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Becoming a contractor (ochagavia.nl)
191 points by wofo 9 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 118 comments

I wrote this article based on my last 3 years as a contractor with increasingly interesting clients (I'm currently doing open source Rust work for ISRG, the makers of Let's Encrypt). I've found lots of inspiration here on HN throughout my journey, so I'm hoping my article continues the chain and inspires some more people! I'll be hanging around here for the coming hours in case anyone has questions ;) (btw free to write to me directly if you prefer; contact details are in my profile)

Super interesting to find out that you're a fellow Catholic! It's sometimes hard to bring up faith in IT spaces, I feel like most of my colleagues are athiest or agnostic. I always feel good when I see people mention God, as it reminds me that being God fearing and in IT is not mutually exclusive.

Aside from that, awesome article and it was great to read your story. I am, like you, uncomfortable with unemployment, but I'm happy to see it can be done!

Yeah, I'm making an effort to avoid being preachy, but since God does play a genuine role in the story, people might as well hear about it (otherwise I'd be hiding crucial information to understand my decisions!)

Your belief or faith in God played a genuine role in the story.

If you had evidence of a god playing a role in anything you could start your own religion :-)

I'm not going to engage in the eternal atheists vs believers debate, but I'm trusting here that my experience is based upon reality (i.e. I've found convincing evidence). I don't expect what convinces me will convince everyone else, but you and I will die some day and then we'll know (or if it turns out we no longer exist, at least we won't care :P)

Using a word like "evidence" freely without rigour is a big part of the problem we are in relating to misinformation and mistrust in institutions.

I ask without expectations that you refrain from using such words when talking about opinions, experiences or beliefs, so that we may protect our languages from further erosion.

Your comment left me thinking, so I went to double-check the meaning of the word evidence in a dictionary (after all, I'm not a native English speaker). I found this one as the first entry: "the facts, signs or objects that make you believe that something is true" (source: https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/englis...). This is exactly the sense in which I'm using the word. What do you mean by saying it erodes language? Or do you use the word evidence in another sense than this dictionary?

PS: not meaning to start a flamewar or engage in endless discussion, I just want to understand your point ;)

Just because you don’t find a particular set of evidence convincing doesn’t mean it fails to meet the criteria for evidence.

Many an atheist has found God after honestly and earnestly investigating the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. However, most people don’t have the emotional fortitude to actually investigate the facts with rigor and end up hiding behind the “implausibility” of the resurrection and/or just end up perpetuating pop-atheism with unfounded critiques of the Bible because they’ve never done a proper study of their own.

If you’ve got specific critiques, feel free to field those, but otherwise your comment reads as a rather arrogant write-off of one of the oldest, and most logically-consistent systems of human belief.

Curious, have you engaged in a similar depth of study of all the world religions? Just wondering if maybe the others also have adherents who believe that the only thing keeping many others such as yourself from finding them is their own lack of emotional fortitude?

I have not engaged in a similar depth of study of other world religions.

If you prove a correct mathematical formula, you need not spend time figuring out every other incorrect way to solve the problem.

Likewise, once you find the truth it doesn’t require falsifying every other claim to truth for it to remain true. Jesus was the only person whose words and deeds claim deity and with which there is zero evidence to contradict his claims, unlike the likes of Mohammad, Buddha, and countless other claims of godhood—Jesus of Nazareth’s are the only ones that hold up under scrutiny.

Other religions can believe they’ve got a claim to truth if they wish, but truth doesn’t waver due to one’s personal preferences or convictions.

It's been a while since I've done this, and I realise this is fruitless.

> Likewise, once you find the truth it doesn’t require falsifying every other claim to truth for it to remain true.

The world is not like maths.

A scientific approach to the world doesn't really work like this. It deals not with truth but with hypotheses and (un)certainties. Claiming truth is fundamentally flawed, and really only reserved for fanatics, religious or not. A "truth" is only ever temporary, waiting to be rejected by evidence and replaced by the new "truth". This is why we never speak of truths but only of hypotheses, theories, etc. Falsification is at the core of science, and at the margins of religion, in both cases by design. This is why science has evolved over the centuries: theories held as truth once have been rejected and replaced by better theories. Meanwhile religion has not evolved in the slightest, except in a moral sense where original scripture is rightfully rejected as being archaic. However, it should be clear that this is not religious progress but moral progress, and is still challenged for religious reasons, by religious people.

