IT Contracting - Is it just the money?

IT Contracting - Is the Money All That Matters? 
By Ross Mecham @ 


Are these issues important to career contractors and should they be? For the sake of this article, when talking about the work place, it is convenient to divide contractors into two groups. There are contractors who bring the skills of how best to do the tasks assigned to them and are comfortable in not being involved in any other way. Other contractors are more comfortable considering themselves, and desiring to be considered, a part of the greater project team and using the environment to enhance their desire to be treated so. A picture of their family or an especially interesting calendar helps as a means to this end, but doesn’t begin to touch on the greater differences.

In my personal example, Company “A” is a retail giant and Company “B” is a health insurance service provider. The philosophy of Company “A” is that there is always going to be a ready supply of new contractors. The mindset of Company “A” is that contractors are like paper clips; they are meant to be used until they are stretched, mentally and physically, beyond any further use. At that point, either they are walked politely to the door, prematurely ending their contract or their contracts are just not renewed as they end. Decisions on extension of contracts are rarely made until just prior to the current contract’s ending. Company “A” rarely sees the contractor pool as a source of trained, full-time employees. However, Company “A” contracts are written to include a financial penalty should a contractor fail to work until the end of the contract. Company “A” fails to recognize the irony in financially chaining a contractor to a contract while, at the same time, reserving the right to end any contract without prior notice.

Company “B” sees its contractors as a valuable resource and treats them as such. The Company “B” philosophy is that contractors have joined the company with a predetermined, prescreened set of skills. Contractors are provided additional necessary training, at the expense of Company “B.” It is assumed that, in a very short time frame, contractors at Company “B” will be every bit as useful as full-time employees and are almost always considered to be a trained and ready source of full-time employees.

What are the specific differences between Company “A” and Company “B” that makes one of them more desirable and make even a die-hard, contract-to-contract systems developer / designer want to stay with Company “B?”

My Company “A” contractor experience was represented by as much of a physical separation between contractors and FTEs (full-time employees) as possible. Since contractors were grouped in a separate office area, it was not uncommon for required togetherness to be spent as formally scheduled meetings. Drop-by conversations were discouraged. It was not uncommon for there to be a span of several days between times of interaction between contractors and FTEs. This led to misunderstood specs, wasted time and effort.

Company “B” budgeted to fill vacancies with the best talent available, whether contractors or FTEs. Since the budget periods were commonly for a year in length, it was very nearly irrelevant to Company “B” whether the position was filled by a contractor or a FTE. In many cases, by the nearing of the end of the budget period, a FTE position would be offered to a well performing contractor. This provided Company “B” with a screening period of an entire year in which to determine whether or not the contractor would be a continuing asset as a FTE. Company “B” grouped teams, whether the team members were contractors or FTEs, physically close. Often, except for ID badges, it was difficult to tell one from the other.

Company “A” provided the minimum of assets to contractors, whether that was cubicle space or equipment. Company “B” provided contractors with the same cubicle space and level of equipment as any FTE. Again, it was difficult to make a differentiation between contractors and FTEs.

In Company “B,” contractors were provided opportunities and encouraged to participate in team social events, whether these were birthday / holiday celebrations, celebrations of successfully achieving project milestones or any similar joining. At Company “A,” contractors who had contributed as much or even more toward a successful project, were not granted even the smallest amount of group recognition.

If, as a contractor, your desire is to pocket a check, choose either company. On the other hand, if you want and even need job satisfaction provided from other sources, consider the reputation of the company making you a contract offer. It isn’t difficult to dig deep enough to discern how you will be treated. Ironically, although my home base was much closer to Company “A,” I found that I was much happier working as a part of a team, for Company “B.”

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