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Self Imposed Pressure as Contractor?

This question is directed to those of you who work as free lance or 'contract' developers. The question may, indeed, provoke a "duh" response.

The question is - do you feel that you are under considerably more pressure to "make every hour count" than you were as a full time employee (FTE)?

I certainly do. It's nothing new; it's something that I've accommodated myself to in the almost 10 years that I've worked as an IC.
Generally, the projects I take on are self directed and "unmanaged" by the client. So I can't generally blame external pressure. But I've felt since starting this kind of work that I must constantly justify my contribution on an hourly basis.

This was not bad for the first few years. But in the last 3-4 years I've discerned almost an asymptotically tending and involuntary response on my part. I am REAAAALY starting to despise the entire service-for-hours model. The dislike for the continual-justification-of-self mode of work is starting to poison my enjoyment of the work. Frankly, I feel like a whore of sorts.

My rate today is very good. Now, years ago, when my rate wasn't quite so good, conversely the pressure didn't seem much different, but I was not yet burnt out on a steady diet of this kind of work pace.
I'm not even convinced that I drive myself all that hard anymore. As a coping mechanism, I deal with the "pressure" by goofing around and being too-distracted, which cuts into billable hours, which in turn makes me feel not so good about the work and the worklife.

Compare notes, please? Thanks.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Not noticed this at all. I think its more important to be seen to be working.

What ratio of work:non-work do you have? In other words how many hours per day are you on site, compared to how many are spent doing actual work.

If you spend 8 hours working, then half an hour surfing the net, what happens? In my experience if management only see the net use, then that's all you are doing.

I don't know. Maybe it depends on the client. I have always put long hours in and get vociferous if I'm not allowed to concentrate 100% of my attention on what I'm supposed to be doing. The main reason for long hours is I'm still fascinated by what I'm doing and easily lose track of time.

Of course, I don't spend every hour of day slogging away. Some days I do spend quite a chunk of my time on non-work stuff. However, I ALWAYS only ever invoice for the time I actually spend working. My clients pay for my time and experience.

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Not at all.

In fact one particularly inept client once paid me a fairly juicy daily rate to do nothing for two weeks while they found me a PC :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2003


I've never been an IC, but have thought about it as an option, should the current job go belly up (which is unlikely in the next 6 months, but always a chance).

This has been my main concern, that the pressure to produce results would be horrific - even when there are legitimate reasons for not pounding stakes in the ground.

I get pretty obsessive about work in general.  I can only imagine life as an IC.

Nat Ersoz
Wednesday, April 2, 2003

I used to feel like this but now treat most jobs no differently than when I was a full time employee. Maybe I find it easier because I always bill on a daily rather than hourly rate and I never work more than 8 hours. I'm also very choosy about my clients, even in these quite times.

I too have found a lot of my time wasted while the customer gets ready for me, local government seems to be particularly bad for this. Still thats their problem not mine.

Tony E
Wednesday, April 2, 2003

I've never been an IC, but I've hired them for projects.  So, I'll speak from that perspective.

At the companies I've worked for, projects that require outside contractors typically need a formal cost justification, signed off by senior management. In order to do the cost justification, you need a detailed project plan and associated timeline (Gantt chart, PERT chart, etc).

Normally, you'll pad these by 10-20% for the cover-your-ass safety factor. But since it involves software, you know that a 10-20% cost overrun can happen in a heartbeat. If that happens, you get to stand in front of senior management and explain why the project isn't being delivered on time and on budget. Senior management often includes one (or more) person that would've made a great warden on Devil's Island. Sweat pours while thoughts of unemployment and mortgage payments loom in your head.

So, what do you do? You monitor the progress (ride the ass?) of the software contractor that obviously, based upon the high hourly wage that they command, has super human efficiency capabilities. That's why contactors feel pressured - they can feel it in the air the same way that horses sense fear.

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

This is not always true.

Time are hard right now, and I'm currently a FTE, but in general as an IC I have always been treated the same as other staff members, down to and including which projects I wanted to work on(!).

Then again, although I have generally been on 6 month rolling contracts, my average length at one company would be around 2 years, and it's always been my choice to move on.

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

I never felt under pressure as a contractor. In fact the only difference between me as a contractor and me as a permie is that when I'm a permie I don't work overtime.

See: if I'm a contractor, I'm billing hourly. So if they waste my time during the day stopping me working, they can ask me to put in overtime but they have to pay.

If I'm permie, they can waste my time during the day, but overtime isn't paid so I don't do it... They can waste their money all they like, but not my time.

It's the realisation that most companies aren't interested in productive work. If they were they'd remove all the stupid restrictions that are slowing me down. ("you can't write this string processing tool in Perl, you have to use C...")

They're paying me to physically present in the building for 37.5 hours a week. Whether I work while I'm here and how productive that work is doesn't matter to me, and apparently doesn't matter to employers either. I'll happily spend those 37.5 hours being a superprogrammer and writing useful stuff for them, or I'll spend them reading a book because I can't progress any further on the project without waiting for a month while someone approves my login to a machine or something.