Its easy to see when somebody is uninterested in reasoning in general, they use words like truth. It's a word you can use and build on without challenge, because its perfectly in the middle between reality and personal experience: the truth, my truth. It's flexible, can be used to your advantage to mean what you please, to imply what you desire it to imply (the truth), and most importantly to evade what you must evade to make a coherent point when challenged (my truth).

It is overwhelmingly unlikely that a human conceived description of a deity is correct.

> Jesus was the only person whose words and deeds claim deity and with which there is zero evidence to contradict his claims

One does not need evidence to contradict claims, one needs evidence to prove claims. This is how things work. If you disagree, I posit you the following claim without proof and challenge you to accept it and thereby follow your own logic: I claim that Jesus was lying about being the son of god but wants you to feel that he wasn't to manipulate you into following his personal views on ethics.

Apologies for the delayed response! I urge you to take a look at a few of the books I listed in a sibling comment. While I have neither the time nor desire to expound at length the copious amount of evidence for the deity of Jesus of Nazareth, there are several men who have done so for me! In addition, these guys were not your devout raised-from-birth Christians who believe simply because they were told. Rather, they believed because they could not disprove the evidence for Jesus. In fact, I believe all 4 men were atheists who set out to disprove Jesus, but came to the conclusion that the evidence supporting his claims to deity are monumental!

- Evidence That Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell

- More than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell

- The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel

- Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

Finally, this is addressed in probably each of these books, but as for your last comment. It's not unthinkable to imagine Jesus was so insane he was willing to die for his "personal views on ethics" (Although there's precious little evidence to support this, see the "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" argument). Nor is it outside the realm of possibility to think that perhaps his closest 12 followers were willing to die for a charade (Although again, there's no logical reason to support this idea)—I imagine stranger situations have occurred.

But consider the vast history of Christianity, littered with martyrs whose only mandate to escape death was simply, "Deny Christ" and were yet unwilling to do so. It begins to become disingenuous to suggest that across 2,000 years people have been willing to die for one man's "personal views on ethics" when all that would be required to avoid said death is to simply say, "Jesus is not God", unless of course you were utterly convinced it was true.

> there are several men who have done so for me


> I believe all 4 men were atheists who set out to disprove Jesus


> It begins to become disingenuous to suggest that...


Indeed fruitless.

Do you have a link that would be a good starting point for "evidence for the resurrection of Jesus"? I am an atheist, but only because I haven't seen any reliable evidence (and I did look for it previously). I'm not looking to argue, just want to give what you have a fair shot.

Oops—sorry for the delayed response here!

Yeah I think "Evidence That Demands a Verdict" by Josh McDowell is a great one. He was agnostic and set out to disprove Christianity and found its evidence was impossible to refute.

Others I'd highly recommend would be: - More than a Carpenter, by Josh McDowell - The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel - Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis

I find all of these books fascinating because they're all written by men who were atheists and set out to disprove the "foolishness" of Jesus. In the end, they all came to the same conclusion which is that the evidence that points to Jesus being the Son of God is very heavy. I'm not sure there's any reasonable evidence to the contrary. In fact, most atheists I've known and talked to were atheists not due to reason, but due to emotion. Christianity has a lot of emotional baggage that comes with it. We're all flawed people and unfortunately most people associate Christianity with abuse, rules, and condemnation. That's why I prefer talking about the person of Jesus. I've never met someone who could level a reasonable accusation at the person of Jesus, and after all—He's the entire reason any of us talk about any of this.

If you read all 4 of those books and come away unconvinced I'd love to have a conversation! I was not able to retain my disbelief :)

TLDR: feel free to skip

When I was little, my mother tried to teach me how to tie my shoelaces, but she had shown me a method I did not understand and did not like, so I invented my own way. I was proud of it for 20 years or so. A friend I trusted more than anyone, tried to tell me in a kind way, that many people tie their shoelaces in a bad knot. When one knows, it's easy to see even from a glance and such a knots gets untied, but I wouldn't listen. Thought of not knowing how to tie shoelaces seemed absurd.

I was the only one I know that would stop randomly to re-tie his shoelaces, occasionally with people piling up behind me. It may be considered incontrovertible evidence in truth, yet at the time, it didn't bare much relevance to me. It was obvious that bad shoelaces were always at fault, or I didn't apply enough force. In my mind it would be too humiliating to even consider bad technique a possibility.

It wasn't until I had the grace to look at a knot-tying website alone, try it, accept I was tying a granny knot, learn how to tie a standard knot, in a recommended fast way, then proceed to one-up it in my own point of view. I didn't get much humbler, but at 23 years old, at least I knew how to tie my shoelaces and they didn't get untied anymore.

