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Life as an IT contractor

Ann Bednarz | Oct. 17, 2014
Independence, job variability, earning potential, skills development. But is it worth it?

Minshall stresses the importance of self-discipline. "You have to be very proactive about securing your own future with savings and self-educating to get ready for your next employment search. Living paycheck to paycheck is not an option for a contractor; you have to be financially prepared for the worst."

Otherwise, life can be pretty grim in between assignments.

"Starve to death, scrounge up spare money selling bottles and cans from the garbage, [beg] former co-workers for insight and opportunities," says Joe Holcomb of his activities when he's in between contracts.

The stress of being unemployed in between assignments is the hardest part for Holcomb, who also cites the "inconsistency of income" and "low-ballers that want to hire you for less than they would pay an employee," among his dislikes. "New work, unique business environments" are the pluses of contracting life for Holcomb.

Independent contractors also have to get used to not having paid vacations.

"In the last seven years (other than days like Thanksgiving and Christmas), I have taken four days off," Drabicky says. "When you do consulting, you don't have weekdays or weekends; rather, you have days that you work, and days that you don't work. If you want a day off, you can certainly do so but they are without pay. It would be nice to have some time to decompress and still have some pay coming in."

Drabicky also misses being part of a team. "I find it loads of fun to be part of a quality team, of people who want to excel, want to make a difference. The best times I've had working are when we had a good team where folks were willing to do whatever it took to benefit the team," Drabicky says. "You can sometimes get that as a consultant. Most times, everyone knows you're only on board for a limited time. This makes forming lasting relationships difficult to impossible."

Still, there are valuable relationships that can come from contracting assignments.

"The opportunity to meet people, to make additional contacts, and have your name passed on to somebody else is a huge benefit. In my view, maybe the best of all the benefits," McKune says.

It's not something he takes for granted, however: "Networking is a lot more work than people believe it is," McKune says. "From my perspective, it requires quite a bit of work to maintain those relationships and keep those networking contacts going."

For Minshall, any gap between assignments is an opportunity to sharpen IT skills.

"I like to spend a few days offloading accumulated stress and catching up on household chores. After a few days of that, I start researching new IT trends and trying to polish up my rusty skills," Minshall says of his downtime between contracts. "Every job emphasizes one set of skills more than others, so you tend to get out of practice with the unused portion of your skills set. I like to brush up on my skills to stay current."


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