Windows Insider

The New Windows Admin: Employee or Freelance Contractor?

With an estimated 33 percent of IT employees working as freelancers by 2020, Greg Shields argues why this shift away from salaried positions is a win-win for both employer and employee.

To the salaried Windows IT professional: Your days are numbered. That's the prediction Russ Hearl, director of strategic alliances for the job search site Elance, shared with me. It's a scary thought, and for many it sounds unbelievable. But spend a minute with the people who've made a job out of finding jobs, and you might reconsider everything you assumed about the IT professional's career path.

Hearl and I discussed the state of the IT job market during the TechEd conference in Orlando, Fla. He shared some notable statistics, gathered from the nearly 800,000 jobs each month that Elance fills for professionals across IT and other industries.

In 2008, the company's data showed that 6 percent of all IT jobs were filled by contractors rather than traditional salaried employees. That number rose to 14 percent by the first half of this year. Throughout this period, Elance has surveyed employers who use its site and analyzed the trends. "We predict that sometime near the end of this decade that number will rise to at least 33 percent," Hearl said.

Those numbers suggest a sea change is afoot in the IT job market, potentially affecting the employer/employee relationship for at least one-third of all IT pros.

One reason might be an evolution in how businesses operate in the post-recession economy. "Businesses are coming out of the recession leaner, yet needing to move faster," says Rich Pearson, Elance's chief marketing officer. "As they become more comfortable with on-demand cloud services, they're accelerating their transition to hiring on-demand."

But Pearson doesn't necessarily believe the shift toward lean business practices is the only driving force. The data he sees suggests IT professionals themselves are demanding a different relationship. "On a macro basis, [the IT] category is seeing a ton of strength as more professionals realize they can work from wherever they want and earn a fantastic living while maintaining a ton of freedom," he explains.

Freelancing Freedom
Carl Webster, a freelance contract consultant and Citrix technology professional, agrees. "IT contracting gives me the freedom to work on the projects I want to work on, for the companies I want to work for, and allows me a very flexible schedule," Webster says.

Online contract work aggregators such as Elance and others see their services as market-driven lubrication for the usual methods of finding and hiring contractors. The old way required a much more hands-on, sales-oriented relationship with the job placement intermediary.

Pearson believes the benefit an online service offers is in streamlining those methods. "Businesses can post hourly or fixed-price jobs listing the skills they need and an estimated budget," he says. "[The service] can then recommend contractors that fit the description."

Microsoft Joins In
The approach is novel, but is it compelling? A recently announced partnership between Elance and Microsoft suggests the software giant thinks so. The two companies in June announced a Microsoft Developers Program initiative that matches certified Windows 8, Windows Phone, Windows Azure and Microsoft Web developers with businesses on the Elance platform.

"The Microsoft Developers Group on Elance offers companies the ability to quickly and easily tap into Elance's community of qualified developers," says Terry Clancy, developer audience marketing manager at Microsoft. "This new resource also helps job-seeking developers discover new project opportunities."

Whether you're an administrator or a developer, there appear to be job market changes afoot. What has been your experience? Will a 1099 replace your W-2 any time soon?

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author / Evangelist with www.PluralSight.com, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @ConcentratdGreg.

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