Leadership

Are you only working for the money?

What would you be doing today if you didn't need to get paid? How much does money determine what engagements you take?

If you didn't need the money, would you do the same work that you're doing today without pay

I would scale back to only the work that I do for free already, like posting code on Chip's Tips or being a member of the RSS Advisory Board. I would also explore projects that really excite me. For instance, I'd spend way more time working on open-source programming platforms. My need for income means that I have to devote a lot of time to projects that wouldn't be my first choice (even if they are interesting).

Think about nonmonetary motivations

Many people think of IT consultants as outsiders who aren't really interested in the success of a project except in terms of how much money they can squeeze out of it.  Employees often don't realize that independents hardly come close to netting as much of that fat hourly rate as their salaried counterparts. They only see all those dollar signs (or pound, euro, etc.), coupled with the perception that the consultant can easily walk away from the company when he or she is done -- even though finding new business can be just as difficult as seeking new employment.

Early in my consulting career, the money was extremely important to me. It was hard to make ends meet, so I'd take any engagement that paid. The formula for my attention was simple: A = r / n, where A is attention, r is the hourly rate charged, and n is the number of weeks the client took to pay. Whoever had the higher A value got my attention regardless of what they wanted me to work on. I took a lot of jobs that didn't capitalize on my strengths -- to put it nicely. It's like in relationships: When you're desperate, you say "yes" a lot more than you should, and the situation usually ends in a royal mess.

Money is still important to me, but lately I've been paying more attention to other motivations as well. Here's a sampling of questions I ask myself before accepting work: 

  • How interesting is the problem I'm being asked to solve?
  • How meaningful is the cause I'm helping?
  • How does this work improve me (and I'm not just talking about a bullet on the old résumé)?
  • Is this technology something I want to pursue, become fluent in, or perhaps even master?
  • Are the people involved going to make my life hell, or will they possibly become valued colleagues and friends?

Take the first step

When you start working as an IT consultant, it seems like you have to take the work because you need the money. But I find that if you acknowledge your desire to take things in a different direction, you'll notice those opportunities for change when they do arise. And if you can take one small step in that direction, do it now. One step leads to another, even if you can't see the entire path yet. 

Here's one simple step: charge more for work you don't like to do. Charge enough that either you don't have to do it, or the money makes it agreeable.

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

79 comments
mapexvenus
mapexvenus

Yup, I am. I enjoy my work, I really do, and wouldn't be doing IT if I didn''t enjoy what I do. But if work didn't pay and I didn't need the money then I would be pursuing my musical interests full-time, and I wouldn't be doing that for the money.

allanfstewart
allanfstewart

Sometimes I think those guys sleeping under the bridges have the right idea - but then, they also have the best spots.

mike_patburgess
mike_patburgess

Yep. But if I did not have to work I would not. Speak to anyone that is retired and or independantly wealthy and ask them if they get bored? The answer might surprise you. The answer I typically get is, "NOPE". Ask them what do they do every day and the answer you get is, "...whatever I damn well please".

h1t3ch
h1t3ch

I wouldn't say neccesarliy for the money only, IT work is also a passion for me. Started when I was 10, I spent 9 years in the military doing it, I have a degree in CS, work as an IT Analyst in my day job, and have an IT consulting side business. So it pretty much a bet that IT is all I know. When you add passion to it though, it makes you want to do more than work for money. As an African American in IT there is a small precentage of us in this career field. I have been using my passion in IT to provide opportunities to kids/adults who probably will never discover that passion on thier own due to the fast life of drugs, rap, death and sports. I run an tech blog site also on a daily basis that caters to the african community. So do I work for money? Yes, to feed my family, but passion makes you do more than what money can offer.

reisen55
reisen55

Money is always a prime motivator, but I have also found an enormous therapy component. Last year when I lost a full time job, and was well down in the dumps about most everything in life (and I think everyone who is a consultant has been there), I had to visit my clients for my weekly swing visit (check systems, get backups, etc) and as soon as I sat down to check the server -- I was in nirvana!!! Again, best therapy I had to put me back on track again. So money is important (never do something for free unless it has truly unusual components attached to it and those jobs are VERY rare and few as they should be) but so is satisfaction with task. My great-grandfather, Joseph French Johnson (Dean of Business School at NYU and founder of the Alexander Hamilton Institute) said - paraphrase - The best job is that which has more than money in the paycheck.

fahmed
fahmed

not only money if I earn & learn then I will agree.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

Many posts are discussing the hell job and that no amount of money would take them there. Have you ever played the parlour game for boys (well perhaps girls, I may be being judgemental) ... How much money - cash, filthy lucre, unmarked green-backs, stirling, whatever - would it cost for you to do a blow-job ??? I'll meet the challenge - a million cold ones (US currency) on the table with no strings. I'd do it. hehh heh heh heh heh heh eeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyooooooooooooooooooooooo

AV .
AV .