If it wasn't for the love of the one who had grace and has given up his grace so we would have his grace, acting through those who follow him, Himself and His Spirit, I would not have seen and felt the loving self-sacrifice, which paled my self-righteousness in an humbling and emotionally painful experience of the pain I've caused, setting me off in a search to do better, so that after nearly a decade I would once and then many times again in humility accept what I cannot deny, that Lord is better than anything I could imagine and Jesus Christ is our (our = all those who accept Him) Lord and Savior.

This is enough evidence (for me, for others it's just word of mouth) to love and worship Jesus. I've seen much more, and for that I accept what is written. It seems I may understand and see more than many, yet still, easily and often, I forget what I know, ignore and blank my mind, to doubt and void the uncomfortable. Only hours ago I've yet again given in to what I know to be bad, to lull and dull the mind, close my eyes and ears so I would not see what I had a longing to avoid.

I write this as an admission and hoping it will be useful to someone. To perhaps understand, that one cannot just see and one cannot just be explained, if it affects him dearly and he does not wish to know.

Speaking of others, but showing the principle:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. ...<<specific judgement of specific people>>... Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’...”

Matthew 13:13-15

I am a Sr. Dev at FAANG in America, but I yearn to go back to my home country in Europe. However doing so would result in a massive paycut, even with prospective high paging jobs. One possibility is to transfer internally with my current employer, but in this economic setting it's unlikely they will approve my request, much less allow me to work full remote, which is a deal breaker.

I have been contemplating freelancing for a while as a way to work remotely from home with a competitive salary (not US level, but better than EU market rate). I have decent experience as a Big Tech Sr. Dev. on ML/MLOps (e.g. I designed and implemented a real time inference service serving millions of RPS with single digit millisecond latency), so I believe my skills should be in demand.

Do you believe this is attainable or I am deluding myself?

You can always try this out first by searching for contract work as if you were in your home country. Just set up a website (perhaps not using your real name, in case your employer gets suspicious) and see if you can actually seek out the work. You can even try to purchase advertising on Google to see if you get any clicks / contacts. Overall it's a pretty cheap way to check.

I get that this may not be possible, but these sorts of trial balloons are much easier to float first to get an idea instead of taking a leap of faith.

Unfortunately my L1 visa doesn't allow me to have any other source of income than my current employer. But definitely this is something to look into once I get a Green Card.

Sorry for being unclear, I meant to just go through the process of seeing what you could get in terms of contracts as if you had already made the move, not to actually follow through and start any contract.

Some of the "expat threads" I've seen on Reddit where people yeet themselves to the other side of the world and hope it works out only to fall flat on their face are pretty eye opening. By testing the waters with "proto-contracting" like this, you can at least give yourself some idea of what you could get were you to move.

edit: grammar

Have you factored in the possibility you can go bankrupt in America anytime out of healthcare bills?

You can also go bankrupt anytime if you don't bring in enough money to cover all your other expenses, both in the US and in many other places. Yes, healthcare in the US is expensive if a company isn't picking up a big chunk of the insurance tab but it's hardly the only large expense people have to cover somehow.

Thank you for the write up! Very enlightening to see how things went for you. I was on the fence recently whether to go for contractor work but ended up just switching companies in the end. In part because I didn’t know what to expect. Articles like these hwould have helped!

If you want to explore what consulting looks like without the risk of going it alone, consider joining a company that does consulting. It's a good opportunity to learn about the sales cycle as well as get a taste for what sort of challenges consulting provides while still being a FTE with benefits.

This is useful infotmation to learn, but I can tell you from having done all three that consulting for a shop is as different from freelancing as it is from an in-house job.

I guess it depends on how close you are to the sales process. I have had a chance to get a lot of experience working on proposals from a tech point of view and am involved in the pitch and negotiation. There is definitely carryover from those activities. But if you are consulting as a heads down IC and leave other aspects of projects and bids to the “business people” I can see where you may not learn as much that will be helpful as a freelancer.

I'm happy you liked it!

Just wanted to give props for volunteer work.

It's been my raison d'etre for decades.

I know it's a cliché, but it's true that you receive more than you give ;)

For the Americans coming into this thread later today (or up very late), it bears repeating that "contracting" arrangements in the US vs. EU/UK are very different beasts. Historically in the UK, contracting was/is a higher-risk venture (medium term sole-client freelancing) which carried concomitantly higher salaries, and in some verticals (government, for instance), it has been very difficult to find good developers who aren't contractors.

