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Ask HN: Are you contracting on the side (while working full time)?
111 points by xupybd 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 59 comments
I'd like a secondary source of income. I like the idea of not having all my eggs in one basket. But I'm not sure there are any side jobs I could get that wouldn't require full days. Have any of you done this. If so how and what was it like?

I tried taking on a side job last year and it made me miserable. The work was fairly easy, the people were great, and the money was decent, too. But taking on a whole new set of responsibilities and losing a chunk of my free time was just too much for me. Ultimately it just wasn’t worth the toll it took on my mental health.

One issue in particular that I ran into was the difficulty in context switching between my day job and my side job. I imagined being able to do an hour here or there before or after work. But in reality I found it really hard to get any meaningful work done in an hour, which meant I needed to allocate larger chunks of time than I originally planned. That meant I often ended up sacrificing entire evenings, or chunks of my weekend on my side job. The difficulty in context switching also caused me to procrastinate a lot, which also made me feel terrible about myself.

Absolutely this.

I had the exact same experience last year and it fucked me up good with anxiety (which I've never experienced before) and I couldn't eat properly for weeks causing me to lose a stone in weight.

I had the exact same preconceived notions you did with the 1 hour block a day mon-friday. Seemed like it would be a breeze at first and easy money. The problem with this is it just turned into feeling guilty when I wasn't working on it, even outside of the allotted hour. I think I felt like this because there was no clear seperation of environment as I was be doing the work at home and the result was I felt like I was just working all the time.

I did learn a valuable lesson though and that is that my free time is a lot more valuable than I realise.

I will never again consider doing side gigs for anyone other than myself.

This happened to me as well. I thought I would be able to juggle different responsibilities full-time work, an occasional side works and post graduate studies but I was wrong.

I was under the impression that I would be able to do it because back when I was in high school and college I can easily get good grades with barely any effort. I even had time to enjoy other leisure activities. Turns out, I was just oblivious what real responsibilities are.

Thanks for sharing.

Yes. You have to learn a skill with demand that cannot be met. That is the easiest way to get side work.

Learn Salesforce development. I've accepted a new contract role that is full time hours and my older employer straight up told me, "We cannot match your new hourly rate, but here is still a raise. Feel free to work on things for us whenever you want, whenever you have time, remotely."

I'm nothing special, an average developer. But businesses cannot find enough Salesforce developers, so some take what they can get, even if it's part-time.

Can you talk a bit about the kind of projects you do? Also, where do you find clients?

I would imagine that clients that would want to get contractors for Salesforce development would want those individuals working during normal business hours, which would conflict with an existing job. Have you found clients are more flexible in hours?

More flexible indeed.

What's the easiest way to get started with SF dev? I'm part of a contracting team and having another arrow in our quiver would be pretty useful.


Focus on getting certified to really stand out.

How much time and cost is involved in doing?

Can’t really give you a quantifiable answer time wise. It really depends on how much time you put in and how good of a developer you already are.

It took me 4 years working full time to get to the point I’m at now. But I also worked Uber, Postmates, and fast food jobs to support my family at night till I got side gig developer work. In my 3rd year things really started to take off. I now have 8 certifications.

Cert tests are only $200-400 a piece to take.

How did you find your sales force dev clients?

what kind of stuff are you doing? is it mostly Apex development?

full life cycle development. pretty much anything to get something launched. integrations, front-end, apex back-end. Right now I'm learning about SQL server and DDL stuff to get a feature launched cause the integration doesn't have a REST or SOAP API, so I need to build the API myself.

care to share your hourly? is it 150/hr?


Really interested in hearing more about this -- is it possible I could reach out to you to ask a few questions?

I suppose in a sense I do, although my "full time job" isn't development. I take care of my son at home during the day (and occasionally parts of the night), and otherwise work part to full time on software.

I've also worked part time contract gigs while working full time on software. It gets to be a lot pretty quickly.

I've come to think the impact on my quality of life isn't worth it. I'm so sleep deprived and the monetary rewards have never felt that great - especially now since I'm paid less than I have been in almost ten years. I think I'd feel a little differently if my son wasn't such a schedule mangler or I was earning what I'm used to, but... I'm fairly firmly in the camp now that my time is worth more than anything I can manage to get paid after a certain point.

