Freelance vs. Full-Time Software Developer: Which One Is for You?

From websites to mobile apps and everything in between, the tech needs of modern day businesses are greater than ever before.

Software developers will continue to be in high demand as companies increasingly rely on their expertise to stay in the market and grow their brands. So if you’re setting out on a career in software development, you’ve made a great choice! You’re looking at many great opportunities ahead.

With opportunities flourishing within the field, developers are not only highly paid – they also have the advantage of being able to choose their mode of work.

Should you opt for a full-time position as a developer within a company, or go down the entrepreneurial path and become a freelancer? Both are viable options, and it’s an important, career-shaping decision to make.

As such, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. That’s why we’re going to approach these two options systematically by examining the pros and cons of both. Being well-informed on all the various aspects of both choices and comparing them to each other will help you see which one is the ideal fit for you.

Flexibility

The first thing that comes to mind when considering becoming a freelancer is flexibility – the freedom to choose projects you work on and refuse the ones that you don’t want. There’s also the freedom of working whenever you want, from the comfort of your home or any other place you choose.

This is, of course, a very attractive side of freelancing. If you just can’t see yourself working within a hierarchy, being overseen by superiors in an office, or simply rushing every morning to get to work when you’d rather get the job done in your PJ’s, freelance work is definitely for you.

But you have to know that it’s not all too simple. As a freelancer, you can very easily fall prey to all the freedom you have.

If you embark on this career path, you’ll have to discipline yourself and employ time management practices so you don’t fall off track with your projects or completely blur the line between work and home life. For many people, working within a company and being overseen by their team helps them stay in check and get work done efficiently.

Also, although it does sound tempting to be able to reject projects that don’t pay enough or aren’t beneficial to your career, you’ll need to be very wise with which projects you accept or reject.

You’ll have to make these career-defining decisions constantly, which is something full-time developers don’t have to think about as much.

If you just want to do your job and build your experience without constantly thinking about the next step or what it represents to your career, full-time work is a less stressful option.

In short, freelancing does offer more freedom, but it takes discipline and willpower to stay efficient and professional. And don’t expect that you’ll be sipping on cocktails and working remotely from an exotic beach.

Maybe sometime in the future or when you have an “easy” project to complete, but crunch time is equally strenuous for freelancers and full-time employees alike.

Security

As flexibility is the primary benefit of freelance work, security is the primary benefit of full-time work. As a W2 employee, you just need to do your job professionally to get a regular paycheck, along with benefits, bonuses, and other perks.

Freelancing doesn’t offer this type of security and you’ll have to do your own taxes and invest in your own retirement fund.

As a full-time software developer, the security also means that you won’t have to worry about running out of work as your list of clients dries up.

Fortunately, there are numerous opportunities for freelance software developers so you can count on always finding a reliable source of income, but this will take effort on your part – you’ll always have to be involved, updated, and on the lookout.

Many developers choose to work full-time in a company because of the security and benefits this type of work entails, especially when they have families to provide for and don’t want to take risks.

Growth and development

Your professional development is an insurmountably important factor to consider when examining these two options.

Software development is in high demand and we’re not going to be seeing a surplus of developers anytime soon, but it’s a competitive field nevertheless. Whether you choose to work full-time or as a freelancer, in order to be successful you’ll always have to stay on top of the latest trends in coding and continuously develop relevant skills.

This is something that the best software development companies hold in high regard. They aim to provide their employees with on-going training, information, or even courses as they make the necessary technological changes.

Working within a company also means you’ll be part of a team of professionals in your field, exchanging information and collaborating on new ideas. It’s much easier to stay updated.

We can’t say the same for freelance software development, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to develop professionally and stay informed on changing customer demands if you choose this path.

You’ll just have to put in much more effort and train yourself, using various tools for learning. It will be your responsibility to ensure you always have the skills that the current market demands, which means you’ll need to devote time, effort, and possibly funds to invest in your knowledge.

Professional interaction

This relates directly to the previous point we’ve talked about. We’ve touched upon how professional interaction within a company will definitely help you stay updated and connected to the changing demands of software development.

An online community of freelance software developers can serve as a replacement for the physical workplace environment. It can help you stay updated and exchange ideas or information so you’re not alone in your profession and oblivious to its on-going development.

But there’s another thing to consider: some people crave interaction during work. They like being able to chat with colleagues about current events or anything unrelated to the job. You might even connect with a like-minded co-worker and become friends outside of the workplace.

If that sounds good to you, it’s a benefit of full-time work. But maybe it doesn’t, and you really like the idea of working alone peacefully and not having to engage in office politics or the overall “team spirit”. The office environment feels stressful to many, and maybe you like to handle the stress of deadlines on your own.

But beware, because it does get lonely. We all need human interaction, and if you have plenty of opportunities for it outside of work, the isolation of constantly working alone won’t be overwhelming. You might also have the option of working at a hub for freelancers in your location.

These co-working environments for freelancers are designed specifically with human and professional interaction in mind, with added benefits such as increased productivity that comes with structure.

Pay

We’re saving the finances for the last. The money you’ll be earning from either career path is naturally an important factor to consider, but that depends heavily on different circumstances. And in a way, it largely evens out.

Here’s the deal: freelancers may earn more if they make smart moves, but high-paying jobs don’t just fall into your lap. You’ll need to work hard, accept lower-paying projects at first and establish your base of clients as well as an enviable portfolio.

Moreover, you’ll constantly have to compete with overseas developers who may offer lower rates for their work, and you’ll have to convince companies why it is worthwhile to choose you and pay more for services. It’s a constant hunt, but you just need to be diligent and, well, sell yourself. It’s not called the entrepreneurial way without a reason.

There are no such gimmicks when working full-time for a software development company, but you will earn less than a successful freelancer.

However, your effective income will be larger than it seems on paper. That’s because your employer will pay half of your Social Security and Medicare taxes, and you’ll likely have significant contributions to your healthcare and retirement fund – something that freelancers have to regulate and deduct all on their own, after seeing that hefty sum on paper.

So, which one is for you?

Well, the pros and cons of various aspects are there for you to decide. It really depends on your preferences and current circumstances. It’s best to weigh on each point – what are you ready to compromise, and what are you resolute about? Are the responsibilities and discipline that freelancing demands something that you would take on rather than office hierarchy? Does the entrepreneurial side sound exciting?

Professionals have varying preferences so there can be no definite answer, but more than that – you might find your values changing as your circumstances change.

Maybe you want to try out both, and that’s great. Always be on the lookout for when it’s time to weigh the options once again and take the leap to change your career path. By striking a balance between intuitive and logical decision making, there’s no need to be anxious about whether you’ve made the right choice.

Written By
Natasha Lane is a web designer, lady of a pen, paper and keyboard and one hell of a tech geek. She is always happy to collaborate with awesome blogs and share her knowledge about IT, digital marketing and technology trends via creating high-quality content. To see what Natasha is up to next, check out her Twitter dashboard.