Let’s face it, when we were budding IT professionals, we looked at the IT contractors in our teams with a certain degree of envy.
My first experience of an IT contractor came when I was a permanent data analyst at British Airways in the mid 1990s. I might have been on around £25,000 at the time – it was my first ‘proper’ job, having previously attempted (in vain) to become accustomed to life as a city trader.
On one particular day, my project manager at the time asked me to go for a ‘walk and chat’ about a project objective no doubt, while taking an IT contractor’s paperwork to the accounts department for some kind of validation or another.
I had a look at the contract, and couldn’t believe that someone could earn nearly £100,000 (gross) as a database administrator. The guy in question was around 30, and was certainly good at his job, but he wasn’t overworked by any means.
On my next job, working for a consultancy firm on location in the lovely East Kilbride, there must have been a dozen contractors on our team. Each week, dozens of graduate types (myself included) would take the shuttle up from Heathrow to Glasgow, check into the Hilton, and drive to and from the client site each day, and return at the weekends. The work was exceptionally dull, and ‘management speak’ was all too present.
Again, the contractors on this project seemed far more relaxed; they earned good money, and seemed a contented bunch. The consultants on the project were too worried about themselves to mix much with the contractors, but I struck up good friendships with several of them
One of the contractors, Mike, a skydiving enthusiast, somehow convinced me that I had the ability and skills to become a contractor myself, despite being 25, with only a few years of ‘business analysis’ experience.
Astonishingly, a search on Jobserve (which was going strong, even in 1998), came up with a data analyst contract position at BA – in a different team to the one that I had previously worked in, but in familiar surroundings.
I got in touch with the agency (Computer People I think it was), and I managed to secure an interview for the role at BA World Cargo. Being a fairly communicative sort of person, I made a good impression with the team leader, and my past experience with the airline (however minimal that was) helped a great deal in securing the assignment.
I gave notice to my manager on the East Kilbride project, and agreed to start my first contract job a few weeks later. I knew I could never be a ‘company man’.
The first month or so as a brand new contractor was certainly pretty hectic – dealing with a new accountant, working out the administration associated with running your own company, and adjusting to a new team where you’ve been hired as a technical expert rather than just another member of staff.
However, within a few weeks, I knew that I’d made the right choice. I significantly increased my income (rates were a fair bit higher than they are now, in real terms), and certainly enjoyed being more in control of my own destiny than I had done in my previous life as an ’employee’.
15 years later, and I’m still very much involved with contracting – but now I run industry news sites rather than working at the ‘coalface’.
I’m very grateful that my first contract opportunity came along when it did, and I certainly have no regrets.
If you’d like to get in touch with the ITContracting team about your own experiences of contracting, please do send us email.
James Leckie is a former contractor, and founder of several of the UK’s leading contracting industry websites.