I write code for a living, but it’s not the first thing that I did to earn money. So I have a life. A couple of years ago I joined the ranks of the contract programmer generation. Right now I work for a big Japanese consumer goods company that sells electronics. A little after I started here another contract programmer started. He reminds me of Dilbert, so I instantly liked him. I mean who can resist someone that is the personification of a great cartoon? He is very jovial on the surface but doesn’t take any crap either. I leared 2 incredibly powerful things from him:
- A contract programmer should never have more stuff at work than could fit into one regular-sized moving box and a contract programmer should always have their FU funds in order.
- Programming might be a new profession but contract programming shares more than a few similarities to the world’s oldest profession. According to him, contract programmers are the hos, the pimp is the intermediary company that takes care of our billing and the client is the john.
A contract programmer gets paid by the hour. Each hour that I work needs to have some sort of accountability attached to it; something like a lawyer. I submit timesheets twice a month and get paid a couple of weeks later. I like my work too. But sometimes I really have to take it pretty good and I keep smiling because a contract programmer is easy to get rid of. No messy human resources to deal with. Just pack the bags and move along.
If you are thinking of being a contract programmer, then my advice is to go ahead and do it. It’s a fine way to earn a living, you know what the client wants (work) and the client knows what you want (money). No bullshit about climbing the company ladder. No false pretenses about what might happen later (bonus) if you do a good job, and no big deal about working on weekends. If the client wants you on the weekend, then they pay you for each and every hour. You want to go away for 4 weeks and hike the Appalachian trail, go ahead, the client isn’t paying you.