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Ask HN: How to find contract work in Bay Area?
105 points by byebyetech on Aug 7, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments
I have over 6 years of experience in iOS and I think i am pretty good programmer. I am looking for hourly rate of $200+ in Bay Area. I get calls from companies that do placements but they don't go above $80 (even for Bay Area).

What can I do to get this rate?

- Start with your own network. Reach out to past co-workers and bosses who regarded you highly. They will pay more for known risk.

- Do not compromise on your rate. If needed, shorten scope according to budget, but do not get tricked into lowering hourly rate. One employer wanted me to work $75/hr for 9 months. I got them to $200/hr for 3 month contract. Nearly the same budget, just reduced scope to get the work done in shorter time. Both of us went home happy.

- As soon as you get your first gig, start working on your pipeline. Reach out to more ex-coworkers. Once you've exhausted your personal network, you've gotta start getting referrals. I usually use the LinkedIn leads for FTE and say "no im not interested in full time, but let me know if you have any contract opportunities". That sometimes helps.

- Start a blog, start developing a reputation, do lots of marketing. Rinse and repeat.

- Save 50% of your income to weather the lulls between gigs until you get your pipeline full.

Note: I got opportunities both at publicly traded companies and small startups with this approach. If you are going for startups, it is sometimes easier for well-funded startups. In this market most devs are going to the big co's.

Tip: Get OnTheJob (https://stuntsoftware.com/onthejob/). You just press "Start" when working, "Stop" when not. It makes time tracking and invoicing easy. I just send the output of that to whoever pays the bills.

200 coming in cold is too high without a solid record / examples / focused vertical.

Have paid 200/hr easily and was happy for a 2 month project with a specific scope ( needed a solid RN<>iOS/Android bridge w. a lightly documented video player + optimization ). In another case, 250/hr (2k / day x 4 day week x 6 mths) to shore up team as it ramped up.

In both cases :- super clear communicators / solid engineers. 8-12 years eng. experience, 3-5 yrs in specific language.

In both cases, it required 2-3 strong references & examples within the specific requirement we needed. And it took 2-3 weeks back / forth before we decided (and we looked/searched hard for other options)

I've also 'taken chances' with folks at the 80-120 range. And that's the typical range where it's much easier to make the decision and never went much beyond samples and a quick 30min tech chat. Onboard fast ... and off board just as fast if things don't work out in the first 2-3 days.

If you're just starting out, placements are fine, build your portfolio up for 2-3 mths, then start looking at the 120-140 range. Once there, 6-12 mths out, you should see what you're good at / what are the particular trends and then focus there. Then you're closer to targeting specific companies (eg. do outreach) and for those specific hotspots, you would be able to command the 180-250 range.

Definitely target companies that just raised their A or B rounds. Else, it's the standard network + word of month @ those rates. Do try Angel.co as well (w. specific / targeted messages)

Some thoughts as someone who has both done freelancing and now hires freelancers:

Remember why people are hiring you: to make problems go away. People hire contractors (and pay them a lot) because they want work completed, without the drama of an employee. Every email you send, ever line of code you write, make sure you're thinking about "how can I make fewer problems, not more"?

Freelancing is less about the work, and more about the presentation. Doesn't matter how good your code is if you don't answer emails within an hour, send professional invoices on time, and hit deadlines. If being over-communicative doesn't come natural to you, I'd consider finding someone who is good at it and giving them 10-20%. (It'll be well worth it in the end)

Specialize in something people need, and have a good, simple website for it. You aren't "generic iOS" dev, you're now "iOS animations" or "integrate awesome metrics into your iOS" or "upgrade to the newest version of iOS" dev.

Do fun, viral projects. Explicitly say you're looking for work. I got most of my freelancing off projects like http://2014.startupnotes.org/ and https://gkoberger.github.io/stacksort/

Work with other freelancers, especially with other competencies. It doesn't have to be a formal "company", but you get to share your network and fill in skill gaps. "Oh, you need an illustrator? My friend Tom is awesome, he can do that for you."

