Why I left contract technical writing

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

I spent a large part of my technical writing career working as a contractor. It was a formative part of my career where I got to focus on doing the work and got experience working in such industries as telecommunications, financial services, and even worked in an NGO. I’d work on a 1099 or W2 contract often through a third-party contract house but sometimes not.

What happened…

On the way to becoming a career contractor, I woke up one day, and it didn’t feel right anymore I had had enough. Here’s why:

Professional recruiters left the contracting industry

I wonder if I became a contractor at the right time. I worked with true professionals on the agency side. These recruiters and biz dev people know their customers, local market, and had business relationships with contractors in the market. One day, I woke up to a new market. The professional recruiters moved onto new ventures.

I entered IT contracting in a heyday and stayed too long at the party even when I saw how recruiters were changing for the worse.

On my last contract hunt, I had a recruiter dicker with me over $1.00 on my hourly rate.

Market changes

Around the time of the 2008 financial crisis, I saw what I called an influx of what I call accidental contractors to enter the market. These people to no fault of their own became contractors when the economy went bust.

When I started out as a contractor, interviews were much more project focused. I was going after documentation projects inside organizations with no writers on staff. They needed an experienced hand to seed their internal documentation efforts.

As time went on, I began to see more multi-round and committee interviews for contractors. I’m talking the interviews you’d expect to see if you were going after a full-time position. More and more, I began to miss the project focus of the early days.

Noise: URGENT subject lines and blocking callers

As time went on, my email in-box began to fill with subject lines screaming URGENT opportunities. More often than not, they weren’t even technical writer jobs. It was spray and pray recruiting at it’s finest.

A recruiter, regardless of where they are from — using a name that isn’t their birth name, is starting a business relationship off with a lie. That’s not Americanizing a name.  It’s lying. I begrudge nobody trying to make a living. I begrudge people that want to start a business relationship with a fake name and calling from an area code that’s nowhere close to where they live and work.

Even today, I field calls from recruiters I can’t understand on the phone. My email in-box fills up with spray and pray job requisitions, such as three-month junior technical writer contracts in Sacramento, CA.  Then again, as a senior technical writer, no way I could bear having a recruiter representing me to a client who can’t speak intelligible English. To this day, I block those calls on my iPhone.

I went as far as setting up filters to send such recruiter emails to Spam. This new form of recruiter is an annoyance and far from a professional.

Lack of quality health insurance and the lies that shield it

Once upon a time, I could afford quality health insurance on the individual market. My healthcare costs soared as soon as the government got involved. Health insurance became my second biggest expense right behind my home mortgage. No good comes from “We’re the federal government and we’re here to help. Even in my worst year as a contractor, I still didn’t qualify for any financial help. The summer before I went back to work full-time, I couldn’t afford to see the Doctor. I never thought that would happen to me.

Rates dropping; margins increasing

When I took my first official contract, the accepted formula was that you made 30-40% more than a contractor that as a full-time writer. I saw rates being pushed down to less than what I’d make on salary. I also came across evidence of agency margins topping 50% up to 100% which to me was and is unreasonable.

Not good.

Work-life balance

I went on two vacations this past summer. It was hard for me to break away for even one vacation when I was a contractor. That was my problem.  Being a contractor meant no work, no pay. Having paid vacations makes it easier.

Current day thoughts

I often read how contractors will play a significant role in digital transformation and I have doubts on the assessment after seeing what I saw during my contracting years.

By all definitions, I was on track to become a career contractor, but I grew disenchanted how the market had changed around me. I stayed at the party too long. That’s my mistake. I work in the corporate growth group of a government contractor in a salaried position with benefits. My job is on the corporate side. I don’t work at a client site.