Confessions of a former contractor

An IT contractor's tale of bad management and finding one's career niche

Before I moved to Oregon, I had my own small IT consulting business in California. I have been self-employed for most of my adult life. The truth is I like to wear a bunch of hats, and self-employment, to me, means never having to risk being fired.

When I moved, it was either start all over again to build up an independent business or become a contractor. I found a contracting job soon after moving, which made the decision easy.

[ Got amazing IT tales, real-life experiences, lessons learned the hard way, or war stories from the trenches? Submit it to InfoWorld's Off the Record blog. If we publish your story, we'll send you a $50 American Express gift card.]

I was also able to keep my self-employment fix for a while, since I still got the occasional call from some of my California clients -- some of whom had been with me since I'd started an independent business almost 10 years prior.

My transition into contracting went well at first, but as time went on I got more and more frustrated at seeing so many examples of poor management. It's like a disease.

One contracting gig was for a silicon wafer manufacturing company that has long since gone out of business -- not entirely surprising given that the office culture was chaotic and management was out of touch with what was really happening day to day. At what other company could a "slight" math mistake that called for an extra 250,000 wafers to be made -- about a 500 percent error -- not even result in a hand-slapping?

Anyway, soon after I was hired as a contractor, the company hired another contract programmer, "Jerry." According to company protocol, every change was to be approved and prioritized by management -- assuming they found out about it.

In Jerry's case, he didn't give two hoots about protocol. If anyone came to him with a request, he would just do it. I had a peer position with Jerry, and it is just not my style to rat out a fellow contractor, and I was new enough that I wasn't yet sure of which office procedures truly were necessary and which ones could be revamped. So I talked to Jerry, whom I liked, about the need to follow protocol. He wasn't worried. His take was that if he stayed on the good side of the guys who needed the programming done, nothing would happen to him, even if our manager found out.

Well, as it turned out, Jerry was more right than I was. When management suffers from rectal-cranial inversion as was clearly the case here, these things happen, as I soon learned the hard way.

Another situation that was new to me was the heavy reliance on e-mail communication. A personal lesson I learned is that e-mails have no tone of voice and that it is all too easy for people to supply their own to your messages, not necessarily the tone you meant when you pressed the send button (at my previous jobs I'd communicated mainly by phone). When I found out how some employees had taken some of my e-mails, I immediately followed up and talked to them. And then I was extra careful with how I worded my communications after that and followed up with a visit or phone call when necessary.

After about six months, work dwindled to the point where only one programmer would be needed. I'd been hired first, so we were told that I'd be offered a permanent position, and Jerry was to be let go. At the time, I was ready to have a more stable work environment than contracting, so I decided to accept the position.

Soon after the decision had been made known, I was blindsided. My boss called me in and said that they had just rehired Jerry and that I was fired. I asked why. My boss replied that he'd overheard some employee conversations of how I was causing this problem and that problem, so they changed their minds -- without even talking to the employees they'd overheard or to me.

It was the first and only time I've been fired in my life. The company went out of business about a year later.

I moved on to some other contractor gigs and a project management position. Eventually, I ended up opening another business with my wife. It's retail, but I still just take care of all the IT stuff. I like it.