Cut ties with bad clients ASAP. There's so many great clients out there, and bad ones will suck up all your time and energy.

Understand why you're doing this. Wanting to make lots of money, wanting to work less, trying new technologies, wanting to finance a startup... all valid, but optimize for what you want out of this.

I'd aim for $120/hr at first. You need to get your foot in the door at some great companies. You can always say you charge $200, but give a discount "because you really like them". Then slowly raise as time goes on. The more work you get, the easier future work is (due to referrals). I know everyone says charge more, and I agree eventually, but early on I think building up a strong network is even more important. It'll lead to higher rates (from other companies) as time goes on.

Charge by the day, not per hour.

Why the /day and not /hour? Just curious.

Email companies looking for iOS full-time employees (not recruiters) and ask them if they would consider contractors. You'll need to have a pretty solid and impressive portfolio and be able to work independently to get that kind of rate, e.g. not just do the programming but manage the project and deliver things without having the client break it down for you, possibly subcontracting the art and design yourself.

I'd suggest setting your rates high and offering a "per-project discount" if clients will let you blog about or show off work instead of keeping it behind NDA.

Most work comes from word-of-mouth and networking. If you need to build up your portfolio or contacts, offer to build (small, well-scoped) apps for nonprofits or organizations that you support, and build them in your off hours that would be unbillable anyways. If you do this, take it seriously and don't drop the ball, you're basically working for your reputation instead of cash. Or build your own app store app to use as a showcase rather than expecting app store windfalls.

The placement companies are getting $150/hr, which is about going rate for dev agencies here in the valley. You just get the 60% cut.

Some other routes to take:

Management. You get 2 or 3 other remote guys and bill at $200/hr then split the take. You'll get your needed billable hours to make it worthwhile for everyone but lots of headaches and lots of sales.

Consulting. You design the architecture or analysis or technical reviews of projects. But won't hit 2000 billable hrs a year at that rate.

Otherwise no one's going to hire an individual contributor at $200/hr.

Email me if you want to talk shop over coffee.

I'm based in Austin, am an individual contributor, and I bill out at $300 / hour (and have been for more than a year). I work anywhere from 20-25 hours per week. I'm quoting new inbound at $350-400 / hour and work has no signs of slowing down.

I live in Austin too but here no one agrees to pay me more that $40/hour and thats why i am considering moving to Bay Area. What kind/field of work do you do sir?

I do iOS, Android, and full stack web development (devops, frontend, backend, etc.)—basically whatever tech is needed to solve the business issue at hand. Hit me up if you want to talk shop, I’d love to help you out if I can!

Great! just sent you message on LinkedIn :)

People hire individual contributors for more than $200/hr all of the time. Especially in the bay area.

I don't think the target should be 2000 billable hours in this scenario—shoot for 1000. Its really hard to stay legitimately billable for 40 hours a week no matter what your rate is, unless you're charging a day or weekly rate and don't worry about hourly itemization. 20 hours a week is pretty easy and if you calibrate everything to that, you end up with gravy more often than not.

Lots of very good advice in this thread so I'll take a different approach.

What's your goal? Why are you looking for a $200 rate?

Do you want to make 400k a year? Do you want to make 160k a year but only work for 20 weeks? Do you want flexibility in schedule?

As a contractor, you'll spend way more time than you think you will developing contacts and trying to sell the ways you can provide value to a client.

I quit a job when a former employer offered me close to that hourly rate to work on some very specialized software. Worked for about 9 months, then I spent the next 4 trying to look for more incredibly lucrative freelance work. Eventually met a startup who gave me an full-time offer I couldn't refuse so I took it.

I'm much happier not intermittently searching for work and sinking my teeth into helping a company grow.

At Triplebyte we're currently looking for experienced iOS engineers to be remote interviewers, who help us evaluate other iOS applicants. It's not exactly your rate, but we pay $200 per 2-hour technical interview, and it's fully remote and flexible (after two weeks of training at our office in San Francisco). If you're interested you can apply here: https://triplebyte.com/remote_interviewer

Edit: a few advantages compared to or when combined with traditional contracting. First you can throttle up or down as you wish -- do 1 interview a day or 4. Second is once you've finished grading an interview, you've finished -- no remaining to-do tasks. Third is you don't have to go out and find work -- we fill your interview slots. You also get to help smart people from all over the world make life-changing career leaps, which is pretty exciting.

