Freelance Thursday September 25, 2008, 3 comments

Where the hell are all the good front-end web developers in Toronto? You’d think a city the size of Toronto would have talent aplenty.

Well, it turns out this is true. Toronto is an incredibly web-talented city. The real problem is, most of the front-end developers want to be freelancers now. It’s the new black. They all want to be rockstar-ninjas slicing out the code while they engage in impressive work-life balance gymnastics.

As someone who is responsible for the hiring of such fine talented people, I can totally understand them. Hell, I am tempted by the lure of freelancing too – I’ve even done it as a ‘full time gig’. The thing is, I like being part of a company, part of a team. Outside of the actual work, I like being around people. I like the socialization. And I’ll admit it, I like the benefits that come with being part of a good company – medical and dental, paid holidays and bonuses. Work-life balance is not only possible when one is an employee, when one works for a good company, it’s desirable.

I have recognized that I want to be a part of something bigger than I could ever be a part of as a freelancer, so the choice has always been easy. I don’t want to be ‘ninja-ing’ code in ten year, or even five. I have higher aspirations than that, and I believe I have a lot more to offer the industry in terms of experience and ideas than simply providing good code.

We’re going to see a gradual shift back to employed web professionals as it becomes clear that there is no real career path for web developers who freelance except the next client, and I think it’s going to happen sooner, rather than later. Maybe it’s something of a job-seeker’s market right now – at least in Toronto’s web industry – but I expect that’ll change quickly when the pendulum begins its trundle back.


Daniel Black Friday September 26, 2008

There’s an odd correlation to the rise and fall of reality TV and the freelancing gigs. Yes, reality TV could cash in on novelty and lower production costs; but eventually the novelty wears thin, and you’re left with this empty husk of cults of vacuous personality. For all the problems Numb3rs has, at least it has a decent creative and editing cycle. Maybe the same, in an orthoganal sort of way, can be said for freelancing: for a while, the relative flexibility’s great; but the lack of structure a company provides would seem to show “flexibility” to be more like “chaos.”

Rob Sunday September 28, 2008

Personally, I freelance because it is more efficient. Commuting is wasteful. (Most) meetings are wasteful. Eating at Subway every day is wasteful. I feel that the traditional employment model is completely broken. If I could work in an environment similar to what we see in forward-thinking firms like 37signals or Semco, I would leap at the chance.

That said, I agree with all of your positive points. Being part of an enthusiastic team is fun, and I do miss the camaraderie of a purposeful, energetic nine-to-five.

I do agree that we’re going to see a decline in freelancing in the coming years, but not until ROWE happens on a large scale:

Adrian Monday September 29, 2008

Hi Rob,

First, let me say it’s great to hear from you! Second, let’s look at your post in further detail:

“Personally, I freelance because it is more efficient. Commuting is wasteful. (Most) meetings are wasteful. Eating at Subway every day is wasteful.”

Okay, that’s certainly an opinion, though I feel it’s an inadequately defended one and relies on the worst available examples for support. There’s four points at work here:

- Freelancing is more efficient exactly how? It takes the same amount of electricity to run a computer at home as at work, right? And the router at work – likely the same as the one in the home – is being shared among lots of people, reducing it’s impact in terms of energy usage. If you’re talking in terms of efficiency of work output, then you’re ignoring the synergy of working in a team, proven time after time.

- Commuting is wasteful if one drives to work. What about if one walks? Is it wasteful then? What about cycling? Is the exercise wasteful? As for public transport, it offers a very good time to read a book. The fact is, commuting by car might be energy-wasteful, but that’s not the real issue. Commuting is not an integral part of the ‘traditional employment model’.

- Meetings are certainly wasteful if they are poorly run. We’ve all worked places where meetings were notoriously bad for productivity. But it’s possible to make meetings effective, and many workplaces achieve that. Face-to-face communication is still the most dense and efficient form of communication known to man. Effective teamwork and leadership can turn meetings from time-wasting black holes to some of the most productive blocks of time one can imagine.

- I agree with you about eating out: Eating at Subway (or wherever) every day is incredibly wasteful. Which is why I make my lunch at home and bring it to work. I figure eating at work probably uses the same amount of energy as eating at home, so it’s a wash for me.

“I feel that the traditional employment model is completely broken.”

Hundreds of thousands – millions even – worldwide seem to think that the traditional employment model is pretty good. Not perfect, most certainly, but pretty good. I have yet to be convinced by the meme about the failures of traditional employment. Most likely because it has never actually tried to explain itself, instead behaving as if it is so obvious it doesn’t need to.

“If I could work in an environment similar to what we see in forward-thinking firms like 37signals or Semco, I would leap at the chance.”

I am not sure I would. While I admire the work they’re doing, I suspect the choices they’ve made with respect to working culture will shortly start impacting their business negatively. As I’ve said above, in-person communication is way more efficient than any other way of communication. Human beings are social creatures.

And besides all that, what sort of career ladder is 37s offering? It’s fundamentally a flat organization. There are no positions of greater contribution to aspire to. And as I’ve said before, I don’t want to be a code monkey forever. I like writing code, but I can offer my company a lot more value by helping others to be good coders than I ever could by simply writing it myself.

And finally, ROWE (Results Oriented Work Environment). It’s a great idea, and it definitely has merit. But it’s still not yet a complete solution, and frankly I am of the opinion it never will be – it simply fails to take into account human nature. It does not work for individuals who lack self discipline. Should they just be left out in the cold?

In industries where ‘results’ cannot necessarily be measured objectively ROWE has serious limitations. But most of all, it makes face-to-face verbal communications difficult or impossible – which, as I said above, is the single most dense and efficient form of communication humans have yet developed. Teamwork anybody?

All this talk of traditional employment models reminds me of the mid-90s, when pseudo-aspergers and diet-cola drove the Internet industry. Those young guys also wanted to buck the traditional work environment and do what worked best for them. They didn’t want any stuffy old suit telling them how they could work!

At first they made lots of money. And then they stopped making money. Where are they now? Sitting in the office, like most everyone else. The fact is, no matter how much we don’t like it, the traditional model is not broken, it actually works. It’s sure as hell not perfect, but that doesn’t mean it has no value.

I bet people who feel that way about the traditional employment model find that that arduous commute to work isn’t so bad once they’ve got a kid or two and a mortgage to pay, or if they develop a chronic ailment. Hopefully there’ll still be some of those companies around when they need them. And hopefully they still have positions open.

Commenting has ended for this post, but I'd still love to hear from you.

The website of Adrian Lebar

A Rain of Frogs is written, designed and built by Adrian Lebar, a twenty(!) year veteran of web design and development. He is currently managing web and mobile development teams at Canada’s largest and most beloved classifieds site, Kijiji!

He is a father, sailor, snowboarder, skier, cyclist, writer, artist, graphic designer, classically trained musician and afraid of heights.

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If I had known I was going to live to 100, I'd have taken up violin at 60.”
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