IT Contractors: Bring a toolkit and raise your pay

Hey software contractor! Yes you. Do you want to raise your billing rate and increase your days worked? If so, build and/or assemble a set of software tools, process, and pre-built routines that will make you more productive more quickly and provide real immediate value to your clients.

This combination of enhanced personal productivity and toolkit value to the client will not only differentiate you from your competition, but will also increase your Return On Investment (ROI) to the client, making you their contractor or choice and create willingness to provide you with a higher rate of pay.

Items included in your toolkit could include:

• Public domain algorithms and software tools • Quality list of not-well-known websites containing valuable resources and topical discussion boards • Source code libraries containing ready-to-use general purpose functions • Home-grown software testing routines and modifiable function stubs • Software upgrade conversion tools • Open source utilities for data conversion and other purposes

The one caution when abuilding your toolkit is to makes sure that you have the legal right to use and reuse the items you have collected. As an example, if you wish to include any software that you created while under contract with a client, get written permission from the client giving you specific and explicit permission to do so. Also, if you are including and open source software in your toolkit make sure you are only using it in a way that is consistent with the its software licensing agreement.

When creating your toolkit, try to think outside the box (toolbox that is, sorry I couldn’t resist). Another very valuable asset may be able to bring to the table is your personal connections. For example, if you personally know, and as a result have access to, members of the software engineering group at the vendor that built the software you are supporting, this is extremely valuable to your client companies using that software. This value is for two reasons:

• It facilities a deeper level of technical support when difficult issues arise in the software • Your personal connections raise your professional stature because you are seen as a person that is well connected.

In addition to software tools and personal connections, there are other process-related items that could be great additions to your toolkit. These items are:

• Pre-designed status report formats • Microsoft Project ready-to-use templates • Scrum/Agile based automated Burn Down Charts • Software but tracking software/spreadsheets • Waterfall-based document templates

Lastly, don’t underestimate the value of your technical and knowledge.

From a technical perspective, in addition to deep knowledge of your technical specialization, also have knowledge of other technologies which interface with it. For example, if you are a PHP programmer, you should also have a strong understanding of MySQL and Apache. As a second example, if you are a .NET programmer, you should also understand SQL Server and the wide variety of tools that support .NET software development, deployment, and monitoring.

From a methodological perspective, if you are not very familiar with Agile/Scrum, Waterfall, ITIL, Lean, and other similar IT and software development related concepts, you should be. A strong understanding in these methodologies has two advantages. First, may companies only hire contractors that are knowledgeable in the methodologies they use because it reduces incoming learning curve. Second, if the company is just moving toward the use of a methodology you know you will be viewed as a person who not only meets their technical need, but can also help them move toward implementing the new methodology.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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