Going the contractor route

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2003-12-03 Print this article Print

Name: David W. Schofield
Previous jobs: Software development: Everything from user interface design work to real-time systems development in the semiconductor manufacturing equipment industry and biotechnology
Laid off: About 2.5 years ago
New position: Hung out his shingle as an Independent Contractor EWEEK.com: Why contracting?
Schofield: Im a 20-year veteran of software development. … I had been working in Silicon Valley, in the semiconductor manufacturing equipment industry. About four years ago, I left that and moved back to the East Coast to work for a biotech company. Then after about a year and a half, I was laid off for the first time in my career. … I walked into work one morning and my computer was missing and the guy I shared an office with said, You have to report to HR right away. I had just received a promotion, and I found I was in the first wave of layoffs. After the shock wore off, I thought, Im a smart guy, I have the contacts, Ive always worked and interfaced well with people. Id really prefer being in the position of being able to see what was coming on the horizon. Subsequently, given the state of the industry, [plus] I had a lot of contacts, so I hung out my shingle. Theres little or no security in the traditional two-way social contract [between employers and employees] anymore. Thats evaporated for the most part in companies today.
EWEEK.com: So how do you like it? Schofield: Im definitely happy with what Im doing. Its very challenging, plus I get to work with very good people. Theres a level of risk I endure, and its a lot higher because [independent contractors are] closer to the ground. We see the economics and know whats at stake. I know what every phone call and photocopy costs me. In most companies, youre buffered in a warm and comfortable corporate womb that shields you from the reality of corporate economics and decision making, but then you risk getting blind-sided. EWEEK.com: Thanks in part to offshore outsourcing, the ranks of independent consultants such as yourself is dwindling. How is that affecting you? Schofield: What I found, especially as an independent, is that it takes more time to find opportunities. They also dont want to pay near as much [as they used to]. My competition used to be traditional job shops or the big consulting companies such as the Arthur Andersens—but as I approached companies I found that more and more they were starting to push things overseas. One company I worked with early on had a huge database application, but they were in a bind because the original developers had moved on and left them with a overly complex distributed system that was difficult to maintain. They also had other related applications acquired through mergers, and they needed to integrate these distributed systems and come up with a uniform application suite. [In the past, I had] worked with other imported talent, but they were usually employees of the companies they worked at. This is the first time Id experienced half or two-thirds of the development jobs being outsourced. When I started the contract, there were probably 20-30 [foreign workers] on-site. They were paid significantly less. They were making approximately $15/hour, and they were living four or five to an apartment. But the majority of development work was going on overseas. I had to integrate database code [from the Bangalore, India, groups] into my part of the system, and I became an informal technical liaison between the [Bangalore] groups and here. There were a few very talented people I got to know who did top-quality work, but generally the quality of the software I saw was relatively below-average to poor. Wed take code, plug it in, it wouldnt work. Wed try to integrate it, it would fail to compile. Wed point out what was wrong and theyd fix it, but it would happen again. It was usually things that were obvious. Theyd send this stuff back and forth. I sometimes wound up having to spend one or more hours a day working with local outsourced people on–site and particularly ones over there, introducing them to principles of software engineering and teaching them best practices like test-first development and daily builds. I found they were technically trained in languages or syntax or applications, but they had poor development and engineering skills. Meanwhile, this project had significantly stretched out, time-wise. Similarly, at a local company where I have contacts in management, theyve built it into their cost model, where they more or less have employees on-site whose job it is to do Q&A for outsourced code. Theyd get code from overseas that didnt work and theyd have to debug it and send it back. It was amazing to me that with the economics of this, they calculated they were able to rework things two to three times, which is what they were depending on. Companies seem to be saving dollars up-front, but it seems to be stretching out project times. They may miss critical market windows. A lot of these outsourced projects may be under-budget, but theyre not on time, and you often dont know what youve wound up with when youre done. Theyre amputating critical functions. Theyre outsourcing core technologies. Im also concerned about security, in that Companies may some day try to sell into an emerging market only to find theyve been beaten to the punch by a derivative of their own outsourced code. What exactly is outsourcing doing to national security and to corporate intellectual property? Tell us your thoughts in the eWEEK forum. Next page: Contracting can pay off, but it takes time.

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for eWEEK.com and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on eWEEK.com, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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