Freelance for developers: expectations vs. reality

freelance for developers

Amidst the digital age, technology has paved its way into every aspect of life. As job interactions are no exception to this, different work opportunities now emerge for talent all over the world. Now, one of the many perks of being part of the IT community centers around innovation and flexibility. Because of that, “what’s freelance for developers like?” has become a question for many professionals looking to dive into this path. Let’s break down everything you need to know.

What’s freelancing really about?

Often referred to as independent workers or contractors, freelancers are professionals who provide services without having a direct employer. Overall, this means their skills, abilities, and knowledge go toward the projects they actively choose. While freelance has certainly gained popularity for developers, many jobs can benefit from it. 

The “Freelance Forward Economist Report” conducted by Upwork in 2021 found that the main reasons professionals are embracing this work model center around:

  • Control over their career
  • Remote working
  • Schedule flexibility

When did freelancing begin? A brief look into history…

While it may seem like freelancing began just recently, the reality is the term can be traced way back. 

The term “Freelance” first appeared in Thomas N. Brown’s novel “The Life and Times of Hugh Miller” (1809) when talking about medieval soldiers. Afterward, Frank Schiff and Jack Nilles contributed to the term when the latter coined the word “telecommuting”. 

Though it started as the idea of telephones being used due to transportation issues, it later switched to the “work-from-home” concept. Freelancing is not about being at the king’s orders through the highest bidding anymore. However, the idea of offering one’s services remains.

Being a freelancer today… let’s talk numbers

Upwork’s report showed the following:

  • Skilled freelancing increased from 45% to 53% in 2 years. Between 2019 and 2021, professionals within the marketing, IT, business, and design fields increasingly opted to provide independent services.
  • Postgraduates are more likely to opt for freelancing as they make up 51% of the freelance post-grad workforce. This debunks the idea of independent working being deemed unprofessional or limited to small gigs.
  • Freelancing is essential to the U.S. labor market as it contributed to $1.3 trillion of its annual earnings. Additionally, 56% of non-freelance workers shared an interest in pursuing this type of self-employment in the future.

What’s freelance like for developers? Expectation vs. reality

It’s all about being your own boss, right?

While freelancing lets developers take on projects they are interested in, this doesn’t mean they have full control over them. 

Yes, there’s essentially no hierarchy, however, they still need to report to someone. Whether that’s a client or an assigned project manager, keeping them updated is necessary as they have to revise and approve the work.

Moreover, when building a professional network, freelancers may have to deal with clients who don’t understand development at all. Reality: you’ll still need to deal with “bossy” clients.

Say bye-bye to the 9-5

Ideally, since they make their own schedule, freelancers enjoy a better work-life balance than other types of professionals. Nevertheless, as a demanding field, the heavy workload adds to assigned deadlines plus juggling several projects at the same time. 

For most developers, this means working overtime, often during non-business hours, weekends, and even holidays. Granted, there are no typical office hours, but some clients have the idea that freelancers must be available 24/7. Reality: clients “need this done yesterday”.

Clients are coming in by the dozen

As digitalization has taken every industry by storm, there’s a high demand for IT talent making this is a highly competitive market. 

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2020, there were 10.2 million STEM workers across the nation. So, keep in mind that freelancers will need to “compete” against professionals who may exceed them in credentials or skills. 

On top of that, clients can now hire developers from other countries whose fees or expenses are lower. But the reality is: high-demand season may come and go.

Thinking of becoming a freelance developer? Here is an ABC for success

  • Accept challenges that will improve your skills while keeping up with the industry’s latest standards.
  • Build a personal brand that showcases your talent and sets up a differentiator for potential clients.
  • Coordinate your time to increase productivity and meet deadlines without forgetting your personal growth.

Are freelancing and self-employment the same?

Though both terms are often used indistinctly, self-employment tends to refer to professionals with sole business ownership or partnerships. So, while every freelancer is self-employed, not every self-employed worker is a freelancer.

It is also important to know that there are freelance platforms for developers. The WillDom platform allows you to find developer jobs and connect with a large community of active software developers and engineers. If you are looking for this kind of team as a company, you can also check the remote staff in order to hire the best software developers in Latin America.

All in all, there’s no one-size-fits-all path when a freelance developer career. To find the best option for pivoting your career, it’s best if you balance both advantages and disadvantages. Want to get more info on this topic or connect with tech talent? Be sure to check out our LinkedIn or visit us at

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