For consultants who are searching for an up-to-date "reality check" regarding their salaries, rates, and job-search experiences, Realrates.com is one of the best resources on the Web for computer professionals.
The site was born out of its Webmaster's disappointment over the dearth of credible information about consulting rates. In 1994, author Janet Ruhl was doing research for her publication, The Computer Consultant's Workbook. She'd found a lack of reliable information about consulting rates when she researched an earlier book, The Computer Consultant's Guide, so this time she decided to try a different approach.
"I posted messages on all the technical forums on CompuServe asking that people send me information about their technical skills, location, experience, and rates," Ruhl said. "I collected almost 200 rates this way."
When CompuServe provided free Web pages for members in 1995, Ruhl posted the rate survey. In 1996, she moved it to a home page on Javanet that allowed her to add a data collection form. By 1997, traffic to the site was so heavy that she had to move the information to a commercial Web host.
Here’s an overview of the site, including Ruhl's comments on its history and visitors.
Site offerings: Survey data, news, and consulting tips
The appeal of Realrates.com's information is similar to TechRepublic’s, in that it comes from the IT workforce. "There's a lot of debate about whether this is a particularly hard time for computer professionals," Ruhl says on the site, "but little hard data not generated by consulting firms or employers with which to track what's really happening."
To fill the void, Ruhl has created three self-reporting surveys on the site:
- The Real Rate Survey: consulting rates
- The Real Salary Survey: salary data from programmers, systems analysts, team leaders, IT managers, and salaried consulting firm employees
- The On The Bench Survey: self-reported data regarding the skills, experience, compensation, and job-hunting experience of laid-off IT pros
Consultants who provide information to Realrates.com are invited to update it when their status changes. Visitors can browse the information posted by others or get a snapshot of the consulting landscape from Ruhl's data analysis.
For example, the featured analysis for all data contributed to The On The Bench Survey since July 11, 2001, indicates that 37 percent of reporters are unemployed as a result of a mass layoff and 24 percent simply reached the end of a scheduled contract. Readers can also browse age, gender, and other demographic information from the analysis of the survey.
It's easy to tell whether the information has been recently updated from the front page of the site; Ruhl includes a status box on the top of the front page detailing the number of responses in each category and the last time the analyses were updated.
Realrates.com offers a Computer Consulting News & Notes section. The small news section is divided into two headings: Dot Com News and Newswire Career News. Below the news links, Ruhl offers visitors’ notes that point to relevant consulting news or discussions on Realrates.com’s bulletin board.
The site's Consultants Directory offers consultants a place to post their talents and expertise by filling in a form that creates a Web page. Photos or logos, as well as a link to your own Web page, may be included. For potential clients, the directory is searchable by many criteria, including the date required, languages, certifications, or degrees.
Likewise, the site's Contract Database is searchable based on criteria including what kind of firm has posted the listing, whether the firm requires W-2 hourly contractors vs. requiring contractors to sign 1099s, and whether the firm discloses its client rate.
Finally, the site's message boards offer consultants a place to post "questions, complaints, comments, rumors, and deathless Internet humor!" Serious topic areas include Dealing with clients, Dealing with brokers, and Questions about contracts; humorous posts are directed to The Water Cooler. The site’s Computer Consulting Tips section is a "best of" listing, providing tips, tricks, and warnings that consultants have posted on the message boards, or that Ruhl has excerpted from her books.
Who visits Realrates.com?
Most visitors to Realrates.com come from Web searches on topics like "computer consulting rates," "consulting contracts," and related topics, as well as from job and resume sites that have provided a link to Realrates.com, Ruhl said.
"We assume our visitors are job hunters or people who are looking for information about consulting and contracting," she said. "Over the years, we've put a lot of consulting-related information on the site in our 'News and Notes' and 'Computer Consulting Tips’ sections, and these pages continue to get heavy traffic too."
More about Janet Ruhl
Ruhl began her career as a software developer at IBM, where she was part of the team that brought the office messaging system PROFS to market. She started working as an IT consultant after her children were born in order to have a more flexible schedule.
Her first book, The Programmer's Survival Guide was "discovered" by computer consultant, author, and lecturer Ed Yourdon, who convinced Prentice Hall to publish it. Ruhl went on to write The Computer Consultant's Guide, as well as three books from her own press, Technion Books:
Still, one of Ruhl's favorite pastimes is the scripting, coding, and page design for Realrates.com, all of which she does herself.
"I love it when people contact me and ask what company did my site and assume that I've spent millions on it," she said. "I just wish someone would throw a couple million our way. We are definitely a shoestring operation!"
What's your favorite "independent" news source?
It's often difficult to find industry information that isn't tainted with a marketing spin, especially when it’s regarding niche markets and specific technologies. Have you found a site that provides product-specific independent content? Send us your comments or post your finds below.