Software development as a career can pay well. However (wo)man cannot live by bread alone. Money is an ephemeral pleasure for those who have their minds on larger challenges and there is a fine line between accepting an assignment and feeling that your good nature is being taken advantage of for the sake of cash.
I’ve had over twenty years experience in professional software development from a hands-on, contracting and consulting perspective. I’ve worked for telecoms companies, banks, insurers, energy companies, product companies, enormous companies and small companies and on this page are a few tips and tricks about how to survive in the software world.
Firstly and most importantly – don’t confuse your day job with your personal challenges. So you want to build a compiler in your spare time? Fine, do it but keep it in your spare time. If the employer is in the business of building compilers they will take advantage of your good nature and interest in the subject and they will even unwittingly break your spirit through overwork. This is not their fault, it’s just that your aims are usually compatible unless you have a large equity stake in the company or a large amount of money invested with it. Companies need stuff built and they don’t really care how rather then when and for how much.
Secondly, remember that agents and middle men are not your friends. When finding a software job bear these golden rules in mind:
- Agents and recruiters are mainly sales people. They usually have little clue and little interest in what it is you actually do.
- Agents and recruiters will match your CV with roles based on keywords in the job profile. Expect a lot of the wrong roles to come your way.
- Agents and recruiters are not all alike – some are nice people, some are less interested in you – but they are all in a numbers game. They are competing with other agencies to win business – sometimes this means you won’t feel wanted unless you’re a clear favourite for the role.
- Don’t get put off from not hearing back from an agent. It’s not personal, it’s business. Make yourself more attractive to the clients and the agents or recruiters will find you.
I grow tired of having to update my CV with the latest and greatest of this, that and the other when none of these fleeting technologies make any difference to the delivered solution. But don’t try and explain this to a recruiter – be polite, be to the point, be professional but make sure you get the deal you want. If you are a contractor this may mean having to persuade your agent to take less of a percentage on your day or your hourly rate.
Remember, recruitment is a cut-throat industry. You are simply a number – a way for an agency to make money – you are the resource a client is hiring but a percentage of the total fee goes to your agency or consultancy. The consultancy will usually aim to maximise both your billable time and their percentage. It’s your job to make sure you stand up for your rights, your working hours, your interests and your career path.
Finally, your client. Remember to stay professional, stay friendly, stay interested in the job. It’s easy to fall into the trap of jut doing the job for months or years because it’s easy. Sometimes this means you’ll fall out of love with the job. When that happens it’s time to move on or move up. Talk to your employer about it, give them a chance to keep you – but only do that once you’ve found a new gig, just in case…
It can be hard out there, but it can also be very rewarding. Good luck!