Q&A: Angela Didde, The Ups and Downs of Full-time Contracting

What’s your specialty? Describe what you do?

My area of specialty is Project Management and Business Analysis. As a PM, my primary responsibility is to pull the team together and keep the ball rolling. Scheduling, estimate development, cost tracking are all elements of this function.Probably the most critical is the ability to anticipate problem areas – for example, risks, early indications of slippage, or scope expansion. Then, I deal with them before they cause an issue and impacting the bottom line. I keep the project on schedule, and I’m responsible for reporting its status to senior management. This can include a combination of project risk rankings, financial issues, resource constraints. 

As a PM you need to be a quick study. You need to figure out what’s going on fairly quickly and on your own. You may not be familiar with the particular application or group of applications that make up a project, but you need to be able to assimilate on your feet. As a business analyst, I work at the detail level for a specific function or range of functions, and am responsible for quickly becoming the subject matter expert, or at least knowing who to go to for answers.

Why did you stick with contracting rather than go for a full-time job? 

Ive been a PM/BA for the last thirty years, and primarily a contractor for the majority of the last twelve. Before that I was a full-time employee. During this time period, it appears the hiring model has changed, especially with work related to new development. Contracting is a way for companies to handle the need for flexible staffing levels. I would like to go to work for a company, however, the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself. Either there¿s not enough money offered, or not enough vacation or something like that.

What are the pros and cons to IT contract work?

The pros:

  • You’re always learning, and you usually don’t get bored since you¿re always in a different environment with new business applications and processes.
  • The ability to live and work in different physical locations.
  • Ability to take extended periods of time off (say, for travel).
  • Money: I’ve found contracting usually pays better than what you’d get, even if you factor in health insurance.

The cons:

  • You’re always an outsider.
  • You don’t get benefits like insurance or a pension.
  • I’m continually interviewing
  • During hard times, you’re the first to go and the last to get put back in.
  • You may need to spend extended time in locations away from home.

What’s your typical day like?

For contract I’m working on now, it’s the same as being an employee. I have the option to work from home or telecommute. Depending on the home situation and the tools I need, I have the choice. I’ve worked on contracts that were 100 percent telecommuting and others that were 100 percent in the office. It depends on the company.
 
Aside from IT expertise, what other skills does someone need to be a successful contractor?
 

A sense of humor, people skills, self-confidence, and some armor. You’re not treated like an employee. Invites for Christmas parties, company or department functions will not usually include you.

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