The Rise of Contract Work and the Virtual Office—One Woman's Experience Going 'IT' Alone
Long-term Ivanti contractor, Sharon Munday, On Your Case Ltd, highlights the pros and cons of working under contractor status in IT.
At some stage, women in IT may face the decision to go it alone.
There is no other industry like IT facilitating the rise of the contract worker, and chances are, it’s a choice that will greet you at some stage. Fuelled by the growth of Gen Y (Millennials) into the IT job market, contract workers have become one of the fastest growing segments of the workforce.
Many tech-savvy Millennials feel that the days of working in an office are outdated. By their very upbringing into the world of multiple devices and online comms, they feel they can be just as productive in a remote or virtual office. Indeed, given that we are in IT and either use—or produce—the tools that enable flexible, productive working, none of this is surprising.
I fall into the Gen X category, that reassuring combination of not being a complete technophobe while also not believing that everyone has the right to be an entrepreneur by the age of 21.
My Journey Into Contract Work
Despite the stats on the rise of the contractor status in IT, the day you make that choice (or are asked to make that choice by an employer) is not quite so self-assured. I found myself at this crossroads 14 years ago, before the Gen Ys had made their mark on progression with the remote working model.
For me, upon reflection, it could best be described as a "fraught decision" hinged between the flexibility of working from my very cold office in the garden whilst also coping with a one-year-old, vs the comfort, stability and recognition that a senior marketing job across EMEA offered with a Tier 1 vendor. In the end, I am actually glad that I did not have to make that decision myself. When it came to it, nature intervened, a further pregnancy materialised within four months of the first (IVF) baby arriving, so trips to HQ in Mountain View became quickly relegated to journeys of the past.
Balancing Contract Work with Motherhood
Even through the "painful trying years" I imagined myself as a dedicated mother who would put her children above all else. In reality, I couldn’t walk away entirely from my career, enviously looking back at colleagues enjoying the spoils of employment. My father was a self-made businessman, and try as I might to throw myself into the endless round of coffee mornings, I quickly came round to seeing another view. It was part of my role as the children’s primary carer, to show that by working hard you can be both mother and run your own business flexibly around them by contracting.
Achieving that flexibility is another issue. The most difficult task is getting your first contract. Mine came bizarrely through filling a six-month maternity cover at an IT reseller. The work was run-of-the-mill, but the ability to don a suit and become someone other than Mummy was addictive.
When the contract finished, I set up my own Limited Company that offered marketing services, PR, and event management using a network of sister agencies in Germany and France, as well as a bank of other consultants available for sub-contracting. Success spread and two years later, I secured my first large retained client, a software company that I am still thrilled to be working alongside today.
For me, continuity is key. I have come to realise over the years I have been contracting that of equal importance to having invoices paid is the desire and need to work within a team in longterm relationships. As a contractor, you miss the sheer comradery that a team offers within an employer. And that can be lacking when you face the daunting task of fulfilling projects under your own steam, acting as the advisor in your chosen specialist field.
The Advantages and Disadvantages of Going It Alone
I read recently that by 2025, Gen Y Millennials were likely to favour working with three or four long-term contracts vs seeking employment. I doubt these figures will materialize. Yes, contracting has distinct advantages. You are contracted to do what you are good at and passionate at every day. Pay is arguably higher and there are distinct tax breaks. It affords flexibility over where and when you work. Most days I still collect and drop my children to school, my car is my second office, I know every quiet lay bye with phone signal between South Coast and Reading. And thank goodness for mobile 4G routers.
But try getting a mortgage without an employer to endorse you. Any mainstream bank looks through five years of accounts, tots up your profit vs overheads and then still rounds down your personal payments by at least 25 percent. Dividends, they tell you, are unreliable; they can go up as well as down.
You also have liabilities to maintain your Limited Company: bookkeeping, quarterly VAT returns, annual accounts to name but a few. Your website is always lacking, and that’s not great when you are a content creator by trade. And you are totally responsible for your own IT equipment. Again, thank goodness for the advent of shared drives.
So, would I make the same choice again? Most likely in my unique situation of being the primary carer of two children, I would. I hope I have instilled in my children the sense that nothing is automatic and you need to make the client happy with your work, every time. So homework shortcuts are unacceptable. I have also been incredibly lucky with lovely long-term clients across lots of technologies, whereas simply as an employee I would have never gotten to work with so many nice people nor be involved in so much innovation.
Or, maybe it’s simply because I haven’t found the right employer yet.
Follow Sharon on Twitter @onyourcase.