Edit 2: contact peter@triplebyte.com -- Peter runs our remote interviewer team and can give you more details.

"after two weeks of training at our office in San Francisco"

If you're happy to share, I'd love to know what you cover in those two weeks. Most companies spend more like 4 to 8 hours (5%-10% of your 80 hours) training new hires on how to interview.

Sure. It's a mix of:

* technical topics (review to substantial depth on every topic we cover)

* interview management (being friendly and helping candidates get through as much as they can in the time allotted)

* grading calibration (so all of our interviewers give repeatable, consistent scores on every dimension of our rubric)

* a lot of practice (mock interviews with other interviewers, taking over one section at a time from existing interviews, eventually flying solo)

Thanks for sharing!

And, BTW, I took your initial online test just for fun+research. I really liked the mix of question types. And it was clear a lot of thought went into picking the answers for the multiple choice questions: apart from the best answer, there were answers that were way off base, but also 1-2 that sounded plausible to someone who had some knowledge of the topic.


One more thing: On the page that describes the process (https://triplebyte.com/company_faq_learn_more) it says there are two steps:

- Quiz (10% pass rate)

- Technical Interview (30% pass rate for those who passed the quiz)

But when I tried the process, I saw 3 steps:

- Programming Questions (i.e. the quiz I mentioned I tried)

- Programming Problems (it says it will take 30 mins, and I haven't tried yet)

- Technical Interview

Interesting… let me see if I am getting this right. After the San Francisco part, am I a Triplebyte employee or I am a contractor? If the former, do I get a set salary or I am only getting commissions for each interview I actually conduct? If the latter, contractor, can I still do my own work or other commitments/jobs whilst doing interviews when I can?

Contractor, paid per interview. Yes -- as far as I know, basically all of our remote interviewers are doing either contract software development or working on their own projects / startups in addition to doing interviews for us.

Sounds interesting.

>> after two weeks of training at our office in San Francisco

Do you cover the cost of 2 weeks of stay in San Francisco?


Edit: I double-checked. A training stipend is paid for all interviewers. Additionally, if you're from out-of-town, we cover travel and lodging.

Thanks for checking.

Yeah, so body shops aren't going to pay that great. The placement companies typically use Indian labor in call centers, and negotiating can be pretty painful. Two companies will routinely call me about the same position, but have wildly varying pay. Usually the company using the Indian call centers pay around 20% less, and they're very unwilling to negotiate pay.

Large corporations will typically use trusted vendors to find people. Unfortunately that is where a good chunk of the money/jobs are. But you're not likely to get $200/hr there.

Currently $120/hr is much more likely through a body shop than $200/hr, but keep in mind the body shop is going to get $180/hr. The body shop carries insurance, and has to recruit new people for a contract, and they have to pay their recruiters, etc.

And even expectations can vary wildly. I would think that at $200/hr, you should save me from having to pay 3 people $66/hr (about $133k/yr). Then you're a bargain, comparatively.

Body shops? Does that mean staffing agencies?

Correct. The term 'Body Shop' came about in India in the late 1990s when Middle-men Indian staffing companies with shell LLCs in US would advertise and hire Y2K programmers from India.

I think they were called 'Body Shops' because they would literally hire 'bodies' in India, apply for their H1Bs and get approval (back in Bill Clinton days it was very fast and easy), bring them over and shop these bodies out to American clients. In some sense, you could say this was 'Programmer Trafficking'

It's not the 'Body Shop' in the American sense, which is an Auto repair shop lol.

I had to do something similar when I started my consulting business. I was very aggressive about finding work, and it breaks down like this, for every week day:

1. Reach out to 5 contacts in my network. Ask them if their company needs any contracting work. If they don't, can they recommend 3 people who might even remotely need it OR if they ever worked with consultants before and used a firm.