My understanding of the US is that typically "contractor" over there implies "consultancy worker" which is the staffing equivalent of shovelware.

Please correct me if wrong!

You're not wrong, but you're also getting the full story. "Contractor" often is the title used for bodyshops. However, there's also tons of freelancers and Consultants, and "Consultant" can be a much less negative thing than you're implying.

Many of the higher-end software engineers negotiate their own contracts, and in doing so act as "Consultants", because corporate standard contracts don't work for them. It's not usually about pay - FAANG has pay ranges that go up - But in the before times, it included things like WFH and additional allowances for time off.

This did occur to me - the usage "Defense Contractor" - thanks for the clarification.

We moved to the US and my wife is doing freelancing, and the market rates here are ridiculous considering the cost of living and FTE rates.

For example recently I got an offer for a 4 months contract role at Microsoft, hybrid (so partly on site), as a Machine Learning Engineer for $65 an hour. I would consider that rate insulting even for low CoL EU countries.

I disagree with sibling comment; that’s definitely too low for a high-demand skilled position where you’re handing the administrative overhead and contract risk. With the enormous caveat that I’m not in the AI/ML space, I’d expect a rate 2-4x that for a staff augmentation arrangement. YMMV, I don’t know if you have an agency or other intermediary, etc.

I know this rate is too low because it pays less than the base salary of my current job (not counting stocks and bonuses), for a limited time contract and with less benefits.

I simply find the economics of freelance/contract work in the US baffling. The contract isn't even fully remote, so you can't take advantage of geo arbitrage and live in a cheaper place. I'd be surprise if they hire anyone more than an intern-level developer for that rate. FFS, I paid more for some dude to come and tidy my lawn.

> We moved to the US and my wife is doing freelancing ... I would consider that rate insulting even for low CoL EU countries

I wonder if these two phenomenon are related?

I'm sorry but I don't understand what you are trying to get at with this comment.

I don’t know what magic land you come from, but that’s a pretty standard rate for a place like London which is definitely not low CoL.

Thats 420 gbp a day. For a contract thats a low rate.

To be honest it isn’t even a great rate for an experienced dev’s salary in London.

If you look at salaries posted by companies hiring here on HN you'd think they are. Factor in the audacity of "hybrid" and "onsite" and the cost of commute and rent and indeed it's a pretty low rate even for permanents.

I’ve not actually looked at the salaries posted on here to be honest. I know one thing, though. You’d need to triple that to get me to anywhere near an office.

Yeah, no, not going to happen in the UK. Software pay around here is truck driver level (happy for truck drivers, but comparatively they have less stress to deal with and if they like coding they can do it hasslefree on the side - will end up cleaner and more efficient than the spaghetti monsters i've seen in some of these companies).

Yeah, I’m aware (UK citizen planning an exit). 100% agree with you on the spaghetti monsters. Some of the code I have to review makes me want to give up and start baking instead.

In the US, when used alone, the term contractor generally means someone who works on construction sites: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_contractor

Indeed, that's what I thought the article was about, reading the title.

This is the same in the UK, it depends on context based on the industry. IT contractor is synonymous with freelancer in the UK traditionally.

Most of the UK population, if asked "what's a contractor" would assume construction.

When I lived in the UK for a bit, iirc people would use the term "builder" where I would say "contractor".

At least in American English vernacular, saying "he's a contractor" either means he builds houses, or he's an independent contractor (doing some "consulting-ish" work). The lack of context for that phrase is indeed confusing!

In the US, what you describe is often referred to as being an "independent contractor".

What is a vertical?

An industry segment - say Healthcare, Government, Media, Finance.

Thanks google

Ironically “vertical” is a very hard word to google

ChatGPT has you covered

Yeah, maybe if it has the original context.

Although, there's no shame in asking one of the walking, talking neural nets that have traditionally been willing to supply clarification, especially when they created the bit of context that is the source of confusion.

I just started a 5-hour a week gig and I am addicted. Imagine being paid for the hours you put in. Imagine not being yelled at or ridiculed or told to figure it out if what you're asked to do is ambiguous or makes no sense. Imagine being able to bill time adding questions to tickets to train ticket writers to write better tasks. And the kicker for me: imagine all the time you'd spend working on your craft in your own free time to better yourself and learn new skills now imagine using that time to do all those things and learn all those things but being able to get paid for it while working on jobs/tasks for a client.

Contracting is amazing.

> Imagine not being yelled at or ridiculed or told to figure it out if what you're asked to do is ambiguous or makes no sense.

