Software developer

Is the life of a freelance software developer right for you?

A freelance software developer is a programmer who works on an ad hoc basis, rather than as a full-time employee exclusively tied to a single company. Freelance developers often work for multiple clients at a time, but some may choose to work with only one company at a time on a contract basis. Most freelancers are hired to complete specialized application projects that require unique and next-level coding skills. However, it is not uncommon for developers to provide basic application support to the business on a regular basis.

Independent development is a career path that offers a lot of flexibility, independence and space for independent professional growth. However, there is a flip side, and it comes in the form of uncertainty, financial vulnerability, and a ton of hard work. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these two aspects of working as a freelance software developer and the factors you need to consider if you want to pursue a career like this.

Benefits of independent software development

The main benefit of working as a freelance software developer is the flexibility that comes with the role: you can decide when you work, what jobs you want to take, and how you do those jobs. Unless a contract specifically says to work a certain number of hours or at a specific location, freelance coders likely won’t need to sit in an office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Another thing to note is that freelancers don’t have to take on the entire workload of a software project. They often have the freedom to choose the particular projects that they are most comfortable with or that interest them, rather than being told exactly what code to write.

Sometimes working as a self-employed person can even make it easier to find a job. Landing a full-time, permanent position in a company can be difficult, especially for programmers who are just starting out in their careers and lack considerable real-world coding experience. Finding a company that is ready to embark on a part-time freelance project can often be less difficult. In addition, this project could be a stepping stone to a full-time position, either in the same company or with another drawn to your freelance portfolio.

Disadvantages of becoming an independent developer

In other ways, working as a freelance software developer isn’t always ideal. You must be constantly on the lookout for new projects to take on when your current contracts expire. Sometimes contracts can also end for a number of unforeseen reasons, making it essential to have a backup plan. This requires you not only to code, but also to stand out, market your expertise, and build business relationships.

Another problem is that independent developers basically have to know how to run their own business. While full-time employees typically benefit from the support of human resources and finance departments, freelancers will have to manage their own self-employment taxes, oversee the process of invoicing clients, and chase down those who don’t pay. Cash management can be especially difficult when working as a freelance: unlike the stability of receiving a regular paycheck, your income will depend entirely on the projects you are working on at any given time.

Should You Become a Freelance Software Developer?

If you think you have the organizational skills and the know-how to work confidently as a freelance developer, there are a few steps you should take before you get started. Unlike a traditional full-time job, freelance developers face some interesting challenges. In essence, overcoming these challenges requires paying attention to the skills you are cultivating and how you are spending your precious time.

Here are some strategies to consider up front.

Specialize your language skills

Specializing in a specific type of programming, such as web development or database development, will make it much easier to advertise your services and secure a freelance job. Try to learn a niche language or two that you can demonstrate fluency in when marketing yourself. It also allows you to establish yourself as an expert in certain fields, which will make it easier to obtain additional work.

For example, few companies struggle to hire full-time developers who can code in languages ​​like Python, Java, and C. However, companies often need help working with more obscure languages ​​like Erlang and COBOL. If you know any of these languages, you will be in a better position to find self-employment. Not only will you face less competition from other applicants, but companies are often desperate for programmers with these specialized programming skills.

Understand development trends

Investing in a field of the future like blockchain or AI is another way to stand out from the pack. Companies are reluctant to invest in full-time positions for areas of development that may or may not turn out to be fads.

For example, if you knew how to program the mechanics of the blockchain around 2016, when the blockchain bubble was filling, you would have had a great time selling yourself to a lot of companies. Today, AI developers seem to be in high demand, although it’s unclear how long that will stay true.

Whether through peers or larger community groups, closely follow the conversations unfolding in the IT world. Strive to identify the next big thing in the development world and adjust your skills accordingly.

Contribute to open source

If you’re looking to make a name for yourself and build a portfolio that shows off your coding skills, contributing to open source projects – or building your own open source tool – is a great way to do it.

For best results, contribute open source within the specific niche or ecosystem in which you want to work. For example, if you are trying to land a freelance position working with applications deployed on Kubernetes, contribute projects to the open source community surrounding Kubernetes. This will help you build your personal brand in this niche.

Go beyond the code

Some companies, especially those that don’t have a large in-house development team, are looking to hire developers who do more than just write code. Whether or not they explicitly state it, they may also need help designing applications, planning software management strategies, or designing features that will satisfy end users.

To that end, it might be helpful to introduce yourself not only as a developer, but as a technology consultant. If you’re up to the task, make it clear that you offer general advice in addition to your development and coding services.