I'd say no. I do it because I'm absolutely hooked on networking. I've been a Net Admin for about 20 years in different environments and its just in my blood. If I didn't need the money, I'd work when I want on the projects I want. My ultimate plan is to work part time in the field and spend more time on turning one of my hobbies into something viable for my more golden years. Networking is so fast-paced. I have become addicted to that pace, but its so very stressful sometimes. Now that I'm older and after 20 years of doing it, I'm considering other areas of IT that don't involve supporting the infrastructure. Chip, that is a pearl of wisdom. Charge more for work you dont like to do. If only I had known that when I was working as a consultant many years ago! I actually took alot of horrible jobs that weren't worth it in the end. AV Edit: Darn apostrophe

jon_maunder
jon_maunder

Yes, I am working for the money. I am in the same situation as described in this article. Anything than comes my way is good enough for me; I have even travelled many hours to get to a job than I should. It's exhausting being an independent contractor, and the employees I work with enjoy nothing more than making snide comments about my hourly rate. They just don't realise the hard work in the background that we put into keeping ahead of the competition, ahead of the technology changes and our heads above water. I do however recognise as I am relatively young (24) and I work to put a roof over my head and food on the table that perhaps if I didn???t want the hassle I should just go and work as first line support in a call centre instead of chasing the interesting projects. But I do feel that the being able to choose "interesting projects" is a luxury that perhaps more experienced, wealthier contractors get, because turning down work because its boring is certainly not a good way to keep the bailiffs away!

raghubetter
raghubetter

Money is an important aspect and can't be made secondary . but yes agree to you that at some point of time , we must look at other aspects . which make us a pure professional, and not just a technical person solving things making redirections.

Jaqui
Jaqui

with only 6 million I could secure a monthly income sufficient to live on, guaranteeing there is no need to work, yet I would still be doing most of what I curently do.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

So how much would it take to make you happy to code federal regulations compliance in COBOL (or equivalent job from hell)?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yes, you need to have something that pulls you back to work every day. Like reisen said above, when you sit down in front of a computer and your face lights up, you know you're in the right field -- even if you're not the typical white male nerdboy. Feel free to post a link to your blog here. We need more diversity in IT.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

"Inverse Priced Demand" where the more it costs, the more demand is created. I think overall the rule of charging more for something you don't like to do is a strong rule. Just beware that, if someone takes you up and you do the [b][i]good job[/b][/i] that you and they expect - your name will get around as a fixer of this particular type of problem. You'll get a lot more work or requests for quotes or whatever!! Guaranteed !!! edit shpellink

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I, too, have taken on the evil jobs for no additional money. Sometimes I've even found myself doing them for less! That's when you stop, shake your head like a dog shedding water, and ask yourself "why am I doing this?!"

JustinF
JustinF

If I didn't have to work to support myself & my family there is no way I'd stay in full time employment. I might do a little free consulting for friends & family.

knudson
knudson

I've managed to work in a whole lot of different environments -- Blue Sky R&D, small consulting shops, and for Microsoft. I've been on great projects and had a few projects from hell during my career. At this point my time and happiness are much more important than money to me. I started my own business a few years ago, acquired another company, and am having the time of my life! I really enjoy going to work everyday and I genuinely like the things that I do. A wise man once told me that "the moment you can no longer walk away from a job is the moment you are no longer effective in it." I didn't understand that at the time but with age and experience the meaning became more and more clear to me. We simply spend way too much of our lives working... if we don't like the things that we do, we should find something else that we can enjoy.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yes, unfortunately when getting started in your career you have to "pay your dues" to get a foothold. Here's wishing you good luck with those projects so that someday you can be working on just what you enjoy. (I'm not there yet 100% either)

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yes, we need money to survive -- but there are lots of ways to make it in varying amounts. Would you rather be rich and emotionally miserable, or poor and financially miserable? Most of the time, even that is a false dilemma. As Jaqui said above, think of what you'd like to be doing, then start edging your way towards it.

