A Digression on Working in Austin

Resumes are on my mind, since I looked at dozens yesterday. Today, I need to digress from posting about nature and my endless “deep thoughts” to share some observations I’ve had about people in my field (broadly, technical writing and instructional design).

My notebook full of resumes for job interviews.

There’s a job opening on my team where I work in Austin. It’s a rare opportunity in these times when downsizing is the norm. I’m lucky that I work for a company that values its written documentation and resources for customers, since training and technical writing are often among the first folks to be let go when pennies get pinched. So, hooray, it was my turn to bring my instructional design team back up to the level it used to be.

So, I looked at resumes. It was humbling to see how many people with amazing skills and experiences applied (if you’ve hired people lately, I bet you’ve seen the same thing). There were two types, people who have only been in the workforce a few years, then people whose resumes strangely resembled mine.

The pattern is that people have a career at a large corporation that lasts a decade or so, then there is a new contract job every year or so after that. I have so much respect for the people who keep working to find contract work, year after year, because it seemed to me like as soon as you started on job, you had to start looking for the next.

You have got to respect contractors for dealing with these challenges and still getting lots of good work done, with a good attitude.

And here is my rant

Did you notice that everyone was just dandy that government workers got back pay after the recent shutdown? Did you realize that there were actually MORE contract workers who didn’t get to work, and most of them did NOT get back pay.

Yes, more and more companies turn to contractors to do their work, because it’s easier to ramp up and back down as needed. Also, you don’t have to pay contractors benefits. Ka-ching. A poll taken last year showed 1 in 5 workers were contractors.

Here are the actual statistics from a Marist polllast year, reported by NPR.

What does that mean? It means millions of people who don’t get paid sick days, vacation, or most important, health insurance. A lot of these people end up just one illness away from disaster. It does not pay to be a sickly contractor.

When I did my years of contracting (2007-2011), there were at least a few companies that offered health insurance that I could afford, so I didn’t worry about it, but now that’s just about impossible to find. And even though some of the companies you contract throug do offer health insurance, for more than one of my friends it’s turned out to be over half of their earnings.

And don’t get me started on taxes. I’ve heard people go on and on about how highly paid contract workers are. Well, that’s because they have to pay self employment tax on their earnings. They have to save a third of their income to hand over to the IRS.

Thanks, Dell, for introducing me to my husband of ten years! A contractor benefit.

The other thing that can drag you down as a contractor is that feeling like you just don’t belong, like you are an unwelcome guest. You sit at the tiniest desk in the building (I even had to use my own computer at one job). When there’s a free lunch, you don’t get it. You don’t get to go to the corporate gym. When there’s a team-building event, you sit at your desk, typing away. Don’t get me wrong, I have made great friends and had wonderful bosses when I was a contractor. I even married one, so it’s not all bad!

All of this can take its toll on you mentally and physically. I had tics in my eye, a tingling neck, and stomach issues. A woman who suffered from a pinched nerve from contracting stress said:

“As a contractor, the expectations of you are much higher than if you were an employee,” she says. “They’re moving so quickly and they have so little consideration or awareness for you that they sometimes forget that you’re actually human.”


So, think about the contract workers who you know, who you work with, or who you once were yourself. They work hard, have to ramp up fast, and often don’t get to see their projects through to completion. I will be happy if the best person for the position we’re hiring for turns out to be one of the people who’ve been contracting a long time. They tend to be versatile, have a variety of experiences, and very grateful for a full-time job with benefits.

I’m grateful to the team who brought me on where I work now. I will be happy to pay it forward.