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As developers do you ever seek out contract work in addition to your full-time job? I am considering pursuing some additional part-time opportunities and I'm curious how common it is among full-time software engineers.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Thomas Owens Feb 14 at 12:10

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

Some people contribute to free software in addition of their job. –  Basile Starynkevitch Feb 14 at 13:42

10 Answers 10

I did that from the very beginning of my career, and I would do it again, despite all the problems I got because of it (legal & health).

In addition of legal aspects wheaties warns you about, please consider the following:

  • You overall energy will be affected negatively
  • It's easier to do it when you are single with no kids. Things will change a lot in your life when you will get a wife and more importantly, kids
  • You will have to handle much more stress than if you were a simple employee. You will be in charge, and you will have to assume everything. Most people are unable to handle stress properly

I suggest you to work on one project at a time (or one customer at a time), and no more than 2h a day in addition of your 8h work day. For a maximum total of 50h per week.

Now positive things:

  • Working on your own projects will make you happy
  • You will increase your knowledge a lot faster, and your actual employer will take benefit of it
  • Starting side projects is the best and safest way to become one day, a full time freelance or better, a business owner
  • It will helps you save more money (if you manage your money wisely) and then you will have much more power in the future to invest in your own ideas (or anything you like)
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I freelance from time to time, and work on personal projects that I release too. I keeps me interested in doing what I do - working for one employer for a long period of time can have detrimental effects on your motivation, skills (don't forget this is a very fast paced, rapidly evolving industry), etc.

If you can freelance or contract then do; you might find it very rewarding (as I and many do), but be prepared for:

  • A little extra stress from time to time: Deadlines at your full-time job coenciding with deadlines on your contract work can really, really push you.
  • Time management is crucial.
  • Make sure your full-time employer is aware that you've taken on additional work.
  • Avoid any work that is similar to your full-time employment (partly for enjoyment, but mostly to avoid conflict).
  • Do not underestimate the overheads; it's not all development. Be prepared to have to phone the people hiring you, send emails - do not let this interfere with your full-time employer (harder than it sounds).
  • Get a good contract in place and make sure you stick to it.
  • Lastly - don't over do it on your first gig; pick something you can manage. If it goes badly you risk turning yourself off from freelancing in future.

Also even with all the will in the world there will be days where you just can't do it. You know those days when you get up to go to work and it hurts? Well double it if you have a freelance gig on. You've got to be committed, you need a strong work ethic and be willing to get things done, even when you'd sooner not.

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+1 very good points and the last one is great –  Sandeepan Nath Jan 1 '11 at 20:47
I made the "don't over do it" mistake, and the thought of attempting another side project is extremely unpleasant. –  Ben L Mar 1 '11 at 16:54

I don't, however, I want to. You need to go over several things when considering contract work which you need to be mindful:

  1. Your company is informed you are seeking work outside of it. This is nice for your boss and his ability to plan. To them, your job should be priority #1.
  2. You have not signed an agreement which states they own all of your intellectual property or ideas. I have, this is why I can not do contract work.
  3. There is no inherit conflict of interests which may arise as a result of your work. This is why 1 on this list is so important.
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Great points @wheaties, thank you! –  Nathan Taylor Oct 8 '10 at 16:28
As to #2 that would be a hinderance to freelance not contract. For contract you are doing work for someone else at their guidance, making it their IP. –  Bill Leeper Oct 8 '10 at 17:40
@Bill Leeper only if they see it that way :P –  wheaties Oct 8 '10 at 18:44
About #2. Some states (or countries) have laws stating basically: "If you do it on your own time, with your own equipment, and it's unrelated to your full-time work, then you own it." Regardless of what contracts might say, that law would take precedence. Still, "related" is an ambiguous term, and legal matter are always complex; ask a lawyer if your concerned. –  Buttons840 Jul 20 '13 at 21:42

I've been a consultant/contract programmer for the last 30 years or so, and generally have always had more than one contract going on at a time. I do mostly embedded hardware/software design, but also do some website stuff. I have always been careful about avoiding conflicts of interest.

I currently have one full-time contract with a startup company. I also have five other small jobs (usually don't have this many). The CEO at the startup knows I am working on other contracts. That's one reason I insist on being a contractor there too instead of an employee (if they want me to come in on Saturdays, I get paid for it).

Most of the jobs I am getting paid for on an hourly basis. Two of them I am working for equity or barter.

My wife is out of town right now visiting our daughter's family so I'm currently working about 6 1/2 days a week to get caught up a little. I'll cut back when she returns.

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I do, but I am a junior trying to get as much of a portfolio as possible, my 4 day a week job is limited to wordpress sites, and simple ones, so I branch out in my spare time.

One day, I won't. Spare time is too precious.

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You aren't limited to one job (unless by contract). I take every oppertunity I can manage to increase my skill set and networking connections. Even if you don't end up with work at the end of it you meet people that are helpful later on.

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A few principles that guide my decision-making about things like this:

  1. Health -- mental and physical -- is my #1 priority. There has to be enough time every week for other activities, rest and recovery. Sitting at a desk coding all day every day for 10+ hours starts to take its toll after awhile.
  2. I prefer doing things that simplify my life, not add complications.
  3. I think to be really good at something you have to focus. If you invest many hours in your business or job it will start to pay dividends eventually. That means putting the time in to learn the system really well, getting to know key people in the company and using that knowledge to become more productive and make a bigger impact.
  4. I will take on new projects that really interest me if they don't compromise #'s 1 through 3 above.

I've tried part-time freelance programming but I felt stressed and tired and wished I had my free time back. On the other hand, working on my own personal projects has been invigorating and has been a chance to learn new things.

I would take on part-time freelance jobs -- preferably, those with flexible timelines or scope -- if they offered a chance to learn something new. The money alone is not a significant source of motivation.

One thing I've thought about is that being a full-time freelancer would be easier than trying to moonlight. It's just I would rather not worry about where my next paycheck will come from. The pillar of stability provided by a primary job gives me a base from which I can explore new technologies, work on my side projects, and do other things that don't immediately translate into money.

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I know people who have done it and it has always negatively affected their day job. Either they spend time during the day doing stuff related to their night job, telephone calls, email (or worse actually coding) or they just can't focus and get nothing done.

IMO, If you are going to put yourself through the hassle why don't you do something that can actually lead to some big reward in the future. Work on something that can turn into a product that can result in a big payday someday. Sure the extra money from a contract job will be nice but that may be an illusion. It's almost a guarantee that your primary job is going to suffer because of your night job. This very well may end up hurting you in your pocketbook from a raise perspective, a reputation perspective and a stress perspective. Any of which could end up costing you more than the extra money you make on the side job. If you're going to risk that then you should be going for the home run (ie. your own business) and not just a few extra bucks from some side job. But that's just my humble opinion.

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I do, but they tend to be writing and related things, not coding. I also make sure to talk to my bosses before I signed the contract for the book.

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Before I started my custom software company 20 years ago, I did some programming on the side while in college. The important thing to keep in mind is you may have limited availability to support the application, and you need to be up front with the client on this. As long as they know this, and the rate agreed reflects this, go for it.

Just be transparent about it.

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