Since you have not yet closed the browser tab and decided to read on you apparently are not quite sure on how to answer that question. That’s a start. We will get back to insecurity in a bit.
First off, let me say that this post is about being self-employed in the software business, the upsides and downsides of it and why I think it’s a great way to work. I will not analyse your psychological state of mind.
Most software developers I know have some sort of pet project that they do out of curiosity and interest and in their spare time or they tend to their (extended) family’s technical devices or they do some contract work „on the side“. The reason for this likely is that developers are a naturally curious species and since IT is a very fast-paced field, there is ample opportunity to dabble.
I was no different and after some time it got increasingly serious and projects came rolling in. As I am a naturally cautious person and since the Austrian finance police does not entirely consist of fat bureaucratic idiots that never catch you, I decided to get a business licence and tax registration ID to get things done in a legal and orderly way. And being able to buy electronics and cool gadgets minus the Austrian VAT certainly is a bonus, I’m not gonna lie.
So for a couple of years I continued my side business in parallel to being a full-time employee at different software companies in the Linz area. It paid for hookers and blow, so things were fine.
After my last employment was terminated quite unpleasantly with legal action being taken on my side (check back here, I will write about that in the future) I decided that I didn’t want to go back to employment, and since I already had a semi-active company registered in my name, knew the basic structure of Austrian tax law and had a few promising contacts in my address book, going full-time beardyINC appeared the logical way to go. I was to become self-employed, or – using the more modern term: a freelancer.
Now, almost a year later, I can tell you this: from a day-to-day perspective being a freelancer is not very different from being employed. You get up (very early) in the morning, drive to work, you grind along during the day until you drive home again, kiss your kids good night and waste the rest of the evening with Netflix, video games or other stuff (e.g. writing blogs).
These rather practical aspects can indeed be quite similar to the employee life because many clients want you to be on-site, most of them unfortunately even require you to wear pants, and they even dare to tell you what to do. Hell, they are the ones paying the bill, so what.
So in addition to having to wear pants, the not-having-a-boss-part isn’t really true either, but then again: is it ever?
In the business world very, very few people really don’t have anyone to answer to at all. Startup founders are the loyal subjects (read: bitches) to their investors as well as to the market (whatever that is) – even if they claim otherwise-, most employees have bosses hovering above them, and even the C-something-Os of companies most likely have company owners, share holders, investors or other people to answer to.
Why then would anyone in their right mind want to be self-employed you might ask? Why be an entrepreneur (yes, blog post on that particular term will follow as well)?
Or – touching back on the original question: have you gone mad?
See, the thing is, even though many people think it is the pinnacle of human existence to call themselves „technical evangelist“ or „disruptive digitalization expert“ or something even less tangible, there are people like me out there that actually enjoy hands-on working with technology, writing code, digging deep and designing system architectures. The guys that actually do the work.instead of just (cluelessly) talking about it. To us, nothing is more elegant than a beautifully written piece of code, a well-designed data model and a modular and decoupled set of scalable microservices.
We view software development as a kind of craftsmanship, an art even, and we enjoy working different projects with different technology stacks for our various customers. It’s that diversity through which we thrive and what – quite frankly – also makes us more universally deployable than most company-employed developers who spend most of their professional time in one and the same project and most times even in the same technology. And it even pays quite handsomely, too.
And before you ask: yes, I know, there are certain risks involved. This is where I must talk about the downsides of being self-employed. It is a clear and present possibility that you do not have a contract for some time, it already happened to me and probably to most freelancers out there. Get your financial planning in order, use the down time to catch up on latest tech and actively approach potential customers.
Being responsible for your own taxes and social insurance also has its pitfalls and not having holiday entitlement nor sick leave arrangements alongside not receiving holiday and Christmas bonus payments is a bummer but hey, nothing that can’t be fixed with a bit of planning ahead, a tax advisor and a few pills here and there.
On the upside we sometimes can skip the pants for work.