In this business, if you don’t invest in your skills you’ll get left behind

Cleerly client Adrian is a lead software engineer/architect in his early 50’s and has been self-employed or contracting for most of his working years. Now working in Fintech, he established himself in the IT industry by running a substantial web design and software development business employing 26 people around the time of the millennium.

The economic aftershock of the 11 September attacks in New York fatally undermined business confidence, and Adrian took a career break after winding up the company. Having evaluated his options, his contracting journey stepped up a gear when he became a specialist in the Microsoft .NET Framework majoring in the C# programming language, and he has been contracting ever since.

Adrian shares what he has learned in his contracting career in the latest instalment of The Timesheet, where we talk to contractors IRL

Don’t call me a programmer!

I’m a software engineer and architect, not a programmer, so I design and write software and manage the workload of a team of skilled engineers to build, test and release the products.

I specialise in cloud hosted IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), liaising between the product owner, chief technical officer and team of software engineers. I have authority to make decisions on which hardware and software technologies to use and I plan the whole development process from end to end.

Getting into Fintech was hard but rewarding…

Fintech was tough to get into, but it’s the best move I’ve made. I feel that my future is mapped out for the next year or two at least, as experience in this industry is in demand.

…now I’m the oldest one in the company!

I work remotely, and had not met most of my colleagues in person until recently. We were all asked our ages and it turns out I’m older than the CEO!

This isn’t a problem for me as I make sure my skills are cutting edge and up to date. I always try to be ahead of the curve. Once you get behind the curve it hard to play catch up.

The only constant in life, IT and software, is change

Change is the only thing that is guaranteed. When you come in to (or log onto) work tomorrow, things will be different – there will be a new technology, process or challenge. If you get stuck in an old or redundant technology, your days are numbered – which is why I invest in continual learning, improvement and research.

In this business, if you don’t invest in your skills, you’re going to get left behind

I’ve committed to continuous learning throughout my entire career. That means researching, learning, experimenting with (and paying for) the tech solutions and software of the future. You have to find out what’s out there and how to do it or you’re heading for a dead end in IT. You can’t bluff or blag it at my level, you have to know your stuff and what’s coming down the pipeline.

It’s important to jump on the right horse

There are quite a few successful platforms out there such as AWSGoogle and Azure, but you have to choose one to specialise in. Being a “full stack” developer is now too big a job for any one person to do effectively, even just within cloud infrastructure.

You need to specialise, to get real expertise and understanding of your platform and you need to make the right choices or you will not progress in the long term.
I chose .NET, which was originally proprietary to Microsoft but is now open source, which has helped its popularity and adoption. Microsoft is embracing open source and cross platform technologies, and it’s paying dividends.

Designing and writing software is a huge responsibility

When you write software you have a responsibility – the company you work for has to maintain and support it for years to come and their clients will depend on it. Poor software developers can leave a nightmare legacy which continually costs the company money, so the cost of doing something the wrong way can be enormous.

Good software engineers are worth their salt because they don’t leave a trail of destruction behind them such as constant (and expensive) releases to fix issues and a legacy of unhappy customers.

You need a big business behind you to get your software adopted, but there’s always room for innovation

You need venture capital and a huge amount of branding, distribution and marketing support to get software off the ground – look at the size of Salesforce or Adobe for example. In the past I’ve built platforms myself and intend to do my own thing in future, but contracting will be my main focus for now.

I’m going to work on open-source projects moving forward and try to attract sponsorship to build, support and maintain it, which could start of as a side project and develop from there.

IR35 has been a disaster…

IR35 has been a disaster for the industry. It is too broad brush and should never have happened in the first place – I would be glad to see the back of it.
It has stifled innovation and creativity in the software industry as it forces to people to work in “jobs” rather than in agile project teams.

This puts people in a comfort zone and slows development times, leading projects to drift. You need flexibility in employment and IR35 is the opposite, a nightmare for contractors and employers alike.

…but I’ve stayed outside it

I’ve always made sure that my contracts are watertight in keeping me outside of IR35. Even when the occasional client has baulked at it, I’ve been able to demonstrate a rock-solid assessment. I have to pay VAT through my company, which means another layer of bookkeeping, but it’s been worth it to avoid the pain of working through umbrella companies and so on.

I had more commitments as a director, but I find my role more rewarding now

I had a lot on my plate as a company director, responsible for cashflow, paying the employees and keeping the clients happy.

My responsibility as a software architect now is to ensure the quality of the product – justifying what I’ve built, how I’ve built it and why.

I don’t have to deal with payroll, admin, cleaners or insurance. This is more satisfying and pays better in a way, although I don’t own the company of course.

The future is agile

The future of software is agile development, using tools and platforms that bring together the process of design, development, test and release. The key is to enable remote teams to collaborate effectively, concentrating on managing the work, not people, and delivering a quality product.

I can see the way Fintech teams are working now becoming adopted throughout the industry.

We move with the times

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