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$50+ hr for java programmers after 3 years?


I am a US citizen that will soon be graduating with my Master's in Computer Science from a state university.  I really enjoy object-oriented coding and was wondering if I some of the posters here could enlighten me as to the current job market and how I can go about structuring my career to land the positions I want down the road.

First off, I love programming and I love to make money.  I've noticed that has many openings for contract Java programmers with 3-5 years of experience and pay rates of $50/hr up to $100/hr in the major metro centers.  How difficult is it to land one of these contract jobs?  What types of technology should I be focussed on trying to learn early in my career?  Would I be better off starting my career at a Fortune 100 company or going to a consulting company?  Does an advanced degree help or do the contract employers mainly look at your experience?

Thanks in advance for any assistance offered.  I'm looking forward to getting out of academia and into the real world so that I can stop working on theoretical crap and start applying myself where the rubber hits the road.

Friday, February 13, 2004

From a contractor, here: contracting is a royal pain in the @$$. The big money was made in contracting back in the late 90's. FWIW, companies have *never* sought contractors in favor of full time employees, except in highly volatile staffing situations such as startups, and in major tech belts like Boston and Silicon Valley.

Contractors were used years ago to feed "flexi-staffing" requirements. Today, companies just outsource to warm bodies located offshore when they seek flexible staffing levels.

There is good money to be made in contracting, *if* you are willing to travel to gigs. It's not as straightforward as hanging out for a full time position. As a lifestyle it sucks.

Bored Bystander
Friday, February 13, 2004

There is nothing interesting about $50-$100/hr contract programming jobs besides the $50-$100 an hour.  Typically these jobs are a combination of boring work plus absurdly dysfunctional workplace (that is why they need YOU the contractor to do it; no sane programmer would work there full time).

If you are just in it for the money, there are much more straightforward and pleasant ways to make $50-$100/hr: sensual massage, selling dope, playing violin in front of the subway station, etc. Be creative! Don't make the same mistake I did - I can never reclaim those years I spent as a java contractor...ugh.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Indeed, "nameless".

I couldn't agree more, except --- crappy contract work is the province of more than just Java development.  Java is just where a lot of contracts were/are, but pretty much any contract SW work sucks balls. The client pays the premium because they need something done that is generally not very desirable to work on, and there's usually political issues in the workplace that add to the badness. 

There's never an absence of geeks willing to work for ordinary salaried pay on relatively interesting stuff.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, February 14, 2004

"What types of technology should I be focussed on trying to learn early in my career?  Would I be better off starting my career at a Fortune 100 company or going to a consulting company?"

Don't focus on learning technology.  Learn more about the social aspects of your work; most technology is the easy part.  Believe me, projects don't fail because the lead developer doesn't know SQL.

Furthermore, as a technologist and particularly a junior one, you will have zero clout.  Despite the surgical nature of your work, you will be seen as perpetually unable to see the forest through the trees; that's the domain of the "real" businesspeople.

I'm not being cynical here, just stating a truth: if you love programming and you want to make money, the mountain you will climb is very steep.  You must learn and leverage "soft" skills.  If you focus yourself on technology, you'll be posting vain-ridden "I hate my job" threads here in a few years. :)

Saturday, February 14, 2004

"I love programming and I love to make money"

Sorry, but these two things are no longer compatible. Either treat programming as a hobby and go out and make money -- or become a low-paid code jockey.

Personally, I pay the bills with my $100k+ a year programmer's salary and then do mind-challenging activities in the evenings and weekends.

When the last programming job leaves the US/UK, I'll switch to doing what I really enjoy doing. Programming, these days, is for suckers. 

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Chris wrote, "How difficult is it to land one of these contract jobs?"

In your case, just about impossible right now since you don't have 3 or more years of enterprise software development under your belt.

Imo, your only chance in landing such a position right now would be if you are of Indian decent, you could falsify your resume in such a way that it would pass scrutiny, and you were able to pass a technical interview. Believe it or not, this isn't a racist statement on my part. A lot of people believe that the only reason firms hire Indian programmers is because they will work cheaply. However, I have found that there are quite few hiring managers out there who believe that all developers of Indian decent are technical geniuses.