It's amazing how little it matters to people which. My other half once ended up in the situation where he'd average 1/2 hour a day waiting to be let into the building. Chargeable time, at something like 50 quid an hour. This was because door cards were too expensive to give out to contractors who might not give them back when they leave..

Again, he had a coat and a scarf and a book so it didn't bother him to have to wait.

Pressure? No. Contractors don't feel pressure..

Katie Lucas
Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Most of my clients have probably been a lot smaller than those of your other half, Katie. I have only ever had to charge once per client for time spent waiting. They soon get the message. It’s the only exception I make to what I wrote earlier about only invoicing for work done. Again this approach should be tempered with common sense. If things are going well in my life and some external factor that is not directly the fault of the client causes me not to be able to work (e.g. regional power cut), I only charge for time spent working and spend the afternoon elsewhere (cinema/pub/beach).

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Okay, I have to admit that I haven't read all the posts to this thread yet so I may have more to say on this topic later on.

I have worked as a FTE, an IC, a salaried consulting firm employee, and as a W2 hourly contractor.

Yes, some of the pressure I have encountered over the years has been "self-imposed", however, more often than not it comes from external factors (the need to fix a critical bug in a nightly run production system within a very short time frame, being told to perform work that I am not qualifed to do, etc.). Pressure, as well as, the need to work long hours typically leads to burn out and this IMO is a very common problem.

There is saying among project managers -- "You are only as good as your last project" -- which I think applies to many contractors and salaried consultants as well.

I have no idea how many people actually leave this field because they simply feel burned out, but I am sure that it is a bigger factor than many think it is.

One Programmer's Opinion
Wednesday, April 2, 2003

My father once said, "The bad thing about being your own boss is that you are your worst employee!"

A wiser man, I have never met.  You are grappling with several different issues and you need to start writing them down.

You need to put on your "manager" hat and write down the objectives of your service that you are providing.  Do this after a project is done and you receive a paycheck.

On another day, preferrably on the weekend, put on your "inner child" hat and write down all the fun stuff that you enjoy.  Do NOT refer to your manager list, that comes later.

On another day, preferrably when you are really angry at a client, write down all the stuff you hate about what it is your job and working environment.  This is your employee hat.  Do not refer to any other list, yet.

Write a list for your father role, your husband role and any other hats you can think of.  Take your time and don't rush it.

Finally, take a vacation to a nice sunny place where there is no TV or other distractions and read all of your lists.  Contemplate, reflect, mesmerize, confubulate, etc.

Now that you have all of these conflicting emotions writing down, you can begin to get a picture as to why you have so many mixed emotions about what it is that you do for a living.

You are in your own hell.  Now you need to either change your attitudes or change your environment.  By working these lists, you may see a way out.

I wish you luck.

Bryan Shaw
Wednesday, April 2, 2003

I have worked for the last 3.5 years as an IC.  I have felt the pressure that you describe but I think it is natural for that pressure to decrease somewhat and find a balanced level as your career goes on. 

It may be helpful to keep in mind that you were hired for your considerable expertise and because your IC status fit into the company's manpower requirements (their inability to commit employees to the task, lack of desire to hire a perm, etc).  Management belief that you would drive yourself harder than their regular employees was probably not a motivating factor in their decision.

Don't let yourself burn out.

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Having done this for many years, do yourself and your client a favor.  Explain to them you only bill for hours worked and you always produce a profession week. 

For example, you are available 45 hours a week of which you bill 40. 

Why?  Because this means when your spouse calls on the phone they don't have to worry whether they are "paying" for those minutes.  Or that your lunch ran 90 minutes instead of 60.    It removes the trivial bean counting.

Two important factors:
    - honor that agreement you
    - Tell them in advance.  If you wait until a issue, they may believe you are feeding them a line.

Mike Gamerland
Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Thanks for the reality check, everyone. I guess what is surprising is the preponderance of responses that indicate that nobody else really feels that contracting is any different than a regular job in terms of the quality of the work itself.

Some of the responses here do indicate some assumptions about things I wasn't clear about. The location of most of my work has been about 80-95% my home office, so I tend to be treated as being in a  'unique' role and not as an FTE equivalent.  It's a dedicated work setup at home, but it still suffers from the fact that I'm out of the loop on projects unless I aggressively ping the onsite people.

Projects I've taken on are generally in response to a specific client need. When the project is done or the problem fixed, I disappear. So I also feel pressured by lack of continuity.

And, location - I am not in a technology based region, so I'm generally not used to being treated well in exchange for knowing my stuff and being good. Every decent situation around here for me seems to have been bought with my "blood", proving myself on some hideously uncomfortable, lengthy, or tedious deliverable. Business people around me are (frankly) rather stupid about technology, denigrate it, and denigrate the people connected with it. So I'm not used to even being appreciated.

The best (most applicable) responses in the lot seem to be Nick: "That's why contactors feel pressured - they can feel it in the air the same way that horses sense fear." and Bryan Shaw's: "The bad thing about being your own boss is that you are your worst employee!""

In fact, Bryan probably described the best plan of action for this issue that I've encountered anywhere. I think I will do exactly as you recommend, since my life and work style do feel out of balance. Thanks.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, April 3, 2003

Don't charge your client for unproductive hours.  Problem solved.

Thursday, April 3, 2003

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