Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Freelancing Now

September 5, 2003

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In the old days, a newly minted high-tech worker had a clearly defined road to follow for their career. They would take an entry-level job at some large corporation, do all the menial labor they could stand and either get promoted or take whatever they learned to some other company. Repeat this as necessary, until the person found a niche where they could settle in for the long haul. In today’s workplace, though, I would like to offer an alternative. One that I think might better serve the high-tech careerist and the people for whom they work. Wouldn’t it be better to try out other avenues if employment and other career paths before locking yourself into something that may not serve you well? I have come to believe that starting everyone off in a typical corporate job may do more damage than good.

At the beginning, not the end

Too often, we think that the time for striking out on your own as a high-tech freelancer comes later in a career. I would recommend otherwise. There is no reason why, after a few years apprenticeship with a knowledgeable mentor, a high-tech worker shouldn’t be able to strike out on their own and build their own business and career as they see fit. Looking back on nearly 20 years of high-tech work, I often wish that I had found someone to help me navigate the rough waters of my high-tech jobs instead of being left to flounder about in large companies where no one took particular interest in my skills.

Too often we think that we have to know everything about everything before we can even begin to think about working on our own. In fact, the sooner you start using the skills you do have, the sooner you will acquire new skills. Nothing is a better teacher than being faced with a situation you have never encountered before. It forces you to stretch and to grow much faster than you might in a typical entry-level job.

Anyone with a basic amount of computer experience today can make money by installing and configuring machines for home users and small businesses. If they come up against a situation they cannot handle themselves, they can call on more experienced freelancers to fill in the gaps. There is no reason to fear telling a client, “ I don’t’ know” as long as you follow it up with “…but I can find out.” The simple truth is, the more you work for yourself, the more you learn and the more work you can take on. No one starts their career knowing everything. If you wait until you think you do, you will never get started.

The time is now

There are several reasons I push younger workers to start their freelance careers young. While they may be inexperienced, freelancing is one of the fastest ways to learn. You are constantly stretching yourself every day, reaching for new concepts, developing understanding of new technologies and figuring out how to do business. While a corporate job might cocoon you in a relatively safe environment, freelancing forces you to discover the best parts of yourself and what you want your career to be.

Secondly, age is a factor in adapting to change in your environment. It is simply easier for someone in their 20’s to adapt the pervasive and accelerated levels of change when freelancing. In most cases, younger workers are more adaptable and have greater stores of energy to face the tough projects that come their way. You will need this energy when facing technology and projects you have never seen before. Younger people are free from many of the obligations of older workers such as spouse, children, mortgage payments and the like. You can more easily pull-up stakes to follow an interesting project across the country or across the globe. You have the time to make mistakes, follow dead-ends and generally have fun with your career.

If you don’t pursue freelancing while you are young, you may find that you have become so comfortable inside the corporate environment, that even when you have the chance to strike out on your own, this comfort level and your personal responsibilities may prevent you from ever making the leap. No matter your experience level, now is the time to investigate the many different ways of building your career.

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