Contracting pays for a holiday lifestyle

You can't deny that contracting reaps good money, but rather than save up for an early retirement or ploughing spare cash into investment properties, some contractors prefer to fritter away the monetary advantages with long breaks, country hopping and a somewhat "holiday" attitude to work.

It's alright if you can make it work, but what about the breaks in the CV, agents bitter over lost extensions, and fly-by-night reputations from frustrated project managers?

Doug Twistner, contract business analyst, has no such reservations. "My initial plan was to work for eighteen months then use the proceeds to swan round Europe. It worked so well I did another eighteen months and went to the Middle East."

Until recently, Twistner was a serial vacationer. Trips round Europe and the Middle East were followed by long summer holidays, regular breaks and frequent returns to New Zealand, his homeland, for skiing and tramping.

Twistner is lucky to hold New Zealand and British passports. He has taken contracts in both countries, and shrugs off the idea that long breaks make a CV look patchy.

"The great thing was, the contracts funded the travel and being a kiwi the big holes in my CV were half expected," he says.

Robert Dorney, contract VB programmer and business analyst, has done stints in the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Singapore and New Zealand, without more than a few months break every other year.

Dorney says the motivating factors are, "The open road, the wind in my hair and a falcon on my wrist."

Worries over CV gaps are largely unfounded, he says, it's your experience that counts. He's spent most of his career working for large financial institutions where conservative attitudes are supposed to prevail, but he's had little trouble finding new contracts after travelling, and even during the slack years following the Millennium.

But one thing Dorney and Twistner loath to do is leave a contract before it comes naturally to an end. There is still a work ethic that involves finishing the job that was started and not letting down a client.

It is sensible advice. Lots of short contracts and many breaks are a warning signal to CV readers, and though agents are aware of the reality of contracting, many assignments shorter than three months are difficult to explain; it looks like you've not been renewed at the client's choice, not your own.

Tony Gillet has worked in Australia as a contract software engineer, and says it is much like working in the UK. "The agents are slimier," he says, "but there is a good choice of work."

Gillet is more worried by CV holes than either Dorney or Twistner. He says it is possible to combine contracting with a holiday lifestyle but believes there are limits.

"It needs to be 'bursty'," he says, "six months on, six months travel, and gaps in the CV can make it difficult to find work."

But things might be changing. Throughout the IT industry, the work-life balance is gathering importance (see IT workers stress work-life balance) and companies are desperate to find skilled staff in an aging demographic. Technology spend is increasing, and it seems the scales of power are slowly tipping to the contractor.

But surely, the real reason you should take a small risk and use your earnings to fund foreign adventures is to expand your horizons and suck up all that life has to offer.

"Contracting in your home country can be interesting," says Twistner, "but by using contracts as a catalyst to put yourself in new social situations and countries, the laughter and events are bound to flourish... give it a go."

William Knight