fulfill a purpose for as long as the company needs that service. And then we’re dead weight unless we can fulfill another need. Why do you think companies are more reluctant to hire people after this last economic downturn anyway? I’ll tell you why. It’s smart business.”

I still wasn’t swayed and was becoming more annoyed.

“I could go on and on with a ton of reasons why a company should hire full time developers as opposed to contractors,” I said.

Sam smiled, as he sipped his beer. “Great. I’m all ears.”

I leaned forward on my bar stool and said “First off, the company doesn’t have to expend time and money every time a project ends to build a new team. If contractors are brought on to build or customize a crucial new system, the knowledge that these developers take in over the life of the project will be lost if they walk out the door.”

“Over successive projects, these employees collect valuable institutional knowledge. Not only that, they build relationships with the rest of the team and others in the organization. As a manager, I would value that cohesiveness and would imagine the executives wouldn’t take cutting ‘resources’ like that lightly.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “Wow, no wonder they hired you,” he said. “You actually believe the crap management brainwashes every employee with.”

Next Page: Sam sat back on his stool and said, “Now listen as I pick your argument to pieces.”

Sam sat back on his stool and said, “Now listen as I pick your argument to pieces.”

“It has been proven time and again that company executives don’t bat an eyelash when it comes to cutting staff to boost profits. Do you think they care about losing -- what did you call it?”

“Institutional knowledge,” I responded, resting my chin on my hand, feeling exasperation building.

“Yeah, they figure that knowledge is captured in some manual and it isn’t their problem. It’s the poor developers that are left holding the bag trying to handle all the extra work, until they can convince management to bring in – wait for it – a contractor. Instead, if management is really smart, they would be more proactive and build an ongoing application development and support strategy using contractors.”

“Yeah but…,” I started, but he gave me the zip-it sign.

“Let me finish please. If management builds a network of contractors, who are the best in the business, you bring on these true professionals who have one purpose – to get the job done. They will do it well because they want more work and a good reference.

“They don’t care about company politics and don’t have to waste time attending rah-rah employee morale boosting meetings. And as a contractor, I don’t get shafted as an exempt employee because you know that means exempt from overtime. Yep, you work 60 hour weeks and get paid for 40. Not me. I get paid for the work I do.“

Sam paused, as if for effect, and then finished his argument. “To top it off, you and I have the same development skills -- and yet I’m making more than twice what you make. There it is. I rest my case.”

I let out a deep sigh and said, “I guess we agree to disagree. Tell you what hot-shot, you can pick up the check since you make twice as much as me.”

Sam stood up and said, “My pleasure. And it’s MORE than twice as much my friend.”

As I made my way home, I chuckled to myself thinking I had the last laugh. After all, I got an invitation to the company holiday party while Sam stayed home counting his stack of contracting money. Then again, maybe Sam is the one who will have the last laugh after all.

ALSO SEE: Why Developers Get Fired

AND: Too Old To Write Software? Or Just the 'Wrong Era'?

AND: Developer Salary Levels, 2004-2009

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