BobR
BobR

I would pretty much have a price for any difficult / stressful / boring job, especially if I could increase the rate and reduce the hours. No job is too difficult, but I draw the line at being treated poorly. I thrive on being appreciated. If I do my best to meet the requirements, then get reamed because it was not what they wanted, I won't be around long. Perhaps that means that I do not have a healthy self image, but I get my satisfaction in life from doing a good job and being appreciated for it. If I am belittled, I am out of there. 10x rate per hour would not do it. Maybe 100x rate per hour, if I could work only one hour per week. I will not allow my career to jeopardize my personal relationships.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

It's the people who make the difference. I could be typing in machine code all day if it was a good place to work.

agonzalez
agonzalez

Yeah I work for the money, need to pay house, car, planning to get married, etc. But there's more to it, I got to work more than the usual 12 hours a day but im happy, learning new stuff almost every day and making my work place as my own and private laboratory, I can implement policies, rules, budget, new development, r&d, even i can make e-learning for my users, etc. So the point is I'm for the money always, but only if I like the job. Plus I Teach time to time and thats my stress relief.

cah1209
cah1209

I am working as an intern so I just agreed to whatever they pay interns. I'm starting from the bottom so am willing to take for now. I hope someday I would be able to get decent paying job that pays me my worth :D

brian.mills
brian.mills

It would take a heck of a lot more than any employer is willing to pay in order for me to take the job from hell. Money is nice to have, but I'd rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable. If money wasn't an issue I'd still work in IT, but it definitely wouldn't be on a full-time basis. I'd probably get a part-time gig pulling cable and setting up networks, because I really enjoy that aspect of IT. I like building things, and seeing a project transition from an idea to a functioning system. Then I'd take all that free time between projects and spend it with my family, as well as work on improving my guitar playing and photography skills. I know it's mostly wishful thinking, but my wife and I want to be in a position where one of us can work from home by the time we start having children, so that we can spend time with them instead of shipping them off to day-care every day.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

than work the 'job from hell'. And I have done just that in the past.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

As with Dan and Navy Moose ... If I won the lottery I'd make a reverse charges call to say Ciao. I love (and continue to study) guitar and music. I love spending inordinate time on the carpet with my child (soon to be multiple children). I love that I've lost 40 pounds in six months and have stopped smoking. There is HEAPS to do with the time. We used to own a charter boat business but, without the capital to run the business properly, struggled in a hand-to-mouth manner that didn't support the mortgage and the child. Result - back to selling software and re-writing the business plan for the charter business that we hope to get back into one day when we've saved the funds. We went into it naively and will return to it better for the experience. Don't get me wrong:- I enjoy what I do, I enjoy time with my colleagues and clients. I like that our product in its niche is very successful and we have 100% client satisfaction. I enjoy also that, as a job, it pays extraordinarily well - multiple times the average salary in our state. And I would give it up in a nano-second if I had the resources to support doing other stuff that I like more. Having said that I have rejected a job that paid significantly more but had much increased travel - both in terms of the daily grind and in terms of interstate / international. The lifestyle option was, in my opinion, the better overall choice at this stage in my and my family's time. I think we are very fortunate, in our industry, to even be able to seriously ask this question. I think, to many folks in the overall workforce, this question would be an embarrassing luxury just simply to ask.

DanLM
DanLM

in the stuff I do around the house. I get to do what I want, how I think it should be done, and actually find much more chalanging projects for myself. Point, I'm a monkey right now that they give bannana's to do simple pl/sql work. Pay is decent on top of my retirement from my previous job with the state. Keeps me in toys, pays the child support, pays the rent, and makes the car payment. So, I'm a monkey... Don't care anymore. I know that I do much more chalangeing stuff on my own at home with regard to projects. Hell, I also study much more now on my own... Just because I will use it as I see fit, and not wait for the 'job' to require it. Hell, half the time they don't even care. So, yes. I just work for the money now. Dan

Navy Moose
Navy Moose

If I suddenly became independently wealthy, I would immediately get out of IT and give notice by postcard. I love computers and being a geek, but I would do it only as a hobby. I would continue working, but as photographer. Photographing places I can only dream about seeing. If this makes me a disloyal employee, so be it.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Enjoyment, satisfaction, the future all play a part in my view of a job. However a salute the logo muppet, would put me down as a disloyal selfish b'stard. Course that's why they are a muppet

NaughtyMonkey
NaughtyMonkey

since no matter how much I love my wife, I would need a place to go that she couldn't. And I would probably get bored real fast anyway.

kdaugharty5
kdaugharty5

Let's face it, we all work for money, we got to eat, and also alot of us have families we have to take care of. I believe in helping people, because I do a lot of pc repair on the side for free, cause it is all fun to me, it's my passion, I love our business, and we know the money protenial. I believe in have fun, be smart, don't sell out, but don't sell your self short either. Know your worth.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I've experienced just that same thing. I think the only thing to do then is to push the price even higher until you hit their pain threshold.

