Michael Kirven: Why 2014 is the year to become an independent IT contractor

Contracting is no longer a last resort for technology pros, but a viable career path offering both financial and professional rewards.

Michael Kirven, Mondo Signs point to 2014 being a banner year for IT hiring. Yet technology professionals might do well to reconsider whether they want to follow traditional full-time career tracks. There's never been a better time to explore opportunities as a contractor -- and the payoffs can benefit both workers and employers.

The Computerworld 2014 Salary Survey highlights the strong economic outlook for IT staffers, with more respondents reporting raises than in previous years and fewer reporting pay cuts. In addition, more than half say they are satisfied or very satisfied with their total compensation.

Read the full report: Computerworld IT Salary Survey 2014

Yet respondents do have some career concerns, including the challenges of keeping skills up to date and finding new positions worthy of their experience. Others worry that their career trajectories have flattened out.

At the same time, a recent survey by my firm, technology resourcing provider Mondo, found that 48% of businesses plan to hire more IT contractors than full-time staff over the next 12 to 18 months, and 32% expect to increase their annual IT contractor budgets over the same period.

These shifts show that while technology hiring is, thankfully, on the upswing, the real opportunities may no longer lie in full-time jobs.

Flexibility is the new stability

Often, an increase in the use of tech contractors gets chalked up to companies not wanting to commit to long-term, full-time employees. But what we're seeing at our firm, and among our clients, suggests that a big part of the shift toward contractors has to do with what job seekers want.

Tech professionals of all ages are increasingly interested in contracting. Generation Y workers entering the job market often don't want to feel tied down to a single company; they may have even seen parents lose jobs despite lifetimes of professional loyalty. Older people, meanwhile, may be open to making a change because they're out of work or are in fear of being laid off.

For both groups, and many professionals in between, taking the reins of your own career can be financially and professionally rewarding, and it can provide you with the satisfaction of finding yourself in demand, no matter how business needs at an individual company may change.

Brave new world

Being a contractor isn't for everyone. It requires agility, the ability to market yourself as a brand, and not a little bit of bravery to take that first leap. However, many contractors find that myriad benefits come from cutting ties to conventional full-time employment, including a renewed excitement for their work as well as opportunities to contribute to high-profile projects and keep their skills current.

For those considering a change, many cities offer networking groups to connect IT contractors and tech employees, or you can mine your LinkedIn network to find former colleagues now working as full-time independent contractors. A contracting mentor can share valuable tips for setting hourly rates, securing benefits and staying connected to new assignment opportunities.

It's an ideal time to give contracting a try. With companies hoping to grow innovation while keeping workforces flexible, there are more opportunities than ever, making contracting an increasingly attractive way for talented tech pros to not only survive, but thrive.

Next: 4 creative approaches to technical recruiting

Michael Kirven is founder and CEO of Mondo, a leading technology and digital marketing resource provider. He can be reached at michael.kirven@mondo.com or on Twitter ( @mkirven).

IT Salaries 2014

This article, Michael Kirven: Why 2014 is the year to become an independent IT contractor, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Read more about it careers in Computerworld's IT Careers Topic Center.

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