Something worth considering is intermittently taking on smaller but lucrative contracts. Be selective. Don't commit to a long term slog in which you'll sacrifice your personal life and appreciation for your career.

I actually did some paid technical writing on the side in 2019 on top of my full time job as a developer.

It helped a lot that the company I work for started a technical content agency as a new division of the company and was okay with me doing extra paid work for them outside of normal work hours.

If you're a developer who is also a decent writer, maybe something like this would work for you?

I actually found technical writing to be a nice change of pace from my day job. If I'd tried to do extra paid software work on the side I think I'd have felt burned out rather quickly.

If you want to know more about getting into technical writing, my email address is in my profile.

Could you please define what you mean by technical writing? I’m curious since it is such a broad topic.

Sorry for the slow reply.

Most of what I've done has been for clients that want to document how to accomplish something specific with a company's library or API. Usually this ends up being 1200-1500 words including detailed instructions and code samples.

A few weren't product specific, but instead about how to accomplish a specific task with React or Angular. Companies pay for articles like these because they hope to attract customers by providing useful information to developers. I think that's a fair trade, as long as the article is actually good and teaches something new to the people who read it. Personally, if I've read a good article or blog post I don't mind if the company mentions their own products at the end. It's not like they're forcing me to but anything. :)

I've done one whitepaper as well, though I'm not sure that qualifies as 'technical writing'. More like writing a high level topic that is about a technical subject, but aimed at managers and executives who are thinking of adopting that product or technology.

Thanks for the reply!

That’s interesting. I had always thought of TW as manuals and documentation. It never occurred to me that it could be “marketing”. At my job we’ve payed people to write articles for Trade journals That relate to our products. But I never thought of it as TW. Now that you mention it, it think it obviously does.

How do you find these gigs? What’s the going rate for 1200 words?

I am also curious as to what exactly do you mean by "technical writing"?

Not OP but where I work we hire technical writers to:

* Write external API documentation/guides.

* Clean up internal API docs written by devs to make them actually readable (without messing up the logic/examples/etc).

* Help with whitepapers (usually with the dev/ops/etc teams).

That's quite the heavy work. What do your compensation ranges look like (if you are allowed to disclose)?

a few years ago i quit my full time job but negotiated a consulting arrangement with the company on an hourly basis.

it was beneficial for them because i was able to offboard and knowledge transfer much more effectively over a few months of part-time work as opposed to the standard 2 weeks notice.

it was beneficial for me because right out of the gate i had a consulting contract with a yc startup at a rate that was slightly higher than my yearly salary which i could use as social proof when reaching out to new clients and negotiating rates.

i ended up consulting for about a year as my only source of income where i took on a couple other clients through my network (ex-coworkers starting companies and needing help faster than they could hire, ex-coworkers referring me to others who were stating companies) and a few lucky connections through upwork (he contacted me on linkedin so upwork never got a cut of the invoices i sent). i've also tried toptal and moonlight but no contracts have come out of those platforms.

a year ago i took on a new full time job and i've been consulting on the side since. i agree with ananonymoususer in that i can have as much extra work as i can handle however i was lucky to have already created relationships with clients before getting a full time job. i'd imagine approaching a new client while maintaining a full time job is a harder sell than simply letting an existing client know that your availability will be reduced moving forward.


I moved on to a company that was paying me a lot and i couldnt say no. Instead of 2 week notice i offered my former employer this option.

I fully disclosed to my prospective employer this relationship. I even carved out a clause that lets me leave the office once per month to be working elsewhere.

I also converted a job recruiting attempt into a contractual arrangement.

I dont have more time for anything anymore.

A few tips.

Former employers are a balancing act. If you were working full time for them, and doing good work, that is effectively their expectation. It will be hard to change it. Learn to manage it. Make sure the contract specifically states what you will do and what you wont.

Make sure you clearly state who you will be reporting too. Contracts can go sideways quickly if your expertise is no longer trusted by way of new hire with something to prove. This is mostly true for new contracting engagements. Former employers know your depth of expertise, new guys do not.

Don't take additional problems at your new FT employer until you know you can manage all the work across all co's.

