As my regular readers know, I’ve been a freelancer for around half a year now. Lately I’ve been thinking about what it would take to entice me back into full-time employment. Here’s what I came up with.
I don’t care about your stock options. I’m not interested in possibly maybe perhaps getting a little bonus ten years down the road. A %0.1 share in the company isn’t going to make me any more loyal than I already am. The only sweat equity I’m willing to invest is in things that are mine: my projects, and my family.
Unless you want to offer me founder-level equity, I don’t care about your stock option plan.
I don’t care about your health care package. I’m tired of switching plans, wrestling with sullen doctors offices to get the paperwork updated, and losing my deductibles. I’m tired of finding new providers. The individual plan I have may not be the greatest plan in the world, but it’s mine, and I’m keeping it. If you want to pay for my health care, great: give me an extra $12,000 a year and we’ll call it a deal.
I don’t care about your office space. The finest office space in the world is located a few steps away from where my children are playing and sleeping. The second best is a 20 minute drive from my house, at whatever venue my home coworking group is currently meeting at. And the third best is wherever there is a warm sun, a cool breeze, a gorgeous view and a decent Sprint signal.
You can’t top that, so don’t even try.
I don’t care about your free food. My wife is an amazing cook, and your chef doesn’t know my tastes the way she does. And I doubt he would fashion special treats in the middle of the day and bring them to my desk, just because.
I don’t care about your game room, movie night, or ski trips. I have a family already, I don’t need yours.
I don’t care about your retirement plan. I’ll manage my own investments, thanks.
I don’t care about your job security. Because I don’t believe it exists. I’ve watched too many direct employees walk out the door with their things in a box. You can’t predict your fortunes. Today’s lifers could be tomorrow’s reluctant freelancers. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
I care about cash. I have a family of six to support. I have bills to pay and groceries to buy and savings to put away just in case. I need car that will actually fit the whole family. I care about real compensation: good old fashioned cash.
I care about time. Have I mentioned I have a family yet? I also need time to devote to my side projects, to growing wideteams.com and writing eBooks and speaking at conferences. If you want to get my attention, offer me a 4-day work week. Or how about six weeks of vacation?
I care about interesting problems. If I never write another line of RHTML I could be perfectly happy. I’m bored with vanilla Rails apps. I want to glue systems together, and make packets flow, and crunch data, and scale clouds, rewrite slow code in C++ or Haskell, and architect distributed systems, and talk to a galaxy of devices. With a nod to Larry Wall, I’m tired of making easy things easy. I want to make hard things possible.
I care about dispersed teams. I like learning from them and helping them to work better.
I care about learning and teaching. I’ve learned a few things in over ten years of professional software development. I’ve mastered two languages to the point of minor guru status, and I’m conversant in a half-dozen or so more. I still like to learn something new every day, although that doesn’t always happen.
I care about learning, whether about code from better programmers than me, or about business from businesspeople, or design from designers. And I care about helping the next generation of developers find their legs and learn to be pragmatic, passionate, productive programmers.
I care about leadership. When a man watches others muck things up long enough, he eventually gets the urge to muck things up himself. I want to lead teams that learn from each other and write awesome software.
I care about self-ownership. Just because you employ me doesn’t mean you get to own my thoughts. If it’s built on my time an my equipment, it’s my property.
I care about (real) job security. The corporate world has developed an instrument for incentivizing companies to find a solution other than letting an employee go; it’s just not often seen outside of executive circles. It’s called a severance package. If you really want me to believe that you are committed to my career development for the long haul, you’ll put your money where your mouth is.
What about you? What do you want in an employer?
EDIT: It occurred to me that this could really come across as “haha, direct employment sucks!”. Which is not at all what I’m saying. I actually like the idea of sticking with a group and growing with it for a long period of time. At heart I’m not someone who gets a kick out of moving on every six months. But the enticements that a lot of companies offer in return for going direct just leave me cold. If a company was willing to talk seriously about the stuff in the latter half of the list, I’d definitely consider them.
One thing I thought I would have included was being effective in creating useful software that contributes value to the mission you are a part of.
You could be punching bash scripts for the rest of your life as a valuable part of that mission.
I think Avdi address that problem in the article Javier when he mentions, “I care about interesting problems.”
As far as being effective and contributing value… I think that's my part of the bargain, not theirs. If a company is offering me any of this stuff it's because they believe I will create value for them in return.
You would think. I've had experiences where the bureaucrats sent me down the rabbit hole. Being led by someone that doesn't have goals and priorities set straight or being led by someone who really isn't that good, can easily keep you from creating something with value.
