Freelance development is a career path that offers a lot of time flexibility, independence and room for self-driven professional growth. However, there is a flip side, and it comes in the form of uncertainty, financial vulnerability and a ton of hard work.
A freelance software developer is a programmer who works on an ad hoc basis, rather than as a full-time employee exclusively bound to a single company. Freelance developers often work for multiple clients at once, but some might choose to work with one company at a time on a contractual basis. Most freelancers are hired to complete speciality application projects that require unique, higher-level coding skills.
Now we’ll take a closer look at these two sides of the freelance software developer’s job, and the factors you must consider if you’re looking to pursue a career like this.
Advantages of freelance software development
The main advantage of working as a freelance software developer is the flexibility that comes with the role. You get to decide when you work, what jobs you want to take and how you get those jobs done. Another thing to note is that freelancers are under no obligation to take on the entire extent of a software project’s workload. They often have the freedom to choose the particular projects they are most comfortable with or interested in, rather than being told exactly what code to write.
Downsides of becoming a freelance developer
Working as a freelance software developer is not always ideal. You must constantly be on the lookout for new projects to take on when your current contracts expire. Sometimes, contracts can also terminate for any number of unforeseen reasons, making it essential to have a backup plan. This requires you to be adept not only at coding but also at branding yourself, marketing your expertise and making business connections.
Another issue is that freelance developers must essentially know how to run their own business. While full-time employees typically enjoy the support of human resources and finance departments, freelancers will need to manage their own self-employment taxes, oversee the process of invoicing clients, and chase down those who don’t pay.
Should you become a freelance software developer?
If you think you have the organizational skills and know-how to confidently work as a freelance developer, there are a few steps to take before getting started. Unlike a traditional, full-time position, there are some interesting points that freelance developers face. Essentially, overcoming these challenges requires paying attention to the skills you cultivate and the way you spend your precious time. Here are a few strategies to consider out of the starting block.
Specialize your language skills
Specializing in a specific type of programmings, such as web development or database development, will make it much easier to advertise your services and land a freelance position. Try learning one or two niche languages that you can demonstrate proficiency in when marketing yourself. It also allows you to establish yourself as an expert in certain fields.
For instance, 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 one of these languages, you’ll be in a stronger position to find freelance work.
Understand development trends
Investing yourself in an upcoming field like blockchain or AI is another way to set yourself apart from the pack. Companies are hesitant to invest in full-time roles for development fields that may, or may not, turn out to be fads.
For example, if you know how to program blockchain mechanisms circa 2016 when the blockchain bubble was filling up, you would have had an incredibly easy time 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.
Contribute to open source
If you’re looking to build a name for yourself and establish a portfolio that shows off your coding skills, contributing to open source projects — or creating an open-source tool of your own — is a great way to do so.
For the best results, contribute to open source within the specific niche or ecosystem you want to work in. For instance, if you’re trying to land a freelance gig working with applications that are deployed on Kubernetes, contribute projects to the open-source community surrounding Kubernetes.
Go beyond code
Some companies are looking to recruit developers that do more than just write code. Whether they explicitly state it or not, they may also want help designing applications, planning software management strategies or concepting features that will keep end-users happy.
Overall, it might be helpful to market yourself not just as a developer, but as a technology consultant. If you’re up to it, make it clear that you offer big-picture guidance in addition to your development and coding abilities.