I think maybe you just worked at a terrible business. You experience contacting sounds more like my experience at my current job.

I was being a bit dramatic but I do seem to have to deal with a lot of empty or otherwise barren tasks in Jira that were created with a lot of implied information i.e tickets with just a title and no body or tickets with a title and very little information in the body.

> imagine all the time you'd spend working on your craft in your own free time to better yourself and learn new skills now imagine using that time to do all those things and learn all those things but being able to get paid for it while working on jobs/tasks for a client.

CAn you explain this more? Maybe your work doesn't align a lot with your interests but when i'm working I feel like i'm learning and when i'm not working, setting aside learning as a hobby, that studying eventually gets rolled back into my work (which I get paid for)?

Yeah. I am in fact leaving my role for a role that I think might be more interesting. I have been doing the same old Python + SQL for 3.5 years and claiming the title of Data Engineer and feeling stuck. So it’s time for a change.

Ideally it would be amazing during the 8 hours I’m working to be growing but that’s not been my experience.

May I ask how you found this role?

I find networking confusing

I’ve been sending connection requests to people on LinkedIn to no avail

Networking is about starting within your sphere of influence. If you have no network start with friends and family. Ask "who do you know at company X or in industry Y that I could talk to about roles [A,B,C] at company X or how I could better align myself for a role in the industry or at company X." (I hope that makes sense.)

Example: "Hi Mark! We both worked at company A and now you're at Apple! That's so dope! I'm reaching out because I am looking for a change and I really think it'd be fun to work at Apple. How do you like it there? I know the place is super secretive so maybe generally can you tell me how working there has helped you grow in our field?

I saw these two Apple roles A and B links here and here. Could you help me talk to the hiring manager to really see exactly what they want from a candidate, what problems they're trying to solve? Would you be willing to refer me to the role?


John Doe"

Then work your way up. So say you have a role and have folks you worked with that have moved on to companies you think are cool. If you are a worker with a good reputation of being productive etc., reach out to them (even better if you were friends before they left) because you have the current company in common it will serve as a conversation starter. Ask them about their current role, what they like, how they've grown, and if there's a role there that you want to interview for ask them for advice about it and even for a referral.

You can repeat this process for folks that share your same university, church, other social group etc. But that's basically how I approach networking. Oh and one more thing, nobody likes being a stepping stone or being used. So in all these interactions be honest, open, and be genuine. Legit take interest in them and their success and they will reciprocate.

Good luck! Feel free to reach out (email in bio) if you wanna chat more. And if you want to migrate to Berlin I have some pointers there, too as that's what I did. I am originally from Portland, Oregon.

Can you please share your journey about moving to Berlin?


So in around 2015 or so I was a bored MSSQL DBA and had been on HN for some time. I noticed the who’s hiring and looked for Python roles. I had taught myself enough Python to be dangerous and thought I’d apply. The role happened to be in Hamburg, Germany. I didn’t think anything of it so I applied.

They responded and offered me a job. It was a logistics startup in Hamburg! They moved my whole family over. My wife, my dogs, and all our stuff. 7 months later I and a bunch of other employees left as they moved development to India.

I had a bunch of roles in between but have always found something. And finally I landed a role in Berlin and it’s awesome. We moved here about 2.5 years ago from Hamburg and we love it a ton more than Hamburg. Berlin is far more accepting of foreigners.

Housing is still nigh impossible to find for reasonable prices but it’s doable if you press really hard and don’t give up.

Great story. I’m glad it turned out well for you.

During summer of 2019, I was debating between Munich or Berlin - for visiting; end up going to the former. Really loved it so much that I was contemplating to move there. In retrospective, I was thinking - even though everyone was stranger to me, but I didn’t get any such vibes from them. Super friendly people, food was great as well. Did some shopping and found it to be not expensive at all.

Have u been to Sweden? For some reason, there are a lot of German expats there. Not sure if it’s better job prospects or something else.

We actually just got back from a vacation in Sweden. We found everyone there super nice. But we weren’t there long enough to really check out the job prospects. Honestly as much as I love Berlin if I were to do it again I’d probably target Amsterdam. They’re very friendly to expats especially Americans it seems (at least from my experience) and the city is awesome and you really could get by never learning the language as so much English is spoken there. And it seems the tech scene is really good too.

Years before our move to Hamburg we visited Munich and had the same experience. It was such a nice city. For our income at the time we thought it was expensive but still I remember thinking that if we ever moved abroad Munich would be a dope place to settle.

