Software consultant Jordan's thoughts on freelancing through Witted

Witted specializes in helping software freelancers to find the most interesting projects. Read software consultant Jordan's thoughts about freelancing and Witted's outsourced customer acquisition.

Can you tell a little bit about yourself and your background?

My name is Jordan Thomas, and I started software development back around 1999 with database driven websites whilst I was still at university. Back then the dot-com bubble was in full swing so it was an interesting time to get started. I have worked in Germany, the UK, Australia and now Finland across many industries from consulting, finance, oil & gas, public sector, and industrials.

I also have an investment finance background so I had a break from software to pursue that for a number of years. That was fun but I enjoy software more so I’m back doing this. Financial markets and software go quite nicely together so I was never completely out of software just as I am now not completely out finance. When I came back to software full time, things had moved on a lot but the underlying principles were the same so it was fairly quick to pick things up again. Software development is so much better now.

I have experienced many different types of project situations including projects in distress, small teams, big teams, complex domains, difficult clients, happy clients. A real mix. Finland is a good place to be for software development as the developers here are well educated and skilled.

What hardware do you use?

An off the shelf 15” MacBook Pro. When working at home I hook up two 4k monitors so that scrolling and alt+tab are no longer.

And what software?

IntelliJ for code. Everything else is generally open source.

What would be your dream setup?

I am satisfied with what I currently have. I do prefer working with unix based operating systems as the modern toolchains seem to work better here.

Do you have a favourite programming language?

Generally Typescript (Javascript), Python, Java, SQL, depending on the task. Programming languages are just tools to get a job done and each one has its strengths and weaknesses.

What’s your favourite way of developing your skills or learning new technologies?

I usually start with a basic “getting started” document. Then I will try to solve a real problem using the skills I want to learn. This way the application of the skill becomes relevant in the context of a problem.

With software development, it’s important to know which building blocks you need to solve a problem so I would say focus on learning these building blocks - there are many! This being said, there’s a lot of noise out there and time is limited. I like to focus on improving the underlying principles and use sources which curate decent content. For example, I like Software Engineering Daily to see what others are doing. Medium is OK but there’s a lot of junk on there. Youtube has a lot of good conference recordings which can be excellent for learning.

As for books, it depends on what I’m interested in at the moment. I prefer to read books which explain the underlying principles of a subject. For example, I’m currently reading a book on the dynamic hedging of options at the moment. Not a software book but these types of books make understanding the subject in terms of software development much easier. Next, I have two general data science books which I’m eager to read.

In terms of pure software, I like books on software design and practices. The information in these types of books stays current for a lot longer and are also applicable to the whole software development process regardless of language. Generally speaking, a top-notch [insert language here] developer with poor practices is worth far less than a developer with limited knowledge of [insert language here] and top-notch software design and development practices.

What made you go for freelancing?

When working as a developer I have almost always freelanced. It wasn’t really a choice, it just sort of happened as originally someone offered me a contract and it just went from there.

What have been the biggest benefits for you in freelancing in comparison to working as an employee?

At the end of each project, you are forced to get out of your comfort zone and start looking for work. Strangely, I quite enjoy this. Normally the people you meet in interviews are interesting and there's usually a good conversation.

What are the best things about freelancing?

The great opportunities it can present. Diverse projects, meeting interesting clients, learning about new businesses. Making new friends on each project. I still have good friends from projects I did 15 years ago. That has been the most rewarding aspect of freelancing.

What has been the most unexpected thing about freelancing?

If you work hard, look after your clients and respect your teammates, freelancing can run quite smoothly.Keep in mind, some projects are boring and/or difficult but the reason you are in there is to help your client through. If it can be avoided do not quit mid project without an alternative solution in place. Stay for as long as they need you. Always respect that they are running a business and that the project is relying on your professional input.

What's your tip on coping with (financial) insecurity for techies thinking about freelancing?

Keep your finger on the pulse. Every few months tactfully ask the client what their outlook for the project is. One month before the end date start looking for the next project.

Are there any “general” misunderstandings about freelancing that you’d like to put straight for anyone thinking whether to become a freelancer or not?

Together with a spreadsheet, try to work out what risk means to you. This will help you determine if freelancing works for your personal situation. Trying freelancing on a project or two does not exclude you from returning to full-time employment after the project ends if it’s not right for you.

How did you hear about Witted and did you have any doubts about outsourced project hunting in the beginning?

I contacted Witted after hearing Harri (CEO) give a talk at an event. I thought their message was interesting so I enquired.

You've already found a couple of project through Witted, so how do you find the outsourced project hunting process in comparison to doing customer acquisition by yourself?

Witted allows me to focus on doing my best job for the client. That’s my most important goal with freelancing. I like networking so I do get project offers directly but through Witted I have a better choice of the types of projects I am looking for. This way, I am more engaged with the work and ultimately it’s easy to do better work when it’s like this.

Also, Witted looks after the billing aspects as I mentioned. For me, this is about delivering a quality service with as few distractions as possible. I’ve found Witted is a good partner in this regard.

Many projects have a strict NDA, but if there’s anything you can tell about the project you’re working on now or your current role, please share! :)

I am working at Vaisala on a data visualisation project using a number of technologies. It’s probably the best place I’ve worked over my career for a number of reasons. The team is very engaged, very technical and we have great team camaraderie. They have a true culture of continuous improvement and we all help each other to improve. I’ll be sad when this one comes to an end.

How would you describe Witted to a friend or anyone who is looking for software projects?

I’ve recommended a number of friends to Witted because they are not high-pressure salespeople doing little more than keyword matches. Some of the team members have technical backgrounds and I have found they are easy to deal with. Not your typical recruitment agency!

I think it’s worth just having a coffee with them to see what they have to offer. They don’t take on everyone which I think is a good thing but if you consider yourself competent then it’s worth exploring.