2. If there are leads, follow up with up with them (usually around 3) asap. Get to a conversation in person or over the phone.

3. If there are prospects, promise them a 24 hr turnaround on an estimate and get them a statement-of-work/proposal in that time. Building trust is about doing what you'll say. You'd be surprised at how many people will not follow through on super simple things like this.

4. If there are potential buyers, you should have put in your SoW/proposal that you'll check in within 48 hours. Make sure you check in! Do revisions, get on the phone, do whatever it takes to ensure that they feel special and valued and you want the business to be mutually beneficial.

I was able to close multiple six figure deals with this strategy.

In terms of the money part - stop charging an hourly rate. Do fixed price projects or charge by the week/month. Yeah, it still comes out to a "per hour" amount if you amortize over 40 hours in a week or 160 hours in a month, but sell on the intangible benefits. Your customers don't have to sweat phone calls any longer. And YOU don't have to worry about being on the clock all of the time. Focus on results instead of minutia in billing.

$200 is going to be tough to get with any regularity if you're brand new to consulting. Brennan Dunn is a great dude but in my experience the whole "double your rate" thing doesn't just come out of thin air when you already have a high starting point. Easy to do if you're doing commodity work like CMSs or basic data entry. Not so easy to do if you already have a high salary and you're in a specialization like mobile.

Start with $200. If you only get nos, drop it to $150 or $175. Drop until someone bites, but realize the more potential closes you have because you're reaching too high, the less time you'll spend earning a buck. You can always work up to that with every subsequent deal - maybe start at $125 or $150. Get cash coming in, and then continue to source deals for when this gig ends. Keep turning down folks that won't meet your STARTING_RATE * 1.1 to 1.25, or whatever. Easier to stay in business and keep the lights on that way than just start throwing out what is effectively $400k a year when no one knows who you are.

Dude. If you do contracting leave the bay and do remote contracting in the bay. You will be much more competitive. The 200$ rate I have only paid for serious engineering problems - and all day the team tries to find a way to stop paying that rate.

Eg. I am not going to pay that for setting up uitableviews.

There is some pretty solid advice on this thread, but will add a few things that I haven't seen elsewhere.

When I was freelancing, I had good luck going to meetups and talking to people. A lot of companies are willing to hire freelancers. It can take a while to build up a network, but it's worth it in the long run.

Also, I would suggest that you offer a weekly/monthly rate rather than an hourly rate. That's sometimes easier for people to stomach, and you focus on getting the work done rather than working X number of hours.

It's all about your network and supply/demand. Be picky with your projects, and leverage them into your next contract.

On that note, if you happen to have immediate-ish availability, shoot me a message (email in profile).

Don't charge hourly. Charge by the project so they look at total cost and agree it's cheaper than alternatives, especially where wages are very high and they need something specific done. You make sure you price so you can get it done _safely_ where it would end up being $200/hour if it actually took as long as you quoted. More than likely you'll make a lot more per hour ($300-$1000/hour), get it done early and everyone is happy.

This is really difficult to get right unless you've done the same kind of project a few times and have code you can reuse. You also have to manage scope creep, be crystal clear on definitions and what's going to be delivered, and tactfully keep the client from trying to add big features at the margins.

You will find the very high contract rates where the demand for talent is very high and the supply is low. Unfortunately it would appear the demand for IOS isn't too high or the supply is too high.

I would suggest re-skilling to something more in demand or searching for work where there is lot's of IOS jobs posted but no senior level talent.

Learn Deep Learning and go for $400+/h. You missed Blockchain train when it was possible to get $700/h quite easily (usually way more while it was growing).

Don't you need a PhD for that?

It might help but like most businesses don't have phd level problems. It's mostly application of tested algos.

Do you know any companies that have hired programmers to do deep learning who don't have a relevant PhD? I'm not trying to be insulting, but it's hard for me to determine who has actual, practical, first-hand knowledge of hiring practices for deep learning/ML and who doesn't.

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