The Lure of the Independent Software Developer

Business Team Meeting Brainstorming Working ConceptHiring a Software Development Firm versus a Contractor
As the unfulfilled demand for software developer talent reached a peak after the 2008 recession recovery, companies began changing their approach. The ability to recruit and retain direct hires became extremely difficult so markets emerged, catalyzed by online services, for organizations to bring in independent software contractors. Hiring of independents is not new, but is a trend more than ever. But with its obvious drawbacks, for how long?

The Lure of the Independent Software Developer
Contracting via agencies in the form of staff augmentation has been the common approach for decades. An organization would engage a staff augmentation company to bring on a contractor. The contractor would work 40 hours a week typically for a period ranging from one month to a year. If the company wanted to hire the individual, they’d pay somewhere around 20% of a year’s salary to bring them on board.

Well, what happened? For one, recruiters could no longer find competent professionals to fill the roles and increased their double dipping – recruiting the same contractors from their current and past clients for other jobs. This had not gone unnoticed by companies and is what drew them to a new breed of independent technologists, attracted to what they perceive as an empowered position with more flexibility.

The Fallout
During the week prior to writing this, we’ve had four new clients come to us to save them from mission critical systems abandoned or botched by independent contractors. In some cases, otherwise good independent contractors have simply disappeared and not returned calls for months. For others, individuals have become defiant and unreasonable. And, others simply left systems tied together with two bits of string. In one case, a contractor wasn't even doing the work – they had someone else doing the work by remoting into their system.

Inability to Endure Change
Engagements with even the most stable independent contractors have their own drawbacks. Much of the foundation and development support is resting on individuals as opposed to a team and a process. People get sick, go on vacation, have life changes that are often abrupt and unplanned. If a significant part of your business rests on an individual, the risks are high.

Sudden, or even anticipated, changes do not stem from the contractor's side. The life of a development project or a portfolio of projects is not linear. The volume of demand can increase or decrease; development might be consistent at first but over time it may become intermittent. Independent contractors rely on consistency, and otherwise seek other engagements. As projects end, contractors become busy with other work and aren't always able to support or re-engage for additional development components.    

The Benefit of a Team
By engaging with a software development firm, you are extending your company with a team of talent, experience, and the organization of that firm. You benefit from a team to support your applications – the redundancy you need to minimize risk in running your crucial applications. An individual can only excel in so many things whereas a team is made up of professionals with particular strong suits, whether they are front end, back-end, database, design, or mobile.  

Misconceptions About Cost
It is not uncommon for organizations to seek engagements with independent contractors because of the perceived cost savings. Rates can be lower than partnering with a software development firm but organizations often do not take into account the overlooked costs of independents. Some of these include (1) the of cost supplemental work even when demand is low to keep them from moving on to other engagements; (2) the time and expense to recruit and replace them when they move on to other clients; (3) and the expense and impact to your business when the independent you engage does not work out and needs to be replaced.

Established software development firms, like Chicago Software Solutions, have a reputation to uphold and are more apt to recognize cost and value. Developers are tested and, more importantly, development firms know they are accountable for the performance of their developers. Software development firms like C|S|S know their consultants and work with their clients to map out both short and long term paths. Call C|S|S today to engage us as your technology partner.