The first thing is to figure out what not to do. You can't work in a field where people routinely hire full-time employees with ease. So you can't do Java work part-time, for example. (Well I mean you can, but it's like saying you can be elected to Congress. Let's do something easy.)
So, you have to start in some field where 9-5ers can't be easily found to fill the position. iOS/Android dev are like that. Maybe there are web specialities that are like that. If you have some deep expertise like machine learning or computer vision or graph algorithms, maybe those specialties are like that. But the operative criteria is to find some field that full-time employees are not easily had.
The next step is to filter by projects where time is not the biggest criteria. Because in spite of Fred Brooks and his MMM, ordinary people still believe that if you work more hours the project will get done faster, and will pressure you to become full-time. So you have to find people who are unconcerned about delivery dates, or rather, who have overriding concerns. Quality concerns. Cost concerns. If you find someone who has a fixed budget for his project, for example, if that person can get a better developer at 20 hours/week than he can at 40 hours that starts to look like an attractive value proposition. Because not only does he get a better developer, but with a lower burn rate it's easier for him to get deep visibility into where the money and time is actually going. Those benefits outweigh the benefits of completing the project faster, but only for projects that have these sorts of overriding concerns.
There's more you can do, but those two steps are probably all you need to start consistently landing part-time gigs.
It's worth pointing out as well, there are a variety of near-part-time deal structures you can negotiate (for example rotating 1 week on, 1 week off). These might be worth exploring depending on your specific motivations for seeking part-time work.
Depending on where you are targeting geographically those technologies vary a lot; I personally have seen a lot of demand for iOS/Android, but even more demand for Ruby on Rails. I think that quite a few Ruby on Rails developers left the community and flocked to Node.js as the next shiny thing and that has just made it easier to find Rails contract work.
Not only is it easier to find work in a less mainstream technology, but you are able to negotiate better rates since it is more difficult for businesses to locate help. After a certain point you can't scale by taking on additional hours; so your hourly rate makes a big difference.
And hourly vs fixed rate contracting should be considered. I will negotiate my hourly rate based on term of contract, but under no circumstances will I take fixed rate contracts any longer. Quite a few of my friends in the contracting scene are the same way. I've seen too many times where this just leads to continual "feature creep" and a strong difference in opinions of if scope of work has been expanded beyond the agreed contract (in all cases it was). I bid a fixed rate contract with a couple of associates against my better judgement. Based on the initial scope of work it should have taken about 3 months. Instead it took over a year and the lead developer on the project walked away making a rate of right around $10/hour.
And this point can not be overstated.
Network! Network! Network!
If you are an introvert you are going to have to get over it. It doesn't matter if you have the raw programming skills of Linus Torvalds or John Carmack; if you can't get out there and make connections you aren't going to make any money.
I am very introverted by nature, but I force myself to regularly attend meetups and conferences; and make a point to connect with new people at those conferences. You need to grow your real social graph; not your Facebook/LinkedIn/etc... Nothing makes the same lasting impression as a firm handshake and 5 minutes of conversation face to face.
In the thread on consulting a few days ago a great point came up: if you can translate your skills into value to a business, you might end up having conversations with people they didn't know they wanted to have. An example: you can go to a tech meetup and pitch yourself as a full-stack Rails developer, and try to get work from people who know they need Rails developers -- or you can go to a finance meetup and pitch yourself as a solutions builder, and end up getting 10x the revenue from a project that's turning a spreadsheet pipeline into a CRUD app.
My take on networking, and what's been working for me, is to reach out through people you already know. They might not be hiring your skillset, but they might need a solution to a problem. Almost all of the work I've been doing lately has come through intros, and several of those started off as fairly cold relationships. For example, I applied to a startup incubator, whose founder decided I was smart but too early in my idea, so hooked me up with another founder who needed some heavy lifting done on the Android side. Other projects have come through more direct referrals, but almost all have been for startups who are flexible on parameters (including time, remote, etc) and who don't even have websites, let alone job ads.
Definitely they are hit and miss; but I have found that to be true in all forms of networking. This should certainly not be your only avenue for networking.
I take multiple approaches to networking. Meetups, events, conferences, calling/emailing people I already know, cold emailing companies directly if I know they use a technology I specialize in. I also wear T-shirts almost constantly that are simple and state the nature of my business and a phone number to reach me at.
Does the T-shirt approach work? I've wondered what would happen if I put my details on my laptop skin, as I work from a lot of SF/Valley coffee shops :)
I have bought large numbers of T-shirts and give them away as well as wearing them myself. I honestly don't have any statistical evidence that shows they have worked to gain me more business. However I always wear these when going somewhere that I specifically intend to network. In the same way as having business cards does; company branded T-shirts lend credibility to your business and I have been approached and directly asked questions about my business from wearing the shirts.
