Keeping motivated as a contractor - A contractor's view

It is often a criticism of contractors that they are motivated by money above all else. Permanent members of staff can distrust you not just because you are paid considerably more but that they suspect technical decisions are taken not for the benefit of the client, but for the benefit of your bank balance. After all, they reason, the longer a project continues, the longer a contractor has secure employment.

This opinion however is just a fantasy, and if it is held at all rather that just being the product of an overactive, paranoid contractor brain, it is held by those with no real experience of contractors or the work they do. You need not worry that every permanent member of staff thinks so ill of you.

But contractors are motivated to some extent by money, and, I suspect, more so than permanent members of staff, but there is a good reason for this: other motivation factors (recognition, advancement, growth and responsibility) are missing, so you had better be motivated by the money or you will soon get bored and unproductive.

Okay, so you do like money

Jane Marple, contract test manager, gets her motivation elsewhere. "I work to live, I don't live to work. At the moment, I'm taking three months out to get a community project up and running. I am not being paid for it. I am doing it because I believe in the project and want to see it self-sufficient."

For Marple, contracting is a means to accumulate time outside IT. "My last two clients have left me with enough spare dosh in the bank to be able to do this voluntary work for the benefit of the community," she adds.

Others view contracting as a short cut to retirement. Robert Dorney, contract developer to multinational finance companies, and only just 40, is busy working long hours just so he can get out of the business. His dream is to buy a place in New Zealand and run equestrian events for tourists, and at the time of writing he has just completed on the property deal.

Contractors, it seems, are able to operate successfully without the usual motivating factors because they are paid well.

Recruitment agents certainly believe money is the overriding factor for contractors motivation. Mark Heath, Computer Futures commercial director said, "The rate is always the major consideration with contractors.

And James Smith, senior business manager for MSB Technology added, "First and foremost, financial reward is what motivates IT contractors."

You enjoy nifty stuff

Yet agents also believe that the client's technology is important. "The opportunity to use newest or latest technology is a winner, as this broadens and enhances their current skill set," says corporate services director Jan Stevens of DP Connect.

This view could be a little simplistic. It's true contractors like to use the latest technologies but for career management purposes rather than because they are mind-blowingly excited by them. Many contracts will last a year or more, and since technology moves so rapidly it is perfectly possible to start a contract with your skill set riding high on a wave's leading edge only to find your skills are out of date and the technology obsolete when you finish. Any opportunity to update skills should be carefully considered even if it means a slight drop in pay.

Pursuit of money at the expense of technical-skills management or business experience may see you suddenly out of work waving a CV that is simply too old hat for agents or clients to be interested in.

William Knight

Saturday 22nd Jan 2011
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