April 30, 2008

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Freelancers Are People Too

It's a fact of life that the majority of people writing code for a living are freelancers.

Employers like freelancers because we are flexible, we take responsibility for our own careers and general well-being, and we tend to hit the ground running on projects because - well, because we jump more often and have had more practice at landing on our feet.

Employers don't like freelancers because we cost a bit more - though they often underestimate how much their permanent staff are really costing them in taxes, sick pay, benefits and other hidden costs.

They also don't like us because we're more self-directing and have our own values and our own goals. There might be a bit of evolutionary psychology at work, in so much as they view us as outsiders, while they see permanent employees as members of their tribe.

There's a tendency for people who opt for permanent employment to get some special consideration over their freelance colleagues. Take staff surveys, for example. A client of mine once ran a staff survey that was not open to freelancers. We had not earned the right to a voice in the organisation.

But in this case - and in many IT organisations around the UK - freelancers made up the majority of the workforce. So this is a staff survey that ignored the opinions of the majority of the people doing the work. It was a kind of apartheid, in the sense of a voting minority dictating policy for a silent majority who lacked some of the key rights and freedoms of their permanantly-employed counterparts. But these freelancers weren't going away. Try as they might to attract permanent staff, they will always be mostly reliant on freelancers to get the work done. Software is a freelance business, after all.

On a film set, the vast majority of poeple working there are self-employed and work on a project-by-project basis. Should we not care what the actors feel because they're freelancers? Should we not solicit the opinion of the director of photography because he's paid through a limited company? Of course we should care what these people think. the film won't get made without them. In most IT departments, software and systems won't get delivered without freelancers working side-by-side with permies.

To disenfranchise one group because they've chosen a more flexible contractual arrangement and take more responsibility for their own welfare is, I believe, potentially misjudged. In the case of that client, there were freelancers who'd been with them longer than many of their permanent staff. Their contribution to the organisation is valuable, and for that I believe their stake in it was every bit as valid.

This industry is just too volatile and unpredictable to work without freelancers.

Posted 12 years, 10 months ago on April 30, 2008