Full time or freelance?

Full time or freelance? Permanent employee or contractor? Cubicle or home office?

I have tried all these employment options. For me, there’s a clear winner. After spending a couple decades at in-house software development in Singapore, I dared to convert my small time moonlighting into full time contract work as a freelance web application developer. When I went freelance for good. This meant I had an extra two months of paid vacation. I used the time to round up clients, and I have never wanted to go back. No more commute, no more TPS reports, and no more pro forma meetings. I now had complete control over my career and my success.

I am often asked if I miss the cubicle world. Absolutely not! Perhaps the greatest enjoyment of contract work is the appreciation I receive from my clients. In the corporate world, the overlords take for granted that you will do their bidding, and they rarely ask for your opinion. But to my contract clients, I am the expert engineer. My advice and experience are valued. After I fulfill the clients’ business needs on time, under budget, and with quality panache, they express gratitude!

Of course, nothing is perfect, and freelancing has a large downside (and I’m not talking about the lack of paid benefits!). A contractor must keep the work “pipeline” full. That requires a significant amount of time and effort. Establishing a consistent pay rate that matches your market value is difficult, because not all clients can afford a senior engineer. Sure, there are lots of job boards that act as dating services between contractors and clients, but they have about the same success rate as real dating services.

The job boards simply haven’t figured out the correct business model yet. The better way to connect clients with contractors is to have a pre-vetted pool of contractors and retain them with repeated project success. Vetting a new contractor must be technically thorough, and done by other engineers. It can’t be the slipshod qualifying that is done by the typical, technology-illiterate headhunter. That’s where Toptal comes in. Toptal is a broker for clients and contractors, like the job boards, but Toptal maintains a community of elite engineers and developers that have qualified themselves with multiple levels of skill tests. This formula is a win-win for clients and contractors. Clients have a higher probability of project success, and contractors have a steady supply of work at consistent rates.

To answer the question I posed at the beginning of this article: as a Toptal member, the clear winner in the choice of permanent employee or contractor is me!