Is the Tech Industry Entering the Freelancer Era?
Less than 2 minutes to read this thing.
I have conflicting views on the scalability of the freelance economy in tech.
First some context: One of the latest hot take topics on LinkedIn is talking about tech workers ditching FT W2 jobs for the flexibility and security of running multiple side gigs. These overly-generalized posts are prompted by the recent layoffs in the tech sector.
Large-scale layoffs in tech are not an indicator of why this idea does or does not make sense. Layoffs do not signal the relevance of a particular labor skill across a sector. Economic and business dynamics dictate when companies cut headcount. The replacement of a human doing [insert specific skill] with technology is a signal of relevance. Layoffs and technological advances are two VERY different things.
Now, my POVs:
1. We’re truly entering the age of flexible work arrangements at scale: freelancers, contractors, project-based, PT, less than FT employees. This style of working arrangement opens up specific opportunities for business-minded, highly-skilled workers who can balance multiple projects while also allowing companies to maintain hiring and financial flexibility.
Support for this argument:
- Projects are focused and constrained: the focus is on the delivery of a specific thing by a specific time.
- Expectations are clear.
- Cultural distractions and obligations are minimal to non-existent.
- Margins are presumably strong for both sides of the market.
2. The hot take that tech workers are quickly moving to solopreneur life because tech companies are unstable workplaces isn’t taking into account demographic needs, skill requirements, or why layoffs actually occur. Freelance hustles are great—for the few. But largely not for the majority.
Support for this argument:
- Freelance success is dependent on one’s ability to do BD, sell, build a network, deliver on spec, and do CS, accounting, and billing.
- The short-term financial risks: Ramp time to build pipeline as a freelancer takes cash reserves. It drains savings and/or doesn’t allow one to save as much.
- The sector of skilled workers with family obligations requires strong employee benefits: healthcare, PTO, perks, expense accounts, budget, tooling, etc.
- Collaboration: Most skilled workers require collaboration to deliver on spec. Just the facts. It’s why the workplace was created. That’s not going away. The assembly line works. Even if it looks different today than it has in the past.
My opinion: the freelancing technopreneur is a thing—but not at scale. Success is heavily dependent on things that most employee types aren’t innately equipped with. The ability to handle the mental, emotional, and financial toll that branching out on your own requires is—and will always be—reserved for the few.
Examples of people doing this successfully do not equal a movement. They are edge cases. And cherry-picking rare examples and acting like they’re the mean is ignoring the business, labor market, and entrepreneurial dynamics at work.
Food for thought. Context is everything.