Taking What They're Gigging: IT, the Gig Economy and You
We're seeing an interesting phenomenon in the workforce today, especially in IT — it's possible that the 9-to-5 grind is going the way of the dodo. In 2010, Intuit released its 2020 report, in which the tax software company predicted that by that year, contingent workers (part-time, temp and freelance) would make up 40 percent of the world-wide workforce, up from 30 percent in 2005.
As it turns out, that estimation was a bit conservative. We actually reached that mark last year, according to a report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Basically, we're losing full-time positions, and many of them are being replaced by freelance "gigs."
Although any from-the-bottom musician will be intimately familiar with the concept of a "gig," until now it's been a lot less common in IT. The basic idea is the same: It's a short, defined project that you work on as an independent contractor, rather than as an employee. And while freelance work is not uncommon in IT, gigging is a different kind of freelance.
In traditional freelance, you might have a regular client or two who might give you regular or even constant work. As a gigger, the projects are shorter, the clients are most likely less personal, and your client base is wider. In other words, it's even less like a traditional employer/employee relationship. So, how did we get here?
Forces Behind the Gig Economy
Out of many competing factors, four stand out: Baby Boomers, Millennials, mobility, and recession. As the Baby Boom generation goes into retirement they're leaving a sizable hole in IT that has been difficult to fill, considering the sheer size of the generation. Many Baby Boomers who have IT experience are opting into semi-retirement, choosing to work odd projects to supplement their income. As a result, many IT employers are rushing to create or expand part-time and freelance opportunities.
This is absolutely OK with a lot of Millennials, who are by and large much less interested in job security and more interested in control and flexibility. Not only are Millennials the first generation raised on (and shaped by) the forces of social media, and also the first generation who can't remember NOT having instantaneous and (for many) completely mobile connection to the information superhighway, they also began to enter the workforce during a severe economic downturn.
As a result, Millennials are much less trusting of their employers than previous generations, more likely to swap jobs, and much more concerned with their own personal needs than those of a single organization. In short, many Millennials are just fine running their own ship, taking their work piecemeal, and mixing work and personal life, rather than surrendering their independence and time to a corporation.
On the employer side of things, it's more cost-effective to outsource development and other it "gigs," ensuring that the company doesn't pay any more than is strictly necessary, and also that they don't have under-utilized employees idling between projects. It's also increasingly viable to hire remote freelancers, who can do their job just as easily over an internet connection regardless of whether they're down the street or in a land down under.
While it might be more convenient to have your own in-house pros, the economic downturn means that for many businesses, the saved money is worth the hassle.
Benefits and Drawbacks
Gigs have another big advantage for businesses looking to draw talent: Gigs can be very attractive to Millennials. Not only are Millennials much more interested in work/life balance and less trusting of employers, but they also tend to be educated, independent, and purpose-driven. It can be much easier to lure a Millennial with the promise of engaging, challenging work than with the promise of stability.
And because the Millennial generation is so small compared to the generations immediately preceding it, Millennial workers are in high demand.
For the giggers themselves, there are a few obvious drawbacks. First, they're not employees, so they can't expect any benefits from their clients. While a run-of-the-mill employee can rest easy knowing that tax deductions and (often) insurance payments are being made by their employer, the giggers need to handle this themselves. They need to be aware of their status as an independent contractor and understand the ramifications of that, both legal and financial.
A gigger also can't count on being paid any certain amount regularly. Work may be plentiful one month only to quickly drop off the next; one big job may put you way ahead, and then the next may put you behind. Living paycheck-to-paycheck is a possibility for the employee, but not the contractor.
That said, gigging also comes with some major advantages. Gigging provides a high level of mental stimulation as the gigger moves between projects quickly, so boredom is probably not going to be an issue. It's extremely flexible, allowing for fluid scheduling, so the gigger can maintain control over themselves and their work. This allows the gigger to choose between a variety of lifestyles.
Whether you want to work from home, supplement your current income, or follow a cyclical work pattern, gigging allows for it.
Entering the Gig Economy
Gigging is ideal for full- or part-time IT pros who want to supplement their incomes, or for IT pros who may want an occasional income boost but the flexibility to choose when and when not to take on work. If you're just taking gigs to supplement your income, you may want to ask your employer to to withhold more on your taxes. If you're going full-time, keep in mind that independent contractors pay taxes four times a year.
Interested professionals should be able to find gigs in any reasonable IT field or language. However, it's easiest to find gigs in web development. The easiest way to get gigs is to puppy-guard the freelancing websites where gigs get posted. Quite often, it's first come, first served, so best practice is to have your mobile phone set to receive notifications and be prepared to respond at all times.