Saturday, September 02, 2006

Employee, Contractor, or Self-Employed…

That folks is the eternal question, for me anyway.

I’ve got about equal experience in all three, and while each has advantages, there are unique drawbacks as well.

As an employee, I almost automatically slip into that ‘comfort zone’ I recently wrote about. Especially as the length of time I’ve been with the company grows. As that first year turns into a second, then a fifth and a tenth or more, I begin to ‘settle in’ and begin to allow myself a shot at believing retirement from “this” job might even be possible.

In my experience however, that just doesn’t seem to be the case, usually. Somewhere along the way, the markets shift, management changes bring on changes in corporate direction, and ultimately some folks are let go in the transition.

I personally think this is about the toughest situation to be in. Out of work after a long time at the same company and finding yourself woefully ill equipped for a job search!

As a contractor, you know the length of the contract. So you, in effect, know the day to expect you’ll be out of work. While for some, this knowledge is more than a little unsettling, to me, it’s far less anxiety producing than that “We’re eliminating your position” speech.

Also, given that you know, with reasonable certainty, you’ll be looking for work again in the near future, you’re far more likely to keep your resume ‘tuned up’, and current with the various job boards. You’ll also reply to emails from headhunters, and in general keep those avenues of communication open, so when the contract ends, you’ll have current names, phone and other contact information readily available.

Being self-employed on the other hand, may be the worst of all possible avenues. While I’ve loved being the owner, the ‘boss’ and having a fairly large say in the direction the company went, I’ve also been at the mercy of the customers.

You’re constantly looking for that next ‘project’, either from existing customers, or attempting to find new ones. The time you spend doing that is rarely productive, in the sense you’re not ‘earning’ while doing that.

Now, instead of one boss, you have several, or in the case of my last venture, several hundred. Each customer with their own agenda, time frames and cost model, which is rarely the same as yours, is. It’s not for the faint of heart folks, if you have trouble budgeting money and building a ‘set aside’ to cover you through the inevitable up, and down, cycles, you’ll find yourself in some very tough financial, and anxiety producing, spots over time.

As I see it there’s no perfect scenario. I have one in my head where I get hired, get paid what I deserve/need, and continue to work (on challenging projects) there, until I decide I’d like to retire. I’m just not so sure it’s not just a fantasy, as opposed to a possible scenario.

Even the possibility of doing what I love until I can retire seems, at times, a fantasy.

I do keep hoping though, that I’ll be able to… I can’t imagine what I’d do, work-wise, if I can’t… I’ve tried just about everything else in the IS/IT field… and frankly, programming, building applications and systems, is what really fires me up.

I do a considerable amount of data ‘mining’, and statistical generation, and I like that, but I need the development aspect to stay enthused.

So, knowing this, I’ve decided to start taking on ‘extra’ projects again. I met with some folks this week about a web project, and from the way things went, it appears I’ll be getting the project. It’s not huge, maybe a week or two in length, but the fellow who brought the project to me, had a number of web clients, and I can see that he might want to have someone like me available to his customers.

I’ll let you all know how the project goes (if, in fact, it materializes). It should be interesting, a mix of Java, PHP, MySQL and CSS. Something I’ve never combined into one project before.

The difference is that this time I don’t intend to go directly to the customer, but, instead to utilize other vendors who already have a relationship with the customer. Leverage that relationship and let them earn some money for bringing me into the customer. Earn from not only the original project, but from everything I (we) ever do with that client.

It’s a new model for me, but I’m hoping it will evolve into something sustainable. At the moment, it seems about the only way I’ll get to do, what I love to do, for as long as I want to do it!!


On a related, but different topic…..

Jaro Winkler revisited. . .

About fifteen or twenty folks a week, stop by here looking for free code in either VB.Net, or Visual FoxPro to implement the Jaro-Winkler algorithm.

I’ve got a small application done that illustrates the string comparator’s actions and the results it returns. I’ve also finished a DLL, in Visual FoxPro that can be used in a .Net application to deploy my POL (Percentage of Likeness) utility.

I intend to place both tools on the new ASP.Net website when I get them finished, but in the interim I’ve been thinking I’d like to make the code more easily available, at least for the JW algorithm.

I want to make the code available for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not “my” code; it’s simply my implementation of someone else’s code. Considering that William Winkler was generous enough to share his code with me, I feel it’s only fair I share my implementation to anyone else who might want it.

If I knew more about Sourceforge, and I’m thinking more and more in that direction, I think I’d like to post it there with an open license.

Does anyone reading this know what the process is to do that?

Along those lines, while I love SourceForge and all of the available open source software, there’s a distinct shortage (in my mind) of available VFP code available there. There’s some, but considering the huge amount of code written in Visual FoxPro, I wonder sometimes why there isn’t more there.

In the middle of my pondering, it struck me that it’s probably for the same reason(s) I’ve never placed any out there.
  1. I’ve always considered my ‘tool kit’ something proprietary to me, my ‘edge’ if you will in the marketplace.
  2. Is my code ‘strong enough’ to hold up under the scrutiny of the open source community?
  3. Does anyone else really want, or have use for, these utilities I consider crucial to my development efforts?
  4. Can I stand the scrutiny of others going over my code and critiquing it?
I’m going to put all of that aside and look into posting some code there.. I guess we’ll see what happens.

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Beth said...

It is a tough question and one my own husband wrestles with all the time. He's already working for the man though.

Lorna said...

As a definitely unempreneurial person, I was lucky never to have had to be self-employed. I'd just give the business to the first person who poke the right way to me. I was drawn to being in service, and spent most of my working life as a public servant. I had lots of opportunity to grow and change; I stopped being ambitious when I hit the place where ambition and family came into conflict and I got a nice pension out of it, with the chance to do small contracts now and then. I consider myself so lucky, and even though I was in the workforce for 44 years, didn't spend much of it in regret. I'm not regretting retirement either. I just wish I could have done it all and stayed 45.

Lorna said...

entrepreneurial, that "un" word was unentrepreneurial....

Bill said...

Beth - I think most of us wrestle with it... it's a trade off afterall, and we all want to find a balance between freedom and security.

Lorna - That's ok.. I read fluent typo! I have to, I make plenty of them!! I've often wished I could have had a career, much like the one you describe... it was just never in the cards I guess, or maybe I was just too 'in the wind' to ever see it.

There's certainly not just 'one way' that's right, or wrong. We all need to find something that works for us...

Andrew MacNeill said...


Instead of sourceforge, consider CodePlex ( and the VFPX project.

It's open source and has some good publicity behind it.

Garrett said...

I've been thinking about using to post code, but I don't have anything that's far enough along to be worthwhile.

Bill said...

Andrew - I'd checked out CodePlex, there's some interesting titles there, but little in the way of any synopsis of 'what' is in the packages.

Sourceforge has, in my opinion, a much richer interface.

Although it would be great if we could get all the VFP folks interested in OpenSource in one place!!

Garret - I did not know about - although I'm not surprised as Google seems focused on being 'the' information repository...

I've thought the same about much of my code as well, maybe a few of us can link up and form our own VFP 'toolkit' and publish it?

I'd be very interested in working on a project to that end.