Three months have already passed since I’ve become a contractor and I can say that it is nothing I’ve imagined… I always felt that this step would be difficult, would need to be an expert not only in my fields, but also in law, finances, taxation… Fortunately I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Days worked from the beach/mountains: 0
Before the pandemic this was my biggest dream, work from wherever I wanted, one week from a cabin in the mountains, another 2 weeks from the beach. When the pandemic hit, we could already work from home (or from where we wanted to), but after a few weeks working from my home town, I quickly realized that it’s not gong to be the norm for me. Although I’m a minimalist, I work from a laptop, which is easy to pack up and travel, I still need at least an extra monitor, keyboard and mouse, which is not that simple anymore to just throw on the back seat and drive off into the world.
Moreover, working in a distributed team means lots of meetings with webcams on, lots of screen shares. For this to work you need a decent Internet connection, mobile network will not make it.
But the biggest issue with the whole travel & work thing is that if I’m giving a bunch of money for accommodation in the mountains/sea side, I want to fully enjoy my time. I couldn’t just work from 9 to 5 and have a few hours in the afternoon when I could enjoy the environment.
A contractor should know it all
I have always thought that becoming a contractor is a big step, you are no longer protected by law, making it almost impossible to be fired (in Romania at least). On the contrary, your contract could be terminated anytime and the client is not even required to give you a reason. So I was pretty sure you had to be really good in what you are doing, but to my surprise, I couldn’t be more wrong. After starting work I’ve met other contractors who were only juniors or mid developers and at that point I was wondering why I waited so long to give this a try.
Basically nothing changed, still working on regular projects, even worse than I’ve worked before as an employee, I just need to sent an invoice at the end of the month to the client and need to pay for an accountant who handles my taxes.
My current role is Technical Lead, which was totally new to me, I used to be a senior front-end developer, focusing on implementation and getting things done. On the first day I knew I was f***ed, I don’t have people skills, I lack confidence and the imposter syndrome is also not helping. I was surprised when people arranged calls with persons outside the team to help me get comfortable in my role. I can’t express how surprised I was. For me the myth that a contractor should know it all was pretty much busted.
I will not be able to find new clients
Oh, this was my biggest fear before jumping in into being a contractor. I thought I was lucky, I had an interview with a company who offered me to chose if I wanted to be hired as an employee or a contractor. Maximum 2 weeks passed until I was contacted by a German HR and had a successful interview. Since then, I can say that I get contacted quite often and I am having discussions/interviews almost every week.
I participated in quite a lot of interviews in the past few months, I was curious about some projects and also wanted to figure out what a fair hourly rate would be for my level. The first thing I noticed is how relaxed interviews are with companies outside of Romania, they are like a pleasant discussion about the technology I like, best practices I use, what my preferences are. Do I like writing tests, why do they help me? Or what do I prefer: CSS framework or UI component library? How would I introduce unit testing on a big project that has none? And they would also share their opinion. It’s all like having a coffee-break with a new colleague discussing about past experiences and preferences.
Romanian companies tend to focus on simply testing my technical knowledge:
– What is the event loop?
– Explain closure?
– What is the BEM model?
All in all, I’m relaxed that I am able to find new clients if I want to and really changed the way I’m thinking about interviews.
I work only if/when I want to
Not even close. I was working even during national holidays. As a contractor I negotiated my rate per hour, meaning I am getting payed for the hours I work (no overtime though). So if I’m not working, I’m not getting payed. Because it’s winter and I hate being outside in the cold, I decided to work instead of just staying inside and doing nothing. At the moment I need to pay taxes to the state even if I don’t make any income. So no holiday for me this year.
Planning for a holiday or day off is pretty much the same as before, you have to notify the team 2-3 weeks in advance, so everybody can be prepared. Other than that, you still need to be present on regular working hours. Especially as a Technical Lead, I need to work closely with the development team, when they are working and also participate in the lead discussions with the PM/Architect/BA. I’m still not sure why I dreamt that I would become super flexible.
All in all, this 3-4 months of experience is another great lesson I’ve learnt, showing me once again how unfounded fears can limit my progress in career and life. I am super happy that I have made this step. Looking back it was easy, I was just afraid of the unknown and had false presumptions. I also realized that I don’t have to be expert in everything, I don’t know too much about taxation, but that’s why we have accountants. There is an online app for generating invoices and from there my accountant is taking care of everything for a small monthly fee. No regrets at the moment, although I left behind a very promising company with great colleagues…