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 a senior partner and principal technologist with Concentrated Technology. He also serves as a contributing editor and columnist for TechNet Magazine and Redmond magazine, and is a highly sought-after and top-ranked speaker for live and recorded events. Greg can be found at numerous IT conferences such as TechEd, MMS and VMworld, among others, and has served as conference chair for 1105 Media’s TechMentor Conference since 2005. Greg has been a multiple recipient of both the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional and VMware vExpert award.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Oct 15, 2012 Tony Brown Greater Los Angeles, CA

I couldn't agree more with this article Greg has written. I started my career about 15-17yrs ago as a contractor in Denver, CO. I recently became an employee here in CALI . I noticed that a lot IT employees here are very scared of losing their jobs. I am thinking about going back to contracting. My opinion it’s a lot more fun, a lot more secure, & a lot more to learn from other environments.

Thu, Sep 13, 2012

Some others have pointed this out already, but I'll add in here and be plain. Last year when I looked for part-time, short-term contracting work to help out with the bills, what business wanted was to pay less than minimum wage for a highly trained and experienced employee and not pay for any benefits. They wanted the contractor on-site, during business hours M-F. Figure in the company wanting to add in their standard BS of 'and other duties', and wanting the contractor to provide training to their administrative assistant so they wouldn't need to rely on an IT professional in the future, and you have a formula for a miserable, and soon to be in a soup kitchen contract employee. And the same people complain that morale is low and no one wants to work any more. That's the environment that the idiots running U.S. businesses have created.

Sat, Sep 8, 2012 Marco Shaw Canada

@Sergey: Yes, there are some lesser "challenging" postings on Elance. My bigger concern is around what this "international bidding war" will do. There are times when the job may seem big, but you could be talking $5-$10/hour once you factor in what the customer is hoping to pay for the job. If one plans to freelance full time, I can see them struggling if they're trying to work 40-ish hours/week and make a decent living in US/Canada. It comes down to a bidding war, with the lowest price usually winning out, it seems.

Fri, Sep 7, 2012 Tom

I don't know the truth to it, but I do agree it is the way things are moving, at least in the United States. I think, though, this glosses over WHY. Yes, there is the economy, and there is the demand SOME people have for freedom; but I think it is far more than that. The U.S. has become increasingly hostile to business wrt hiring and firing practices, making it expensive and difficult to hire someone qualified and even more difficult when they don't match their paper qualifications. The big loophole, of course, is contractors, where it is two companies working together. The government sees it as a consumer/customer relationship instead of an employer/employee relationship. What changed in reality? Only that companies like Elance are becoming huge HR machines at the expense of the customer and the employee (who costs more for the hiring company but leaves them far more flexible). This is not the only reason, of course, but I feel it IS the BIGGEST reason.

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 Sergey Russia

I am member of Microsoft Certified Professionals Group on Elance for about a year. I can mention 2 typical job ads from mailing list from this group - Excel Expert To Turn Process Into Interactive Excel Template Budget: Less than $500 | Category: Data Entry | Client: dcgloballlc I have a marketing consulting analysis process that has 5 information gathering steps that I would like to incorporate into an interactive excel file. Qualified applicants will be provided a PDF of the process that I would like turned into an exce... More Microsoft Office Specialist in Word and PowerPoint 2010 Budget: Not Sure | Category: Word Processing | Client: jimv Seeking a part-time administrative assistant, based in the U.S. or Canada, to help format and update most of our company's 50- to 150-page workshop facilitator and participant guides (which are in Microsoft Word and include PowerPoint slides). And NOTHING more serious. Any comments?

Thu, Sep 6, 2012 Chris

800,000 jobs a month filled? Seems that must be a mistake when the economy only filled less than a third of that overall.

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