Particularly, be choosy with your clients. Do not take startups for cheap unless there is significant upside. Your time is valuable and it should be paid well. Taking a job below market rate for your experience is a quick way to utterly destroy your motivation in doing a good job. Unless you are bored, the project is interesting, or unemployed.... Do not do it.

I am not a developer. I cant even write SQL. I work in a rather mundane field. However i am an expert in scaling that field with a good tech stack, and I can speak semi intelligently about tech infrastructure. I can even read a SQL query and immediately understand what it is doing.

I've been doing it for 35 years and it has been great. I've had as much extra work as I can handle. (Sometimes I have more than I can handle.) It's a great way to build/maintain skills, earn extra money, and create a reputation for yourself.

Any tips on how you've found that work?

Is it all a local network of people that you've worked with or have you gone out and found clients?

I have never had to seek work. It has always been from people I knew or people who knew my coworkers. If one has good skills, the work will speak for itself and lots of repeat business/new customers will come knocking on the door.

Exactly. That's the reason why I don't understand that reasonably senior people ever have to go through that whiteboarding crap (or actually through anything more than a friendly chat).

Not everybody has done as good a job maintaining their network. I'm really bad at that sort of thing.

And for regular jobs (permanent or a long 6-12m contract), you might get referred by your network, but the company needs to whiteboard you all the same (it's policy!). The referral probably prevents your CV getting binned at least.

If you apply where you have no clout; if I get an invite from my network I assume no hurdles aka based on that they know what I can do for them and that the CTO (in my case) simply removes this requirement.

Interesting. Honestly that feels alien to me, and it might be for a number of reasons, including inadequate networking, not "selling" myself well enough, or being too much of a team player to not stand out as the 5X-er or 10X-er who you just have to hire to solve those tech issues that will double your business or whatever.

To counter this, my experiment at the moment is in freelancing at moonlight, but where the client is non-technical and so getting a non-tech to non-tech referral means the client couldn't whiteboard me* if they wanted to, no more than I can white board my dentist. They will base their decision on the trust of the referral, and the fact they can try me out first / easily fire me anyway.

My question to you, is what sort of companies let you skip the hoop jumps? Would Google / Netflix etc allow this, or are they too standardized? I can see a startup allowing this or even needing it as an early employee is much more than just an algo remembering machine. What about a medium size co?

* I just noticed how similar "whiteboarding" and "waterboarding" sound. :-/

> My question to you, is what sort of companies let you skip the hoop jumps?

Hard question as I did not apply to many, but the largest offer I had was a company with some 150k+ people and I could just go in and start. I knew the CTO from a project in another company (he was the CTO there and we were contractors); the project failed but we kept in touch. I find (my prejudice) that kind of scale very much not interesting to work for; I like companies < 500 people.

For Google/Netflix(/Facebook/...) I definitely cannot answer as I never wanted to work for those companies and my network is local so I am nothing to them. In working for a very-large-company I think I would only consider microsoft research as I really love what they are doing [0] (and would work there almost for free), but like said, my network is far more local.

[0] https://www.rise4fun.com/

You're a CTO at a banking startup. Your experience does not apply to most programmers.

Would also be interested!

I'm a full-time freelancer/contractor but I did a lot of on-the-side freelance work when I was permanently employed years back. You need two things. 1. Your daytime job needs to be relatively easy and low-stress so you have surplus mental capacity to work more in the evenings and weekends. 2. You side gigs need to be simple, repeatable processes. I used to do things like custom email newsletter and blog design, which I could easily churn out using common templates. Pay-by-the-hour services such as SEO and PPC management can also be pretty lucrative.

I've done it off and on. There is apparently insatiable demand for "cheap" web development FWIW. Check with the local rotary club or "business club" in your area that has a bunch of local business owners.

Embedded development is also pretty much in demand, more so if you have FPGA skills as well.

As with most things different skills give you different places where you might hunt for piece work.

Don't do contracting on the side if you work for any of the big tech companies. They will find out and they will fire you for it, whether that is legal or not.

>> Embedded development is also pretty much in demand, more so if you have FPGA skills as well.

Extremely so. Demand is vastly outpacing supply for engineers in this growing sector.