I got lucky. I posted on HN's Who Wants To Be Hired really looking for a new role but with a blurb that I was open to contracting and someone reached out.

So he spent all of a very long term article describing how he became a “successful” contractor and refused to mention the one metric of success that most people care about - how much he got paid?

This article was a waste of time without talking about was it worth the time over just being a salaried developer with benefits.

I am a contractor of sorts...at least, I don't have a regular job as a salaried employee. Compared to working 9-5, my hours are closer to part time hours and I get paid about a third of what I used to as a programmer....

Seems like I get paid less but...if you factor in all the additional time I USED to need getting ready for work, recovering from the 9-5 grind, commuting, I get paid about twice as much per hour as I used to.

Plus, the ability to work whenever I want, chill at home in bed if I want, do whatever the hell I want because the ONLY thing that matters is the final product, is worth its weight in gold. Besides, I stopped caring about making tons of money, and would rather use my young years for fun stuff.

I don't mind answering that question, but I'm not sure it has a place in the article (maybe I'll modify it later if I change my mind). My expectation is that in The Netherlands you could at most aim at 80k / year as a FTE (depending on lots of factors). Right now my workload is equivalent to 4 days / week and I'm earning about double what I'd get as an employee. Sounds like a good deal to me.

This matches my experience as a Dutch contractor. FTE salary for devs caps out around 70-80k, often as a company policy. It's even stricter for large companies or governmental institutions that have formally published salary bands. Often, to get into the higher bands you need to have some sort of management responsibility like leading a department. Highly priced specialist labor like software developers fits poorly into that structure.

The commonly accepted way around this is for those institutions to hire contractors, which is a business-to-business transaction for which no such price limits or management requirements exist.

Total agreement with this.

I am Dutch, and indeed without working for meta-tier/booking.com-tier American firms you'll struggle to go above 80-100k for full time employment. Friends who went down the same path as wofo rake in 120-180k easily with a lot more free time (3-4 days/wk instead of 5) and fantastic flexibility.

This is exactly the info I was looking for, thanks for sharing!

I've had multiple interviews and a few offers with companies, both big and small, offering significantly more than 80K/yr - unless you're referring to net salary, after taxes.

My understanding was always that with freelancing you end up paying more taxes and insurance, especially if you want to cover your own pension (which has been included in all my employments except one).

Still, if you end up with comparable or higher earnings with less hours and more flexibility, still a win. I just don't think the difference is as big as you make it out to be.

Could you tell more about the companies, the roles and the salary ranges? Those are very interesting data points.

I usually interview for SRE positions, and I'd say the salary range for a senior is 90k-130k in Amsterdam. It may be possible to get even more in fintech or super big corporations, but I stay away from those.

When I lived in Oxford I left a job paying £44k for a job paying $150k as a contractor for a Bay Area startup. I’ve actually 10X’d my starting salary in 9 years of working (helped both by contracting and by starting with a small salary at 19).

I also almost 20x my salary in 15 years, but I went from e16k in Spain to $350k in Seattle, so when adjusted by inflation/cost of living it isn't that impressive.

Care to share more about your salary history and how you got there? I wish to move back to Spain but I would take a massive pay cut if I choose local jobs, so I am looking into freelancing.

I don’t want to be to specific but my 10x was from a 1st line sysadmin role in a small town in England to a senior engineering role in Palo Alto. I’ve gone down a lot since moving to Sweden though, because I chose to take a role in person so I can learn the language and make friends. If I want to make more money in the future I’ll look at startups in the Bay Area hiring globally remote roles on angel.co

I find this particularly interesting because I am in the US and I am also looking to move back to the EU, but the massive salary difference is a barrier. I was on talks with a company hiring for Spain for e90k, which admittedly is very handsome for the local market, but they were almost offended that I was looking for more.

Would you be ok with sending me the highlights privately? you can reach out at roesp2@hotmail.com

And this information is a helpful bit of context.

I'm a consultant in Denmark and I charge approximately €100/hour. When I used to be an FTE, my salary would be around €33/hour. And I use an agency for finding clients, they add approximately 20% on top of the bill, before they send it to the client.

I didn’t see an email in your profile and I wanted to ask you some questions if you’re open to it. Whats the best way to reach you?

In my experience, short-term pay for contracting is great. Long-term you start to run into problems because clients come and go, you always need to be on your feet looking for a new set of leads. Sometimes you have a bad project which sets you back. Being a salaried developer definitely shields you more from unpredictability.