imonroe
imonroe

If I didn't have to work for the money there is no way I would. You could call me a Jack of all Trades. I have worked in health care, drilling, printing, resturants, real estate, banking and IT. I tend to get bored and need new challenges. Before you judge, I have been sucessfull at all except maybe real estate. I'm not really a salesman. I'm not even sure what I would be happy doing for 20+ years. If I didn't have to work, I would travel with my family and see/learn new things. Maybe get a sailboat.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Absolutely. If you have to spend 50-90% of your waking hours doing something you hate, then what reward merits that?

jon_maunder
jon_maunder

Thanks for the support. It's a toughie, but a challenge is what I went for and a challenge is what I've got. It's all good experience, whatever type of work :-)

Jaqui
Jaqui

I'm doing what I want to be doing :) We can all do that, if we can figure out how to make a living while doing it. :D when you take the earnings requirement out of the picture, it really does help to figure out what you really want to be doing, then you can look for how to earn a living doing it and move towards it.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

At the end of the day, that's what it's really all about, isn't it? The money itself is a symbol of appreciation for our work, but we can't believe that if it doesn't come with some human expressions of appreciation as well. Most of us really could get by living under a bridge, if it weren't for what that does to our self-image.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

of doing what you like and getting paid for it. I like teaching, too. There's no better way to learn something than by having to teach it.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... how much more fortunate we are than the people who live in bigger houses, drive mammoth SUV's, and spend all day and night working in Seattle while their children are raised by an au pair. We both gave up some potential income so that we could be at home all day. I think nowadays it's even easier to swing that sort of arrangement, so here's wishing you luck and confidence in achieving that goal.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

which one: starve and live in your car, or work the job from hell? I'm fortunate to have never had to live out of my car -- but I have had a couple of "jobs from hell". I stayed with each of those as long as I did because I really didn't think I had a choice. But as you implied, there's always a choice -- it's a question of what you have to pay for it.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yes, you're right -- many people are struggling just to pay the bills and buy enough food, so we are very fortunate. Obviously money isn't your only motivator, since you turned down more of it for a better work/life balance. Congratulations and good luck on the pending delivery -- and best wishes for your renewed business venture!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

But maybe in the wrong field. Do you spend a lot of time doing photography?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Gotta have that space... Do you have your own personal "cave" for working in?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Like I said in the post, money still matters. In fact, even if you didn't need the money it would still matter to some degree as a recognition of worth. It's just that it matters less to me now than it used to, because I found that working just for the money leads to burnout.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... and if you weren't cut out to be a specialist, then why force it? The trick then becomes keeping yourself entertained and supported at the same time. South Padre Island would present some great sailing opportunities, I should think.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The key is to look for those opportunities and capitalize them when they arrive (as they eventually do) instead of justifying inaction with inevitability.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... that you can take farther than to the bank. You'll have that for the rest of your life.

agonzalez
agonzalez

Yes thats the little thing that make life worthwile, my best experience was when a strange person talk to my mother and say: "Thanks to your son I made it so far in life". He was my student in a IA and networking and now he's working for the goverment, that thank you was enough to know that i was doing a nice job.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I used to teach a programming course at the company where I was a manager. One of the most gratifying parts of that job was to watch what my students accomplished after they graduated from my class.

agonzalez
agonzalez

Teaching is a nice stress relief, like you said, you get updated while learning new tech (HW and SW) then putting your experience and giving one good class to all the new and young minds. Also there is no feeling greater than one user saying: "hey thanks for the course i learn a lot", at least for me it?s invigorating.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... would be ideal, but unfortunately we always have to balance the effort required to make the money against other priorities. Nobody at the end of their life ever looked back and said, "I wish I'd spent more time in the office."

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I've seen too many lives ruined for careers. Any money you make can't buy back time lost with your family or your health or peace of mind. I'd rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable. However, I'd really like it if I could be rich and happy :D

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

...if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? I rarely quote the Bible online, but that one seems to fit here.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I'm looking forward to the time when I can just work for fun, but for now my income is critical.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

The only bad thing was I worked damn near 23/7, developed hypertension and a facial tick from the stress, went from easy-going to stressed and impatient and lost contact with 90% of my friends and most of my family. NEVER AGAIN.

MarkRyken
MarkRyken

...with the kids. My wife has three months a year off and we aren't dependant on my income. We have a smaller, older house but we have everything we need and a lot of things we don't. We shop at Aldi and constantly watch for the sales and coupons. When cashiers are regularly impressed with the amount of food you purchased for the little money you just handed them you know you're doing a good job. I get to do some work that I get paid less than the market would allow for but it's with the understanding that my kids and family come first if it hits the fan. If the server is down and my son has the puckes I'll get to it when I can. We go on cruises and take trips to Bermuda on the cheap. It's all about money management. If you're not good at it find someone who is or an organization that can walk you through it. There are churches and other community organiztions that offer this sort of thing. We take it to an extreme but it allows for a lot of fun stuff (and retirement planning).

