So it was about this time last year that i decided to move out of Permanent employment and into the cattle market that is Contracting. Looking back I have to say that I’m happy with my decision and have no regrets on that front. That said, the last year has not been plain sailing and in this post (during which I will try not to rant too much) I’ll try to paint a fair picture of the good and the bad from the last year. Contrary to what many people may think, my decision to enter the Contracting market had nothing to do with charging huge day rates. Yes money is important but, as people who know me will confirm, I always say

“If you don’t like what you are doing then do something else” I cannot understand (nor tolerate) people who complain endlessly about the fact that they hate their job but are still happy to take a salary for doing it.

I am in the fortunate position of loving what I do. I enjoy Software Development and want to be the best that I can be; although I may never end up working for Google or Facebook. The problems arise when you are working in an environment which cannot (or will not) keep pace with the changing technologies and practices.

One of my previous employers still has not adopted any form of source control beyond just creating a new folder for the next version of the application and copying the current code into it!

I know it is not possible for companies to simply adopt every new thing that comes along but by not moving forward they are not just standing still, they are moving backwards and the technology divide between them and the bleeding/cutting edge only increases.

Looking back at the companies/organisations I’ve worked for on a permanent basis I can see that the point at which I decided to leave was when I saw no more room to grow as a developer. When I’ve suggested using some new technology I’ve normally been told that there is no business need to do so and that they are happy with what is being produced with the current one. The fact that I was not happy is what has caused me to look elsewhere and ultimately leave for a new role within a company that is adopting the new technologies – or at least so I thought. After a few years I found myself once again hitting the hard ceiling of progression and start to look elsewhere.

Now that I think about it, isn’t this just contracting for the long term, i.e. years instead of months?

So, the decision was made – I’d go quit my job and go contracting..!

I took a lot of advise from a friend of mine who had gone down the same road and within a week of so I had formed a limited company to trade under, secured the services of an accountant specializing in contractors and setup a business bank account – what I didn’t have was any work!

During my notice period I revamped my CV and posted it onto about half a dozen job boards. This generated numerous phone calls from recruiters, between 6 and 15 a day – every weekday, but most of these came to nothing. As a fresh faced contractor I didn’t really know what to expect but this certainly was not it!

In terms of promising much and delivering little I’m afraid that many (not all) recruitment agencies are up there with politicians

Yes there are many good ones out there but you have to sift through the rest to find them. I’m writing another blog post (to be published later in the week) on my experiences of dealing with recruiters but suffice to say that I have found this aspect to be the biggest burden of contracting in my opinion.

Over the last 12 months I have found some good ones and now feel happy that I do not have to tout myself on the Job boards in the first instance – I’ll contact these recruiters who have shown themselves to be professional and actually follow through on their promises – even if this does not result in me securing a contract at the end of it all.

Each of the contracts I have secured to date has been a challenge, without exception. Each has exposed me to new technologies or to those that I only had a small understanding of – I’ve had to come up to speed very quickly indeed. I felt the need to prove myself very quickly, to show them that they made the right decision in hiring me and that I am worth the day rate that I’m charging. So far each of my contracts has been extended so I guess I must be doing something right.

This year has certainly raised my skill levels and fed my desire to become a better developer. Using new technologies and techniques as well as working in different environments has been a boost to my professional development and I hope to see it continue during the next twelve months.