> being a salaried developer…

To a lesser extent if you work mainly for startups though.

As a contractor you’re being paid to take on risk. That’s the trade.

I found it pretty useful, since it’s easy to just search online or ask a few people what the going rate is. Not everything is about money

I would expect that the hourly rates for run-of-the-mill contracting in the Netherlands via a broker would be 80-160 euros - more for short jobs (less than a month).

It is interesting hearing different perspectives going into this kind of work.

My experience has been a bit different. I've never had a famine cycle in the last 12 years of doing front end development and product design.

Part of the reason I'm sure is I've always said yes to challenging and desirable projects and risen to the occasion. The fear of failing helps me adapt quickly I'm sure as well to new technology.

My clients often end up being long term clients I work years with.

Income wise things vary year to year but I'm often in the $150k to $250k range in a medium cost area where my money goes a bit farther than the west coast.

In order to push higher I know I'll need to put more effort into fine tuning my target market and value propositions. Also building more clout, becoming an authority in a specialized field, or investing more back into the business with marketing and sales would go a long ways. If I were to push into consultancy I feel confident I could push into the 250k to 350k range more but I am quite happy still slinging code rather than advising.

I'm happy people find success in this arena. It's important that people have a good mix of choices that works for them so congrats to OP for finding your desirable path.

This is a very Dutch thing, where as a contractor you lose a lot of benefits like 25 holidays, paid sick days, pension, unemployment insurance. But overall you normally get more money, though also more stress.

Compared to USA, Dutch freelancing is more like normal employment. If you get hired by an USA startup, you normally get a much bigger compensation and they often prefer you to be contractor as it fits better with overall HR/contract structure. Though there are in-between firms that would hire you like a normal employee with Dutch benefits, but you lose some money.

You loose the same benefits in Austria as well if you go contracting, and on top of that you need to have more than one customer per year, otherwise the tax authorities will consider you're contracting just to avoid full time employment and committing tax fraud.

Which is very strange since in Austria as a freelancer you are still required to pay into all the same social systems as a FTE right? Public pension, health insurance etc. In Germany you have the same "Scheinselbstaendigkeit" issue but it's a bit more understandable why the authorities care, considering that as a freelancer you aren't paying into the public pension system.

Austria in general is very unfriendly to small businesses. The salaries are also heavily taxed so employees are extra expensive.

All of the hiring attempts are just companies trying to pay you as little as possible and then contract your work to rich companies or government. But to me it sounds most Europe is like this.

They do offer a 12% discount if you do not have any expenses (which you can barely have as a programmer) so eventually you can earn a bit more than being employed.

It used to be like this in Sweden too 20 years ago, but it’s been relaxed over the years. Now it’s pretty much unheard of that the tax authorities complain about “hidden employment” / “fake freelancing”.

Imho if you compensate for those benefits the 'more money' part isn't really that much more money. Most freelancers just end up with 'more money in hand' because they (sometimes unknowingly) simply take on a lot more risk (e.g. way less or no insurance for certain risks) and/or they don't consider that a nice chunk of pension savings are part of a regular job's benefits.

I'm going this route at the moment and while it's true my gross profit will probably end up close to 2x my previous gross salary... after properly compensating for all the other benefits I'd probably end up with 1.2x instead (but to be fair, I'm willing to accept certain risks so I won't insure against them and I'll probably end up with ~1.5x my previous salary.)

Imho in The Netherlands the biggest advantage is the flexibility it offers compared to being an employee.

> Dutch freelancing is more like normal employment

More like normal employment in what country?

It says compared to the US in the same sentence?

I am in my fifth year of being an independent software consultant/contractor. I live in Germany. I've had multiple gigs almost right from the start of being self employed. Almost always through one of the many recruiting firms. Reading his story, I do wonder though if my path is or has been somewhat special until now as I've heard many times now that being an independent software contractor (in the EU) is somewhat hard. I always had quite the opposite experience so I genuinely do wonder if I was simply lucky (until now that is. No one knows what the future holds).

I did specialize in Computer Vision, Image Processing, C++, Python and lately more and more DevOps if this is of any interest and my previously described luck depends on this specific field.

My case was made difficult by the fact that I was only open to 3 days / week contracts. And maybe also because I'm trying to find something outside of full stack development, while at the same time being decently paid.

One thing worth mentioning for EU’s IT industry is that there are large sectors like government which need IT services but can only work with contractors as hiring is not legally possible or extremely tedious. This means contractors get access to a larger market.