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

that the prepackaged sandwiches at 1600 Penn have quite a special taste !! :)

apotheon
apotheon

. . . but that doesn't change the fact that the contents of the CD can be as frightening to consider in their grotesque reality as the contents of those sandwiches.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

They can't spit or wipe their sweat off onto the CD like you can onto a sandwich.

apotheon
apotheon

I've run across a couple Microsoft developers who felt similarly to your feelings about prepackaged sandwiches.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Well, I expect that if you attempted to park at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave you might be forced to relocate. Not that that's the "best" address.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

LOL, I think I'll get sick now remembering one I ate a few years ago. I used to work as a short-order cook for a while in college, and I haven't been able to stomach a "patty melt" ever since.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I've known a lot of people who got pleasure from simple work -- especially on a farm. I have yet to meet anyone who couldn't wait to get back to the assembly line, but I won't say such a person doesn't exist.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

it was that whole production line thing. I did the shoe factories, the tent factories, the cap factories, the office accoutrment factories. There is just something god-awful about spending 8 hours of my day doing the same exact thing over and over and over and over with the same exact people without ever needing to put my brain in gear. Just killed me. Some people can do that, but I ain't one 'a the some people. Once I realized that I could never ever do that for a lifetime, I moved to the suburban zone where I had better options. Got outta my car then!

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

Start at 2am and make 8 sandwiches per minute for 4 hours. The kind of sandwiches that get plastic-sealed and are sold at petrol stations and 7-11s. Trust me - NEVER eat one of those sandwiches. NEVER. No, seriously, NEVER.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

... is that you can choose the best addresses !! {Me? Two weeks in my youth, but to be honest it was more bad planning about getting share accommodation than it was choosing to maintain my dignity and refuse any particular job.}

apotheon
apotheon

I think an assembly line isn't necessarily a "soul-quenching" work environment. It depends on the individual. You and I would find it a terrible, emotionally crushing experience, I'm sure. Others would have similar difficulties with writing software or articles for TR. It's all a matter of the individual involved, and his/her temperaments and talents, I think.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... makes mine look pretty cushy. I've done some hard labor jobs in my youth, but nothing as soul-quenching as a manufacturing production line.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Actually, I suppose that it would be both. My earliest jobs were jobs from hell due to the fact that I was a rural inhabitant at the time and about all that was available was manufacturing. 6 months is about the longest I ever lasted at the repetitive, mind-numbing helljob that is the production line. And I have been pretty darn hungry and lived in my car - coincidentally at the same time - a couple of times. I really do prefer the go hungry live in the car thing. I am glad I had a car to live in!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I didn't take it that way, and I welcome all insights into the conversation.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yes, because one important need is to feel that your abilities are put to good use. But there are other needs that may not align with abilities -- such as the need to have an income that supports your spending habits. You have to weight the relative urgency of each of your needs in deciding what's important.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

I wasn't suggesting for a minute the question, in this context and audience, was out of place, Chip! It's a very interesting discussion!

apotheon
apotheon

> many people are struggling just to pay the bills and buy enough food, so we are very fortunate Different people have differing temperaments, and that changes what jobs they find tolerable or even enjoyable. A man might find being a janitor for a living the most liberating professional possibility he can imagine -- perhaps he likes the intellectual freedom it gives him while he performs menial chores that require no significant mental investment. I think [b]anyone[/b] in [b]any[/b] reasonable, self-sustaining circumstances can angle toward a line of work that suits his or her temperament exactly. Obviously, success in reaching that state of professional nirvana is not guaranteed -- just as it isn't guaranteed that someone working in an information technology related field will succeed if (s)he sets out to tailor his work to what (s)he enjoys. That doesn't mean it's impossible, though, in any professional field. Different people have different needs (and no, I'm not going to continue quoting Depeche Mode). I think people's talents tend to suit those needs pretty significantly. We should all be able to reasonably shoot for work we enjoy doing, or that at least substantially enables what we enjoy without impairing our happiness. As such, I don't think we should really consider the notion of IT professionals of various stripes trying to focus on enjoyable work to be a question unique to IT professionals and similar trades. All trades lend themselves to enjoying our lives, including finding satisfaction in our working lives -- you just have to make sure you're pursuing a trade that suits your temperament and talents.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Better carve out a new hiding place before you go out of your mind, then.

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