Do you remember when “consulting” was a synonym for “unemployed“? People used to fill in holes in their resume time-lines with “consulting,” and hope that the interviewer didn’t ask about their clients during that period.

It think that’s changed — that consulting as an occupation has gained some genuine respect, and that more people in technical fields are opting for self-employment. I decided to do a little research to verify that last perception, but I Googled and Googled till my Googler was sore and couldn’t find any statistics on longitudinal trends in self-employment in our industry. I did find a very interesting article on general trends in self-employment — but even though table 7 attempts to break out the current numbers by industry and occupation, it doesn’t get as specific as “computer-related,” “IT,” “technology” or the like. Besides, the data only goes up to 2003. I’d like to see more recent data, specific to IT, to confirm my suspicions.

Am I right? Do you see more of your colleagues calling themselves independent consultants these days? Or are they moving back into salaried positions?

Certainly, working for an employer has its benefits, not the least of which are the, well, benefits. But it’s not like back in the days when you used to get fully paid health insurance for you and your family. And job security isn’t as, um, secure as it used to be, either. When you’re independent, even though a client can drop you with minimal notice and no severance package, at least you have the option of maintaining more than one engagement to cushion your fall.

This article in the December 2006 Monthly Labor Review puts forth an interesting theory: that self-employment increases during economic down-turns, because of the constriction of available opportunities for wage-earning employment. If my perception is correct that self-employment in the tech sector is growing, could this be (part of) the reason? Personally, I don’t think so. At least, there seem to be plenty of job openings available — most of my clients are actively looking for good people to hire. I think it has more to do with a desire for self-determination. That’s certainly been my motivation to stay self-employed for the last 16 years. How about you?