Chris wrote, "Does an advanced degree help or do the contract employers mainly look at your experience?"

An advanced degree usually won't hurt your chances, but experience is what really matters when it comes to landing a decent paying contracting gig.

One Programmer's Opinion
Saturday, February 14, 2004


There are actually two types of contract work. The first is work the full-time staff doesn't want to do, and the second is work the full-time staff is not capable of doing. This is helpful in understanding why long-term contracting may not be desirable. Unless you have years of experience, skills in the top 2% of developers, and the ability to really sell yourself, you probably won't be doing the second type of work.

Even so, you may want to consider contracting as a stepping stone. Getting a contract position is usually easier than getting a position as an employee. Once you are working, accumulate a list of contacts in the company. Especially, keep track of employees who leave for other companies. Getting your next contract or job from a friend's reference usually beats scouring the want ads.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

>> There are actually two types of contract work. The first is work the full-time staff doesn't want to do, and the second is work the full-time staff is not capable of doing.

This is an EXCELLENT explanation of the contracting market.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, February 14, 2004

Yes, excellent asessment.  example:

I overheard the project managers having a conversation regarding language and documentation localization of our product (enterprise backup/restore)

- the verdict from engineering : "We don't wanna touch it".  So the potential solutions? 
- get experts ($$$)
- Steal from our existing resources (not experts,$$)
- outsource it ($$)

The final verdict? "Cheap is relative".

There is no doubt that the ideal solution for us is getting langugage-trained developers, but these people are so hard to find, and as contractors, would be ridiculously expensive.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Another flavor of contractor need occurs to me: work that the full time staff cannot do and which it also does not want to do nor learn how to do. In other words, the union of the two previously quoted styles of contracting.

This is actually pretty common. However, this flavor of contract work is easily the most stressful because the "don't wanna" attitude often leads to a perception by the client that the work is lowly, heads-down, trivial, easy, etc. The client's employees will rationalize that the object of the work is not worth learning nor doing well, so the contractor is lowly, commodity, etc.

Most of my gigs have been in this mold, actually. It actually sucks worse than the work that the FTEs simply don't want to do because it's very "high demand" as well as looked down on.

Lastly, YMMV.

Bored Bystander
Saturday, February 14, 2004

Get a security clearance and live in Washington DC, MD suburbs or northern VA.  Actually, an employer will have to apply for the clearance for you, but once you have it the phone won't stop ringing.  I have the clearance and a Masters Degree from Hopkins and make $120K + bonus and benefits.

Bathmophobic skier
Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Can't get a clearance without a job that requires it.

Can't get the job without the clearance.

Gotta love those catch-22's.

Chris Tavares
Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Thanks for the hard numbers bathmo.  I'm definitely considering going the security-clearance route.  It seems like the work would be interesting, the pay would be good, and the job would be safe from outsourcing.  Not to mention that competition would be less, considering that only U.S. citizens can get security clearances.

The NSA is coming to campus, so hopefully they will select me for an interview.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

If you're going to interview for NSA read this: - learn about all the polygraph "test" (it doesn't test your honesty, but your physical reaction to questions - way different).  I get calls from NSA everyday and ignore them.  50% of people fail the polygraph and these people have nothing to hide.  I won't make my job depentant on passing a "test."

Bathmophobic skier
Wednesday, February 18, 2004

I actually took a polygraph for the CIA when I was doing my undergrad.  I was surprised that they even brought me in for an interview because I admitted smoking dope a couple of times and having a couple of run-ins with the law.

When the polygraph began, I was in a relaxed, loose mood because I didn't feel I had anything to hide.  After three hours of non-stop harassment, though, I had definitely lost my cool.  I think at the end of the polygraph the examiner said something having me come back for another examination the next day and I said something to the effect of "dont bother."  If I remember correctly, they offered me a job, but I had already accepted and been working at another place for several months, so I didn't go to the CIA.  Hopefully, I'll be able to keep my cool if I have to go through it again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

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