If you're not generating value, it's up to you to make a change. Either foster change in the organization, or, if they aren't open to change, move to a new organization.
Agreed, that's why I thought I would include it.
I care about being tasked with things that are actually going to generate value to the mission.
I think you can have all the things you mentioned and still be given useless tasks.
Restating the obvious but you're talking about what would make you enter into an organization. So leaving the organization wouldn't be involved in that case.
One other thought I had related was if you're not in a position of authority it can take a long time to foster change.
Anyway, all good things to think about. Thanks again for the post. I found it interesting.
I went indie/freelance about 5 months ago and have been thinking a lot of the exact same things. There's not much that could make me desire to be employed again (at least not right now :)).
I added an update to the end of the article… I actually am not trying to say I don't want to work direct ever again. It's just that the enticements most software companies offer…. aren't.
Very well put, Avdi! The big one for me was always “time” – before freelancing, I was never satisfied fulfilling the factory-worker mentality of Monday-Friday core hours. I'm most productive a few hours into my day, so starting at 9am and quitting at 5pm doesn't really make sense. Sometimes I need a morning off; other times, I may work late into the night on an interesting problem. Freelancing (and now my new direct employer) allows me to tick just about all the boxes you've listed above.
Thanks! Congrats on the new gig… where are you working now?
I agree with you on a lot of this, but perhaps for different reasons. I will start with one that sums many of them up: one man's “corporate perks” are another man's smaller paycheck.
Stock options are generally not worth much anyway. Most of the time that's nothing more than a promise to let you buy common stock later. Unless the option gives you a really super deal, then the option is hardly worth the paper it's printed on. And that's assuming that the stock is even worth anything once the option matures… a pretty big assumption.
You kind of glossed over one of the big problems with “health care”: buy subsidizing health insurance through companies, the government has made a big mistake in at least several ways. First, the company now WANTS to give you insurance instead of money, because (a) they get a corporate rate and tax credits, which means (b) they can give you insurance that would cost you $1000 / month for only $500 / month. The exact figures are not important, it's the principle. A secondary effect has been to make individual plans unaffordable for many who are NOT employed through some large company. That's de facto discrimination against the little guy.
Retirement plan and “job security” are as bogus as you say.
In business, when it all comes down to it, money and time are all that matters. Pay me adequate CASH, and let me make time for certain other important things in life. I will make my own financial decisions.
That's it exactly… most of these perks are really just attempts to hold down the cost of hiring an employee. Which is fine, but if someone wants to pay me less they need to offer alternatives to cash that I actually care about.
It is very clear that this is young healthy person who has no realistic idea how much health care will cost if he had to pay for it himself. 12,000 what joke! If just one person was sick and i pray they never do….in month easily that money will be gone! Besides…working regular hours when you have sick child or spouse…is about impossible. It is do able with lots of help but that is only way.
This country and it’s people need to wake up and realize how many people have become homeless due to being sick and not able to work. Proving strange diseases to Disability takes years sometimes to get the okay….if they have cases like yours than it is much easier but even than they will turn you down…just to hope you don’t get help and saves them some money. But even if you get disability…and you really cannot keep working even part time..not enough to live off of…unless you were very wealthy and than of course you can pay for your health care no matter how high it goes etc.
The middle class is how needs the help and people who earn even less. When will we all care enough about one another to realize that medical assistance should not be for profit but socialized. We all should have the right to decent or the best our country can do! Being rich should not come into it since no one chooses to get sick…and many of us who are…what i would do to get rid of it.
You know the saying you have nothing if you do not have your health…well so true. no amount of money can cure your child of leukemia, or your spouse of cancer. No amount of money is going to take away the heart ache if they should die….but it sure will help now days…now your health company literally decides who lives and dies…is that right?
I mean in the big picture of things isn’t this more important than food at work or stock options? I have had to help tell 3 n 5 yr olds their dad is not ever coming home….held my friend after her 4 yr old died …which could have been prevented if health care only approved things. Live through things like that…you realize only thing important in this life is your health and loved ones being healthy.
This is why I love my job. How about three day work weeks? That's standard and five weeks off a year. doesn't pay as well as programming of course. Now that I work weekends I've dumped the healthcare benefits subsidy I wasn't using and the PTO I didn't need them to save for me and they pay me the difference directly, I prefer it that way.
Avdi, i love this! thanks so much for sharing it. I’m 1 year new to Ruby/Rails environment, and would love to set myself up for freelancing. What tips do you have? How hard is it to land work? Does it come mainly thru contacts via your blogs?
I think I’ll write a blog post about this. Nag me if I forget to.