And believe me; I totally understand the uncomfortable at introducing yourself point. I am an introvert by nature. I have a rule for myself when I go to these places; I force myself to do a minimum of 2 new introductions each time. More is better, but a minimum of 2.
To me, this sound like: if you accept a fixed rate contract knowing it'll work out to $10/hour, you can be employed for an entire year. Yes, please.
$75/hour is my standard rate and this is anything that lasts 2 to 5 months and is either new project/features, or a generally decent code base (most clients are happy to allow me to look at the code before we agree to rates and moving forward; some may want a non-disclosure signed at this stage though)
If the work is guaranteed for a 6 months + contract then I will bid my normal rate of $75/hour to start, but will then negotiate with the client and give them a better rate, but then there is a signed contract clause that explicitly states there is a time based discount contingency; in they event they cut it short then it they essentially owe the difference between the normal rate and the discounted rate.
Putting that into perspective; if a fixed rate contract comes out to $10/hour then I'm making in a day what I would typically make for 1 hours worth of work.
I decided to begin contracting in 2011; the work was sporadic at first, but for the last year and 1/2 it has been growing steadily. Last year I left hours on the table (e.g. existing clients wanted more of my time than I could fulfill; and this was with bringing aboard 2 sub-contractors). I spent 3 years of hard work networking and selling myself, but the last 3 contracts I had were acquired by people in that networking calling me and asking if I was available. From 2012 to 2013 I saw a 3000% increase in revenues. I expect to grow revenues again this year contingent on finding good subcontractors, but not nearly as much so as from 2012 to 2013. I would anticipate somewhere between a 300% to 400% growth rate is more realistic this year.
I often try to keep a little retainer left over at the end. Some say I should keep this for "change" orders. However, I will give it back to the client! Why? 9 out of 10 times when I offer to return the leftover they are ready to add it to a new retainer for another project. You can't make a client happier than saying "here's the final demo of your project! It was great right? Oh by the way we came in under budget." Just make sure you are in constant communication with the client, have regular demos, and deliver something amazing.
People talk about people; within your network you quickly learn who is reliable, who is honest, who isn't, etc...
Also when I bid work for a client; while I bid hourly I am open about the reasons. I tell them point blank how many hours I believe their requirements will take to implement in a worst case scenario given they do not change the requirements. I then tell them that likely it will take less hours than that, but they need to know how much the total cost could potentially be. If the customer is still insistent on a fixed rate contract I explain that it can be difficult to prevent scope creep for customers when there is no dollar amount tied to it; and that I want everyone to be happy. I explain that if they really want a fixed bid I can make an exception, but that the fixed rate pricing will be double to triple what we have agreed upon as the max cost associated with the project. I explain this is to cover the scope creep that will inevitably be introduced and to protect myself from the loss risks associated with such a decision. Most clients then agree to the hourly rate; the rest keep looking for someone else.
Set up a complete profile. Put as much detail about yourself as you can muster. Clients will keyword search for their positions, you need to come up.
Take the oDesk tests. Qualify yourself in your field.
Learn to pattern match your ideal clients. For me this is US based and paying with OPM (Other People's Money).
Make the case confidently that you are THE person for the job. Some won't have the budget, that's fine, you don't want to waste your time with them anyways.
Always give 5 star feedback for all your clients on completion of the job. Ask them to leave feedback for you. Try to get as many 5 star reviews as you can. Clients filter on this.
Over-communicate. Share docs on Google Drive. Create diagrams. Email, ask how they want to be contacted. This is your chance to shine. The lowballers can't afford to put this much effort into the job. Make them realize you were the correct choice.
For reference, here's my oDesk profile. If anyone is looking for help in the above areas, hit me up.
Once you're talking, convince them that working with you will be easier/quicker/more-effective than working with anyone else. That's the hard part, which definitely requires some practice. Pro-tip: don't try to convince anyone that you'll be the cheapest option, which is almost always a losing game to play.
If you prefer, I'd be happy to do the hard work for you. I run a startup that connects senior freelance developers with high-paying companies: http://getlambda.com.
> You mean you work on internet applications?
> No, it means I don't come into the office.
Fine print: "fog" is also a type of cloud.
Currently, we're looking for devs for a company that helps museums keep track of their collections, another that makes it easier for people to cook healthy meals at home, and a third that's encouraging universities to incorporate 3d-printing into their curriculum.
So there's quite a bit of variety in the types of projects we take on. Social good is a vague concept that means different things to different people, but we can certainly try to match you with projects that fit your interests.
But most advertising basically using psychological tricks to push you to want & buy all kinds of stuff that really make a negligible difference in your quality of life, if they add anything at all.
Worse, the best way to convince you that you need X is to convince you that you have an X-shaped hole in your life. That desirable mates are looking for a [your gender] with X. That your neighbors/friends/colleagues/rivals have X, better X, newer X, etc. and are wondering about you.
