I'm giving up

June 2008

Fallen chess pieceAfter nearly 15 years of working as an independent IT consultant, I'm giving up and going back to permanent employment. I'm not going to miss the form filling and the tax returns, but I will miss the freedom it has given me.

I've never been in it for the money and I've taken plenty of time off, both to work on my own projects and to be with my family. My itinerancy hasn't always been popular with my clients, but after all that is the nature of what I do.

There are many reasons for making the change and I have to admit that an increasingly difficult labour market is one of them. Things have changed enormously since I first started my own company. In the early 1990s I was turning work away, but now it can take months to find a new contract. The trend for offshoring has a lot to answer for, and I must reluctantly admit that I wouldn't recommend engineering as a career to my son. Despite everything there still seems to be plenty of work in the capital, but commuting has never been my bag.

For a long time I was able to find work through my contacts. Then last year that dried up and I was forced to use agencies again. It wasn't the most rewarding of times. The small local ones are pretty good, the bigger national ones less so.

I'm aware that from what I've said so far my reasons for going permanent may sound negative. They're not. One of the drawbacks of being a consultant is that there is no progression. It's a bit like being an actor typecast in a role. For the last 15 years I've been typecast as a developer. True, that is my main skill, but I know that I have so much more to offer. In the past I've found an outlet in Open University courses and voluntary work, but how nice it would be to integrate some of that with my day job.

I think the position I've accepted will give me that opportunity. I may be wrong and I'll be starting at the bottom again, so it will be some time before I know for sure. But I am confident in my abilities and if it doesn't work out, past experience tells me that there is always something else.

One thing that being a consultant has taught me is that a career (think about the word) isn't necessarily a linear progression. View it as such and everything becomes one-dimensional. Pay increments and promotions are very nice, but what matters most is that I wake up in the morning wanting to go to work and that at the end of the month there’s enough money in the bank to pay the bills.

I'm lucky, I don't have a huge mortgage and I live in a beautiful part of the country, so I can choose to do a job I enjoy, even if that does mean taking a cut in salary. There is a Japanese concept that I like called Wabi-sabi. It's about the acceptance of transience and it embodies three ideas: nothing is perfect, nothing is complete and nothing is forever. What that means to me is the acceptance of change. Sometime in the future, I might decide to give up my permanent job and go back to contracting. If I do, just don't ask me about my pension.

Nigel Bell is a BCS member.