Do you have what it takes to be a contract software developer (W2) or a full time permanent computer programmer (FTE)?
Or perhaps you have heard that contract programming is unreliable and full time employment financially unrewarding?
Enough of these myths. There are long term contracts that last longer than some full time positions and there are full time positions that pay better than some contract programming engagements.
Here are the differences that will really matter to you:
- Job Duration
- Job Satisfaction
- Technical Skills
Contract programming jobs are of shorter duration than full time employment positions.
In the software development industry, computer programming jobs have a duration of 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year and more.
The challenge with contracting positions is that your recruiter may tell you that your contract is 6 months only for you to hear after 3 months that your contract has been terminated. With full time positions, you are more likely to be moved to another project when your current project is terminated or completed.
Contract programming positions come with 401Ks, vacation time, vacation pay, sick days, medical, dental, flexible spending accounts, vision care, life insurance and disability insurance just like full time programming jobs.
The difference is that the quality of benefits or how much you pay for them may vary greatly from one recruiting firm to another recruiting firm.
So, while one recruiting firm may offer competitive benefits, another recruiting firm may offer benefits only if you willing to pay for that at a premium that is sometimes twice as high as that of a full-time position!
The smart thing to do is to go over the benefits with your recruiter and ask questions.
However, with contract programming positions, you also have the option of asking your recruiter to remove your benefits package and increase your hourly compensation or billing rate
As a contract programmer you are expected to derive your job satisfaction from being good at what you do.
You build a reputation backed up with skills and experience on getting in, doing a good job and then getting out.
As a contract computer programmer you are expected to deliver good code, on time and on budget and you must enjoy being held to high quality standards in terms of the quality of your code.
As a full time computer programmer, you are expected to love the company you work for.
Your job satisfaction is driven by working with a team of people for a common set of goals.
Over time, the bonds, affections, ties with each other and your company deepens.
You may not face the same time, budget or quality of code pressure as the contract programmer who has a higher reputation to live up to!
As a contract programmer you may earn significantly more than full time permanent employees.
However, unlike contract programmers, full time employees do not have to look for a new project or client every 3, 6 or 12 months.
So, even though contract programmers earn a lot more than full-time software developers when they are working on a project, the total bench time or the unpaid time spent in-between projects can affect the stability or dependability of a contract programmers pay.
The shock of sitting at home for 1 month, earning $0 (zero dollars) after a highly successful project that may have lasted 6 months can be quite unsettling for some contract programmers.
This is one major reason why some computer programmers prefer FULL TIME to CONTRACT (W2) computer programming positions.
Contract programmers tend to have sharper skills, because they make a living putting a demand on those skills every day (at least that is what clients think).
Since contract programmers are generally paid much more than their full time colleagues, very few clients hire a contract computer programmer with rusty skills.
Also, contract programmers can choose the clients and projects they work on. which is something that full-time developers are limited in doing.
Contract programmers prefer projects that involve the latest technology or skills, since that’s where the money is.
Full time computer programmers on the other hand tend not to be so obsessed with working on leading edge technologies and they are not generally expected by their employers to have the sharpest skills.
This is partly because full time programmers are expected to be business domain experts and not just technology experts.
So, the value of a full-time computer programmer lies in both the domain / business knowledge as well as the technology skills.
As a contract programmer, you need to have relevant industry and experience to find work.
If your area of expertise is brokerage or java or .net, both recruiters and hiring managers will scan your resume for the number of years and projects where you utilized those skills.
However, for full time employment positions, the hiring managers and recruiters are more apt to look at your general industry experience and not just the experience needed to deliver the next 3 months project!
Contract programming requires a certain degree of risk tolerance and entrepreneurism.
Contract programmers have to constantly research the market for new technologies and skills that add value to their clients while delivering increased compensation to them.
They have to constantly be on the go, marketing their resume, skills and experience to new clients every few months.
They have to adapt to new environments all the time as they are constantly changing jobs and clients.
They have to constantly make their clients (employer) happy or they may get fired and their contracts terminated.
Contract programmers have to accept the inherent risk that despite their best effort, a proposed 12 month project can turn into a 1 month failed engagement.
Ultimately the contract programmers that last have to accept full responsibility for their careers.
Decide What Works for You
The conclusion is that the decision to be a contract computer programmer or a full time permanent employee depends on your personality, risk tolerance, financial expectations and your own situation.
Whether you decide to become a W2 contract programmer or a full time employee, I hope that I have helped you become more informed about the two possible career paths.