Buying Time

For the last several years I have been working essentially as a contractor/consultant rather than a full time employee. These engagements are of varying lengths and generally center around specific projects. This arrangement suits me well as I prefer to think of my job as working on a Project rather than for a Company and I like the flexibility for my own personal time that contracting allows me.

In these situations the inevitable question which arises is something like “What is your rate?” by which its generally meant “How much do you charge per hour?”. The problem is that I have no interest in charging by the hour for several reasons. First and foremost is that I find the idea of tracking my time at this level to be too much trouble. I don’t like bookkeeping in the first place and even if I did its too hard to decide what counts and what does not. I do some of my best work while riding my bike. This is actually one of the reasons I love bike commuting. If I drive to work, I will listen to NPR and arrive at the office frustrated about some stupid political issue or maybe just the traffic. When I ride in, I spend a lot of that time thinking about what I am going to do when I get to work, how to solve a problem etc., and can’t wait to get to the keyboard. Do I get to charge for that time? How about that hour I spent trying to sleep while running over ideas for an algorithm in my head?

Essentially the smallest unit of time I am willing to sell is one day. For things which are less than one day of work for me I have two special rates, free and no thanks.  I will spend a few hours helping you for free if I want to for whatever reason but I am not interested in a couple hours of paid work unless the rate was equal to my daily rate in the first place. During that day (or those weeks depending) I will work on the client’s project as If I am a full time employee. That means giving at least full days work M-F and sometime a little extra on nights and weekends that I don’t bill extra for when I feel like its warranted. The details of how my time is spent is my problem, and the client needs to judge whether I am worth it by the work produced.

As a contractor I expect no paid time off. If I take a week off to go to Central America, I don’t bill for that. If I am sick and can’t do any work, I don’t bill for that either. Its my job to make sure that my work is all done by an appropriate deadlines but If I can do that and take friday off, I will. If I take the day off, the client does not pay and I try not to think about them. Its easier to stop thinking about them if there is a beach.

Does charging by the hour really work for anyone in software development?

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