Sunday, August 06, 2006

Oh yeah… this is a blog about contracting. . .

I got a call late on Friday, that a Visual FoxPro gig I interviewed for over a month ago and had all but written off, is suddenly a reality.

That’s right, after hiring a couple of folks who turned out not to be up to the task, the company has decided they’d like to bring me in.

Well, now the money discussion starts, and for the first time, the rate I’ve told them I want, is a bit of an issue.

There are several issues actually.

There are several ways to be paid as a contactor, the two most popular are W-2 and 1099. You may recall I’ve been on a W-2 plan since last October, with partially paid health coverage, 20+ paid days off a year and full withholding. I can certainly “do” 1099, which is what the recruiter would prefer, but as a 1099 (independent) contractor, I’d lose the health plan, the PTO, as well as company paid FICA.

FICA for those of you who don’t know is a two part tax. As an employee, you pay half and your employer pays the other half. Once you’re self-employed (1099 is normally considered self-employed), you become responsible for the entire amount. The last ime I checked that was between 13 and 14% of the gross wage.

Those lost benefits translate into dollars, about a multiplier of 1.17, so when I ran the numbers and told him what I’d need, things got pretty tense. We’ve been playing phone tag ever since, ostensibly to ‘work out’ the numbers, but in my mind there’s nothing to work out.

Initially, during the interview process, it was inferred to me that I’d be able to work this project remotely. That there’d be a short period at the onset where I’d be on site (the company is about 800 miles from here) and that once I was up to speed, I’d be able to work for them from home.

Now, the ‘initial period’ is of indeterminate length, and, the recruiter wants me to ‘work that out’ once I’m on the job.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been through way to many, “we’ll work it out” projects where, after I was working the gig, none of my needs were ever “worked out”. I’ve come to the conclusion, that if it’s important to you, it has to be in the initial contract.

So while there are a couple of real ‘got me’ points with this gig, namely the opportunity to re-architect a major financial application, as well as the chance to be able to work from home (where, in all honesty, I’m about 40% more productive than I am in an ‘office’). There’s this downside as well.

I have no real interest in a long term ‘relo’ to a site 800 miles away for the duration of the gig, or, maybe more importantly, to move there permanently. I got the sense, during that last conversation that the company is really looking to bring in a ‘rain maker’ to clean up existing issues quickly and then “ride herd” on the continuing development effort while completing the design of the “re-platform” of the application. They want this person to be in their house, and available daily.

The recruiter called again yesterday in an attempt to ‘wrap things up’, but I think I raised more questions than he was prepared for. All of which I’d raised before, and he’d dismissed with a we’ll work that out once they express interest. It looks like the money will work out, but the sticking point remains where I’ll be required to work, on-site or remotely.

I’d expect that with a project of this size and scope, a certain amount of on site, face-to-face time will be required. It would be much faster for example to get up to speed if I have access to the existing developers to get any questions I have answered. Once that’s done though I see no real reason I’d need to be physically there.

So, he’s trying to set up a phone call on Monday between myself and the development manager to see what her take on things is. When I interviewed with her a month or so ago, she seemed to be fine with me working remotely when we talked then, but subsequent conversations with others have not given me the same feeling.

So, I need to confirm that after an initial onsite period, of say 30, to maybe 90 days, I’ll be able to work from North Carolina.

This project could be 2, maybe 3, years or longer in duration… a great contract by nearly anyone’s standards, but, I find myself strangely filled with reservations about it.

I guess I’ll know, by Monday, if I can work out an acceptable contract. Acceptable to me anyway, what the company is willing to accept remains to be seen.

It’s more than a little amusing to me though, as little as 10 years ago, I would have gone anywhere, at anytime, as long as the money was right. Sometime I the past decade I’ve gotten a bit more selective. I still have the “Have Fox… Will Travel” slogan on my business cards, and I am willing to travel, long term relocation however, is a bit different in my mind.

You see, if I was to relocate, I’m pretty sure I’d want to go back to Central NY, and the North Bay area. With a remote work contract, I could definitely do that, should Maryan and I decide that was right for us. Setting up shop 800 miles away, just doesn’t seem all that attractive, right now.

So, there ya have it folks, one more of the decisions you’d face as a contract programmer. Yes the money is better than the average full time employee would earn, but there’s the constant negotiations over gigs, and those negotiations are usually with three parties, each with their own, needs, and agenda.

The company wants the best talent, for the least money. The recruiter wants to close the deal and get me earning for them. Me, I want to earn as much as possible, doing what I love, at the smallest possible cost to me, on the longest contract term possible.

When I think of it, it’s amazing that anyone ever closes one of these deals!!

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