Corporate to Freelance: How to start as a Senior Freelance Developer
Have you ever thought about leaving your permanent job and starting a freelance career? Have you dismissed the idea because you didn't know what to expect? The best way to find out is to talk to people who’ve already been there. In our fireside chat Corporate to Freelance: How to start as a Senior Freelance Developer, two senior freelance developers told us about their switch to freelancing. In a fascinating conversation, they talked about their experiences after more than 12 months of freelancing and drew a conclusion. In the following article, we have summarized the most important takeaways from the webinar for you. If you prefer to watch the whole video, you can find the recording here.
The decisive trigger
Bogdan Ariton, Senior Software Engineer and Eduard Drusa, Senior Software Developer: two tech experts who both took the step from permanent employment to freelancing. For both of them, this decision was directly or indirectly related to the impact of the pandemic.
Bogdan, who works primarily with C++, has led several technical teams over the past 10 years, including a research and development team for an ERM. The newly gained flexibility of working from home last year, strengthened the idea in him to think about new possibilities and to work remotely on projects worldwide. He dared to switch into freelancing.
In Eduard's case, the pandemic caused earthquake shaking status of various projects at the company he worked for, and the situation was getting progressively worse. Eduard decided to take action and venture into freelancing.
The transition phase
Obviously, the idea of becoming self-employed did not come completely out of the blue. Eduard had saved up money and already had a plan in place: His premise was that he wanted to work as a freelancer for at least one year, then come to a conclusion. This was his own way of keeping himself from backing out too quickly. Once the decision was made, he researched some basic information, especially on legal issues, and got ready to start his own business. And as it often happens, when one door closes, another one opens. A friend found out about Eduard's resignation and directly asked him to support him as a freelancer with writing the software for a project.
Bogdan had also been thinking about this step for some time. He decided to take at least a month off after quitting his job, to relax and dedicate some time to think about how he would like to move on. He scoured freelance job sites and got an idea of the market. One thing he had to prepare for, though, with the start of his freelance career, was the interviews, because he hadn't done a job interview in a while, at least not in the role of a candidate. But in the end, everything went smoothly: after just one month, Bogdan got his first job as a freelancer. He says, "As soon as you announce your availability, you will get noticed". After updating his LinkedIn profile, he regularly receives inquiries from recruiters and can choose from many job offers.
We asked the two of them what has changed for them since they switched to freelancing in terms of job hunting, their requirements for projects and their strategies. When it comes to job hunting, they both agree: the only difference is that they have more choices as freelancers, especially because they are no longer tied to a specific work location. Bogdan sees another advantage: At his previous company, he might have been able to switch projects, but overall there was a limited choice of projects. As a freelancer, he has many more different opportunities and can gain more experience faster. “It's not a big change in how you find a job, but a positive change that you can find a lot more than you used to”, he sums up.
When he looks for jobs now, what matters most to him is the topic, the fully remote option and the human component. If he notices in the first interview that the interpersonal chemistry is not right, he rejects the job. Because working as a freelancer has taught Bogdan one crucial thing:" The idea of freelancing is often misunderstood. I also had the image in my head that as a freelancer you have to be this one-man army, a single person who has to know everything and can do it all in 5 minutes. But that's not the case. You are working as part of a team. You're not alone, and you can always find projects where you can learn from others. ” Just like in any other serious project, employers often can't afford to have a one-man team. They need to have people with distinct skill sets solving different problems.
Eduard's criteria for selecting a freelance project are the tools used in the project, the tech stack, the possibility to work remotely and that international projects must be run in English.
Working for many years in geographically distributed teams has taught Eduard to be self-sufficient and to deal with things on his own. A feature that also helps him now as a freelancer in many situations. "If everyone on your team is overseas and won't be online for 6 hours, you won’t be sitting around for such a long time and doing nothing, so you’ll try to come up with a solution on your own and manage your time.” Such skills like problem-solving and time management, according to Eduard, are the most valuable features. “Technologies, tools kits, frameworks will come and go, but your soft skills will stay for life.” So the difference in the way a freelancer works is not really different from a permanent employee, according to Eduard, and he was able to transfer a lot of knowledge from his previous job. Both agree that they did not have to learn any specific skills for the change to freelancing.
But one thing Eduard has deliberately changed: He decided to work preferentially on short-term projects. At his old company, he often worked on a project for up to three years. The shorter project duration means that he deals with new topics at regular intervals, and thus learns more new things in less time. In his opinion, as a freelancer, just like in a permanent position, you never know 100 percent what to expect in the upcoming project, but you can learn anything. His tip: "Try, fail, try again, fail again". During breaks between jobs, he has time to work on his own projects. “This gives me the freedom to learn whatever I want”.
We asked both of them what they see as the biggest benefits of freelancing. Here are their answers:
- Free choice of projects and tech stack.
- Working with more senior level colleagues challenges you and gives you a steep learning curve.
- Free choice of working hours and location.
- The opportunity to manage yourself.
- Free time to work on your own projects.
- Larger job pool due to the fact that you can access jobs all around the world instead of just the immediate area around your current location without having to relocate.
- Exciting, unconventional jobs that you would not get in a permanent position.
- You get to know a lot of new people and this opens up completely new opportunities.
After more than a year in the freelance business, both are very happy with their choice and don’t consider switching back to a permanent position. Reasons for this include the better work-life balance, the wider choice of jobs, and the drive to constantly learn new things. "There are just a lot more advantages than disadvantages," Eduard says. "And even though it takes some time and effort to make the switch to freelancing, it's definitely worth it. And the other way around, you can switch back to a permanent position really quickly, you don't need any preparation for that."
In the Q&A session of their talk, Bogdan and Eduard took the time to answer some more exciting questions about hourly rates, job search, and the time and effort spent on administrative tasks, and talked about the benefits of being a member of a freelance community.
If Bogdan and Eduard's experiences have encouraged you, and you are also considering advancing your freelance career as part of a global community with a dedicated team to support you along the way, here is some more information about our community. It is never too late for a new beginning.