It's not real, and it's actively harmful -- we find happiness/contentment by being self-aware, by learning what things really matter to us, and finding ways to focus on & improve those parts of our lives; this most commonly doesn't involve buying anything at all -- often it involves getting rid of a lot of stuff and leading a simpler life.
But who has time for clear thought and introspection, nowadays? By default advertisers want you distracted and discontented, your thoughts teeming with desires and urges, racing along on the hedonic treadmill....
One obvious way -- suppose you're filling out a medical history form before providing blood or an organ, and you know that ticking "yes" to a question will disqualify you. You really need the money -- will you be honest?
Advertising is just the worst, helping get information into the market efficiently, ugh!
It's now January and my clients are continually agreeing to more and more absurd hourly rates, making it impossible to stop.
It's really all about the people you know. I got the best gigs just by asking people (normally other developers) I know if they know someone who needs a developer. So, yes, it's all about networking but not the numbers but quality of connection. No one, who talked to you for 10mins, will vouch for you, really.
I've tried elance a bit, and getting the first gig there looks like a game of numbers. If you apply for many jobs, sooner or later you will get one... But checking new postings, writing decent cover letter is time and mental energy consuming. I gave up there. I don't know, maybe it's worth the hassle getting the first one.
If you try to make a living doing part time, the key is 1) high enough pay rate 2) be strict about the payments.
I used to have a rather low rate and was very trusting (e.g. if the payment is late by 3-4 weeks I still trusted because I 'felt' that he is trustworthy). I ended up in the situation when I didn't have what to eat for a few weeks, while I was getting 'I really made the payment' BS, and 0 motivation and energy to do anything. But now I am happy that it happened, I moved on, and got much much better gigs and 1.5-2 times higher pay rate and payments always on time :)
(For what it's worth, the way I got mine was that I was hired for full-time/40 hours, did that for about nine months, then went to the manager and said "hey, how about I only work 30 hours?" and he said "ok".)
(I work for a very large company which HN would probably scoff at, plus I work with very uncool things like Java and Oracle.)
My situation has me fall in-between for a lot of HR things -- my pay has always been given in terms of a yearly salary, and usually as what it would be if I were full time. I just get 3/4ths of it. And I'm technically paid hourly, which helps keep any requests to come in on my days off to a minimum, since they actually have to pay me for it. I accrue 3/4ths of normal vacation time, but I still get all the other standard benefits. And I get to spend two extra days a week with my now two children.
Really the only "bad" thing is that I know it'd be difficult to get into this situation again, so if my job stagnates, it would be hard to go out and try to find a new job, unless I am ready to go back full-time.
Don't imagine that HN is some monolithic group of fratboys obsessed with the latest cool whatever. Some of us are dads like you, some of us work for big companies like you (I don't at the moment, but I have no objection to it), and some of us take pride in being able to use the tools we need to use to create useful stuff and don't care about hacker fads, fashion, or fame.
I'd have imagined this would be more common with small & flexible companies; kudos to you for sorting out an alternative setup in a big one! I imagine HR in large companies normally pushes back against any situation that will go outside their normal flow.
This has been inadvertent, however I've also gotten a lot of work through various projects I've done that have gotten big on HN. Write it off mentally as a marketing expense, and spend a few days making something awesome.
There's a secret to getting your Show HN to the front page: make something genuinely interesting. Do it, and it's dead simple to get on the front page.
Startup Weekend is a great way to meet connections while helping them build a fun project for the weekend. Show them you are a badass talent. You'll get noticed.
Finding a client that we could be flexible on hours with was difficult, though. Many clients are tied to the ass-in-chair time cycle. We eventually found a small company that was made of people who were largely remote and worked really flexible hours themselves.
Eventually I found a job in SF that offered full-time and part-time, and you can move between the two. This has been really great since we started a family last August - I took a month off, then came back doing 4-day weeks.
If you're in SF, we're hiring -
I usually just go on vacation.
The next I'd look at is mobile development. Now that there are multiple platforms to support (iOS/Android/WinMo), the demand for part time specialists is huge. There are a lot of companies that support a subset of those platforms but would like to add more (if they only had the expertise).
Companies like Toptal (http://www.toptal.com) mine GitHub and online developer communities looking for talent.
I just randomly found one on elance out of nowhere. all i did was post that i did django web-dev for a year and bam, client received. I'm learning a lot though...like... what requirements to set for myself before I agree with the client.
Honestly, I'm really glad I don't work at IBM. But when I did work there on an internship, I noticed part-time people who seemed relatively respected and secure in their positions. I haven't seen that very much since.
I worked for Panasonic for a few months, the job sucked ass, but my title of Test Engineer and a quick explanation of what my responsibilities were is solid gold.
I jumped at the chance to be able to put them on my resume and I'm glad I did.
Few options remain for folks like me except to build our own SaaS products or software and hope it pays rent.