A freelance software developer is a programmer who works on an ad hoc basis, rather than as a full-time employee tied exclusively to a single company. Freelance developers often work for multiple clients at once, 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 high-level coding skills. However, it is not uncommon for developers to regularly provide basic application support to the enterprise.
Independent development is a career path that offers plenty of flexibility, independence and space for self-directed 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’re considering pursuing 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 work you want to undertake, and how you do that work. Unless a contract specifically says to work a certain number of hours or at a specific location, freelance coders probably won’t need to sit in an office from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Another thing to note is that freelancers are not required to take on the full extent of a software project’s workload. 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 freelance work can even make it easier to find a job. Landing a permanent, full-time position with 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 willing to commit to a part-time freelance project can often be less difficult. In addition: this project could be a springboard to a full-time position, either in the same company or in another attracted by your portfolio of freelancers.
Disadvantages of becoming a freelance developer
In other ways, working as a freelance software developer isn’t always ideal. You should constantly be on the lookout for new projects to take on when your current contracts expire. Sometimes contracts can also be terminated for a number of unforeseen reasons, making it essential to have a back-up plan. It requires you to be adept not only at coding, but also at standing out, marketing your expertise, and building business relationships.
Another issue is that indie developers basically have to know how to run their own business. While full-time employees typically have support from human resources and finance departments, freelancers will need to manage their own self-employment taxes, oversee the client billing process, and chase nonpayers. Cash management can be particularly difficult when you’re self-employed: unlike the stability of receiving a regular salary, your income will depend entirely on the projects you’re working on at any given time.
Should you become an independent software developer?
If you think you have the organizational skills and know-how to work confidently as a freelance developer, there are a few steps to take before you get started. Unlike a traditional full-time position, freelance developers face some interesting challenges. Essentially, overcoming these challenges requires paying attention to the skills you cultivate and how you spend your precious time.
Here are some strategies to consider right from the start.
Specialize your language skills
Specializing in a specific type of programming, like web development or database development, will make it much easier to advertise your services and land a freelance job. Try to learn a niche language or two that you can demonstrate your proficiency in when marketing. It also allows you to establish yourself as an expert in certain areas, which will make it easier to get additional work.
For example, few companies find it difficult 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 one of these languages, you will be in a better position to find freelance work. Not only will you face less competition from other candidates, but companies are often desperate for programmers with these specialized programming skills.
Understand development trends
Investing in a booming field like blockchain or AI is another way to stand out from the crowd. Companies are hesitant to invest in full-time positions for development areas that may or may not turn out to be fads.
For example, if you knew how to program blockchain mechanics around 2016, when the blockchain bubble was filling up, you would have had an incredible facility selling yourself to many companies. Today, AI developers seem to be in high demand, although it’s unclear exactly how long that will remain true.
Whether through peers or larger community groups, closely follow the conversations taking place in the IT world. Strive to identify the next big step in the world of development and adjust your skills accordingly.
Contribute to open source
If you’re looking to make a name for yourself and establish 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 in the specific niche or ecosystem you want to work in. For example, if you’re trying to land a freelance job working with applications deployed on Kubernetes, contribute to open source community projects. around 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 they state it explicitly or not, they may also need help designing applications, planning software management strategies, or designing features that will satisfy end users.
To that end, it might help to introduce yourself not just as a developer, but as a technology consultant. If you’re up to it, make it clear that you offer all-around consulting in addition to your development and coding services.