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Assume I have enough money to live off of for 3 months. Would it be impossible to just freelance my entire programming career, after sufficiently learning the language and helping open source projects? Or would clients want to see work experience. I am mostly talking about Objective-C development, so I would be publishing apps to make income. Is this possible?

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Are you planning to freelance full time or work another job (either FT or PT) and then freelance on top of that? –  Jetti Jun 28 '11 at 4:07
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Maybe if you live in mexico where you can live off $3 a day . . . –  Richard DesLonde Jun 28 '11 at 5:55

6 Answers 6

No. As long as you need money, you will be working for someone else in one way or another.

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This has some truth to it. If you aren't working as an employee in an organization, you'll be working for your customers. –  Barry Brown Jun 28 '11 at 5:26

Sure but in doing so you are then going from programmer to sales/marketing, etc. At minimum you will have to sell yourself as a freelancer. If you intend on creating some product, then you will have to market and sell it.

If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. So it's entirely possibly though not likely.

Someone else also posted a question that may not be an exact duplicate but contains relevant info: What advice would you give to someone going freelance

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Sure it's possible. If you have the correct state of mind to keep it going.

And the creative ideas to create more apps to keep the income going.

But it is certainly not the easiest road to travel.

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Yes but it will take a different skill set than just working for a company. Some important skills will be:

  • Marketing
  • Friendliness
  • Likability
  • Good commmunication

You'll have to be very good at programming as well.

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I'm sure it would be entirely possible.

A disadvantage to this approach would be that if you ever did want to take a job working for someone else, you run the risk of having missed out on a lot of the practice issues relevant to enterprise development (unless you're very self-disciplined and implement these kind of things yourself).

Examples of the kind of things I'm talking about include:

  • Source control
  • Unit testing
  • Peer/code review
  • Formal design/architecture

I'm definitely not saying that working for someone else guarantees exposure to these things - it doesn't. You may well be able to cover these in your open-source work or personal learning/development; it's just another angle to consider.

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There are many other highly technical professions in which its practitioners are mostly freelancers. I'm thinking of dentists, portrait photographers, general contractors (construction), opticians, and so forth. What they all share in common is in addition to practicing their trade, they also have to run a business. Unless they hire a staff of people to run the business aspects, they have to do it themselves and that takes away time (and fun) from doing what they were trained to do.

My photographer friends tell me they spend 70-80% of their time doing business tasks: accounting, advertising, calling, meeting with clients, etc., and only about 20% of their time doing what they love doing: taking pictures. So they hire an accountant and an office manager to handle those tasks, but now they are in a position of being an employer which comes with its own baggage: employment taxes, offering benefits, buying insurance, renting office space, and more.

As independent businesspeople, they also have to ride with the economy. Some weeks they have few or no clients, but they still have to pay their office staff, put food on the table, pay for utilities, etc. In the US, you'll find that health insurance is shockingly expensive for sole proprietors -- a cost that is somewhat hidden from you as an employee. And you may find it difficult to qualify for a mortgage or car loan since your income isn't verifiable. (Loan officer: "You don't qualify." You: "What? I pulled in $55,000 last year!" Officer: "But your tax form says you deducted $50,000 in 'expenses,' leaving just $5,000 income. So, no, you don't qualify.")

If you're employed by someone else, you might not be able to work on what you want to do every day but at least you can be pretty sure you'll get a regular paycheck with defined benefits.

Yes, it's possible to freelance. Millions of independent businesspeople can't be all wrong. But before jumping in, take some basic business courses so you know what comes with the responsibility of running your own company.

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