This also results in a relatively large number of IT consulting companies, many of which specialize in public sector service bidding. Certain large consultancies winning most of the bids and then under-delivering has pretty much become a meme at this point.

That only causes Accenture etc. body shops to thrive in EU market. EU as a market is very government policy driven. Government contracts are lucrative but typical body shop pays 1:10 as compared to what they are paid. And then the "employee" also pays high taxes on the income. Not sure what can change it. May be more US companies should get contractor friendly in EU markets?

1:10 is a little harsh, quite far from the norm. From my experience body shops subcontracting freelancers pay 80-90% of the daily rate (BENELUX area)

Am I the only one confused by why anyone would want to go with Toptal considering what is written in the article?

I'm fairly certain that Toptal's "long selection process" is designed to weed out anyone who has other options, because they're harder to bully into putting their rates down.

That turned me off, but at the same time, they do do the hardest part of the contracting/freelancing world - finding clients. If you're willing to jump through their hoops and accept a lower rate than you'd get on the open market, then it's a decent arrangement.

I've been both a Toptal contractor and a client. While they're an arguably high fee, they provide valuable services for the contractor, first and foremost access to high paying markets and clients. For a high skilled dev in developing countries this means rates that are still much higher than local rates, thus they tend to attract good talent. Also they handle all burocracy and ensure you get paid, very important when working overseas.

For clients they provide very good corporate customer service, and generally do a good job of screening people. My rate of "bad" contractors coming from Toptal is low and replacing them is quick. And every now and then you find some amazing devs.

There is no effort outside of the elimination interview that you have to put in to find a client. You don’t have to spend a minute to find work.

Despite them pressuring you to put your rate as low as possible they still have a lot of room to negotiate with the client.

Probably the pressure to find a project to work on. There are many platforms like toptal. Some screen their people others don't. They are all similar in that respect. Same goes for recruiters. Are there good recruiters? very positive but they are so rare that it's impossible to find them.

I see the upsides, but am weirded out by the idea of being contractually obligated to remain ignorant of what the customer is paying for your services. Naively I'd imagine a competitor to Toptal could disrupt them by providing transparency and a flat percentage on top of the rate, but clearly there is something that makes that not happening.

Toptal: Give us your personal details, we'll hook you up with clients.

Me: OK, here.

Toptal: We're not taking on any more contractors right now, thanks for the data though.

Exactly my experience. You summed up my 2 hour registration process in 3 sentences

I'm currently looking for contract work around Python/Elixir web-based projects (hire me anyone?), so I thought I will give TopTal a try after reading the article.

I put good effort into the application process - e.g. by ensuring my answers are exactly what they're looking for (the questions weren't technical so far). I then uploaded my up-to-date CV among other things they asked, and I selected my availability to "full time".... only to learn that I was put on some sort of waitlist - "[..] we encourage you to reapply after March 2, 2024."

I think I'll pass on TopTal. The could tell me way before I applied their network has reached its capacity (if?). Or is that he "long selection process" the OP refers to in the article?

Same experience here. And IIRC (it was a while ago), after happily hoovering up my CV and personal data, the rejection message was worded as if they were at capacity, not even that they didn't want me specifically. Could have said that up front, but of course they didn't.

Ugh. Terrible tactics. Good thing I removed my email/phone from CV upon uploading it to them.

How would you say your income compares to total comp in your area according to levels.fyi. How do you compare to a salaried job at a FAANG type company that has benefits such as paid leave, paternity leave, retirement contributions(not sure if Europe has something similar to 401k), etc

How many hours per week do you spend devoted to your venture: coding, marketing, finding clients.

Based on your domain I’m assuming you have socialized healthcare, so that’s one less risk to consider.

I don't know about levels.fyi (they want me to register / upgrade to see what salaries are like in Amsterdam), but I gave some more details in another comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=37359237

In short: I'm working 4 days / week (3 billable days, 1 overhead) and earning about double of what I'd otherwise get. Though obviously I'm taking additional risk. You are right that the healthcare side of things is covered.

What is the 1 day of overhead? That's sounds a lot per week.

Here's some stuff that falls under overhead: writing blog posts (this one took me at least 10 hours to write), networking, sales conversations, keeping my own knowledge up to date. It's not consistently one day, but I'd say on average it is.

That sounds about right. In fact for some types of billable consulting work, it's probably low. (It was a bit more complicated when I was an analyst because some of the non-production work was client service. On the other hand, a lot of the production work (call it writing) wasn't paid for. So, net, your billable hours per hours worked can be fairly modest.

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