Gigging for a Living: Work for Yourself in the New IT Economy
The gig system is thriving in the IT industry. Technology and the pandemic have accelerated the move of skilled tech workers from traditional full-time employment to independent work. During the pandemic, many employees began working from home. Virtual business communication platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, have made remote work viable. For many professionals, working remotely has become the preferred option.
This project or contract-based work model enables both businesses and freedom-seeking IT professionals to enter into temporary symbiotic work arrangements. IT gig work is a temporary work arrangement between an organization and a professional with requisite technical skills.
Objectives vary among tech workers who participate in the gig economy. For some, a gig is a way to supplement income from a full-time job; for others, independent IT work is their main source of income.
The contingent workforce includes freelance or independent tech specialists and contract workers. While freelancers work on a project basis and may take on multiple projects with different clients simultaneously, contract technical workers are associated with one company over the duration of their contract.
Unlike permanent full-time employment, which comes with a monthly salary; healthcare; retirement and other benefits; sick/vacation leave; and other perks, gig work provides only fees per project or contract. There is no healthcare, retirement planning/saving, and other benefits; no vacation pay or sick leave. With full-time work there is a measure of financial predictability and security.
Why Gig IT?
People choose to work independently for different reasons. McKinsey’s latest American Opportunity Survey found that 25 percent of all freelance workers surveyed prefer this mode of work because of the freedom and flexibility it offers. Another 25 percent said they work independently because they enjoy it.
Those two groups are optimistic about their prospects as independent professionals. For others, gig work is more of a financial imperative. More than 25 percent of survey participants said they turned to freelance work out of financial necessity. Around 20 percent of respondents said gig work was a source of supplementary income.
The benefits of being an independent worker include:
Autonomy and control
Being independent gives you control of your work life. You’re not dependent on an employer or a boss. The freedom to chart one’s own course, to adapt to technological and economic changes, and to work with multiple clients on a variety of projects and in new fields, opens up a realm of possibility.
Unlike the average full-time employee, who has to do the work assigned to them, an independent worker can choose projects and clients.
Flexibility is one of the main advantages of gig work. Independent tech work offers freedom from fixed hours and office routines. Freelancers are bound by project goals and deadlines. They are free to work when it suits them so long as they complete work as specified and on time.
Independent workers are not dependent on one client alone. Skilled and capable professionals can handle multiple projects from different clients simultaneously. This not only has the potential to enhance one’s income, it also brings an element of income security: Instead of being tied to the fortunes of a single employer, one earns from multiple clients.
Tech specialists can also skill up quickly and move into higher-paying specialties.
Alignment with values
An independent professional has the freedom to decline work or clients that don’t align with their values. An employee may not agree with their employer’s business approach, but may have to do as told for fear of their losing job. A freelancer doesn’t have to make compromises or take on assignments that are in conflict with their morals. Freelancers can take a principled approach to building their careers.
Freedom from toxic work culture
Independent workers need to ensure their deliverables fulfil project goals and are completed within deadline. Beyond that, however, they don't have to tolerate overbearing or unfriendly coworkers, or tiptoe around managers. They are free from day-to-day office culture and politics.
Why Not Gig It?
The freelance model is not without its disadvantages. Just as there are plenty of attractive reasons that people take on regular full-time work, there are drawbacks to gigging for a living that deter many from pursuing the independent model.
Some of the drawbacks to gig employment are:
Contingent workers don’t have the assurance of monthly wages, healthcare, or retirement benefits. Getting regular work can be a challenge for new freelance workers. Studies indicate that a number of full-time independent workers in the United States are concerned about their financial wellbeing.
Unless one has the right skillset, experience, and good references, a steady flow of projects may be hard to come by at the initial stage. It’s important to have some savings for unexpected situations as well as take the initiative on health insurance and retirement planning.
Some independent workers find themselves working much longer hours than expected. This can happen when one handles multiple projects simultaneously, has clients in different time zones, or accepts unrealistic deadlines.
Gigging Requires Experience
In order to succeed in gig work, you need the right skillset, you need to have relevant and proven professional experience (a portfolio of work is always helpful in establishing your bona fides), you need to be receptive to change.
There are plenty of highly-skilled and experienced tech specialists who work independently. With such competition, it’s necessary to have in-demand skills and a good track record, in order to maintain a regular flow of suitable projects and/or contracts.
It’s helpful, though not essential, to have full-time work experience in your field. Many IT freelancers have years of experience as a permanent employee prior to becoming an independent worker; some begin taking on gigs alongside full-time jobs to test the waters, as well as generate extra income.
Study the market to identify the most in-demand skills and companies that engage contingent workers. Some of the most sought-after, gig-ready IT skills include web and mobile app development, data analytics, user experience (UX) design, machine learning, virtual reality (VR), blockchain architecture, network administration, and technical helpdesk proficiency.
On an average, independent developers learn a new programming language every year. No matter what your tech specialty, you need to update your knowledge and skills and respond positively to technological developments and changing market realities. Joining at least one tech community in your field is a good way to learn, get helpful information, and expand your professional network.
Focus on improving the quality of your deliverables and building solid relations with clients.
Gigging with Guardrails
Independent professionals need to take responsibility for healthcare and retirement planning since they have no employer-sponsored plans. There are a number of retirement plans available to self-employed workers.
These include Simplified Employee Pension (SEP), Solo 401(K), Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE IRA Plan), Profit-sharing Plan, Money purchase Plan and other plans. Additional information for U.S. giggers is available online.
Many countries have nationalized healthcare, which is definitely a boon to giggers. In the United States, passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 has made health insurance and managed healthcare more accessible for self-employed people.
Recent research indicates growing optimism among independent workers across a range of occupations. In past generations, full-time employment was the preferred option for a large segment of the workforce because of financial security in the way of a steady paychecks, benefits, perks, and promotions. That perspective is changing. An increasing number of workers no longer consider a full-time job as necessarily secure.