Doesn’t that fall in EE realm, where salaries are lower than software or even web dev?

Not just that, I can get work as a software developer without any formal education whatsoever. I cant imagine that happening in a more mature engineering field like EE.

Good question. i wonder what areas FPGA programmers are needed. It seems an fpga for interfacing electronics would be somewhat different than just using fpga's to speed up machine learning processing.

A card game to complement my lectures on innovation (adjunct prof with a 10 session syllabus). I figured rather than do only case studies and maybe a simulation (those are typically not great), I'd leverage my interest in board games to craft a game with a strong academic foundation. (I'm not a developer, so my options are a bit limited for side projects, but no-code is giving me a lot of hope and I have a couple of ideas for later this year)

I've found I can handle an extra 10 hours of work a week without negatively impacting the rest of my life -- work, social, sleep, hobbies. I've gotten all my contract work from prior work relationships or referrals from friends.

At this point, I'm looking to switch from hourly to project-based pricing -- I'm finally efficient enough to charge by value; there are only so many billable hours in a day.

This is really the key. Decide how many hours a week you're available and use that to estimate your delivery schedules. If you can work more than the estimate, great, but never commit to more than you know you can do.

Life got a lot easier after I figured this out :-)

I have contracted on the side a bit, but only for close friends and family. It's not really for the money, these are people I care about doing things I'm interested in, but at some point I found that having a formal paying relationship made everyone behave better, and kept me more interested. I'll admit the family side can be a little fraught- I think one of my relatives is still sore I wouldn't work past a certain point for free, but I think the boundaries are worth it.

I'm lucky in that I've been a career generalist and my personal network includes business owners. A lot of small to mid-sized business owners really want a second opinion on whatever the heck it is their full-time IT person is telling them. If you are already serving as that second opinion, its not inappropriate to so "hey, I'm happy to help out here, but I could be a lot more available on this sort of stuff in a formal consulting relationship." If they are interested, you can pursue it, if not, you've established some boundaries.

I do a side project once or twice a year, usually for one of the companies I’ve previously worked with. They usually get in touch when they’ve got a small, relatively self-contained project and need some additional resources to deliver it faster. As a former employee they know I’ll understand what’s going on and will be able to deliver, and I know what’s expected from me. It’s a good arrangement for everybody that’s certainly much easier when you leave a company on good terms!

I’d be cautious about the idea of having it be a “secondary source of income” or anything - that’s not feasible with a full-time role - but for my part I use the money to pay for hardware upgrades or similar. It’s important not to over-work though; I’d be skeptical of doing any more than maybe the 120 or so hours I do in a year.

I did this for a couple years when I was much much younger. I am not going to outright recommend no, but I should have been an order of magnitude more discerning. It is a wonderful recipe for burnout.

I went down this route before going in full time with contracting. With a full time job, I was capable of billing between 10-15 hours a week and it was only sustainable for a few months for me due to the balance of downtime and family time. Besides the extra cash, the economic diversification and the new skills acquired during this time made the venture worth it, but YMMV. Good luck!

Yes, I've found that it gives me more variety in the work I do than I get in my day job. I find that for me an extra ~20hrs a week is all I can do without losing the will to live, but it's nice to know that if I got laid off from either position, I would be fine, and if I don't then it gives me investing money.

Yes. I work on web design/development with a focus on brand development & auditing, and general marketing/seo. I've had a couple small gigs the last month and one ongoing partnership. Probably put in 15 hours of work last month between the two. https://bigboys.nyc

I did some years back, and at first it was nice. But it wasn't long before I wanted some free time and was happy when a contract was done. It's a way to try out working with different things for different companies. Also a way to overload yourself and burn out if you're not careful.

Currently no, but very often yes for the last 5 years or so.

It's a lot of work, sometimes OK and sometimes very stressful.

I used to do that but it was quite stressful. I prefer creating products on the side instead.

I did for a time but once my side gigs dried up I didn't look for more. Doing the work wasn't difficult but securing work is a huge PITA and I've got too much going on in my life to do that right now.

Yes. I allocate 10 hours a week to this. It can be kind of overwhelming. I use the funds to pay for side projects and hobbies.

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