From employee to contractor and back again

Feb 3 · 4 min read

Three reasons I decided to come full circle

In 2017, after sixteen years of being an employee — at a think tank, an innovation consultancy and a start-up — I went freelance. Granted, this wasn’t entirely by design; being made redundant while on maternity leave somewhat forced my hand. But in a plot twist I hadn’t foreseen, I left the world of permanent employment (and my baby daughter) behind and found myself embarking on a new path as a contractor in tech.

For the next two and a half years I worked with several pre-revenue start-ups as well as big tech scale-ups, including Deliveroo. But the common denominator was always my background in user research, service design and product development.

I soon found a bit of a niche. Smaller companies needed insights to help refine their value proposition, but couldn’t justify a full-time user researcher yet. So a three day a week project over a couple of months suited them (and me) just fine. Larger ones valued my experience and analogous insights from having worked in so many different sectors. And contrary to my expectations, I found being a (slightly) older woman in tech was an advantage in many respects. All told, things were working out rather nicely.

So why, when I was being well paid for interesting and flexible work that slotted around the needs of my family, did I decide to quit contracting and take a permanent role at Deliveroo?

Let me give you three good reasons.

1. Your work comes to life in a product, not a presentation

Having spent most of my career agency-side, I’ve seen too few of my projects come to fruition. And every time I felt I’d really got under the skin of a category or product, the contract would finish and all that knowledge would become redundant overnight. But once I started working for logistical businesses that ship physical and digital products every single day, I got a taste for seeing my work out there in the wild. Being able to point at things and say “I helped make that” was proving addictive. Simply handing over recommendations and design proposals wasn’t enough of a hit any more. I’d actually contracted at Deliveroo while they were developing Marketer (our first restaurant ad platform) and helping shape it from concept to launch is one of my career highlights. The chance to have that kind of impact on a permanent basis was almost dizzying.

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Deliveroo offers the opportunity to work on a consumer product, a B2B product and a workforce product all under one roof’ (Image credit: Stephen Macvean)

2. You can have a varied diet but with a side serving of certainty

Agency and freelance life has spoiled me. My professional diet has varied constantly for almost two decades, covering everything from petfood to pensions. And while I do enjoy mastering a topic, I know myself well enough to know I don’t want to spend the next five years of my career focusing on the same problem. Which is why Deliveroo held such appeal. Three-sided marketplaces have a uniquely complex dynamics, only amplified by the boots-on-ground (or riders-on-road) operation. Deliveroo was offering me the opportunity to work on a consumer product, a B2B product and a workforce product all under one roof*. All the variety of portfolio working but with the security of a permanent role. Again, dizzying.

*And we really should talk about the roof — it genuinely might be the single best staff perk.

3. Being a team of one gets lonely eventually

I told myself I didn’t mind being the one who ate her sandwiches alone, or didn’t get invited to team drinks. And I really didn’t. I had more than enough on my plate at home without needing a work social life. But I realised I missed team life. I missed the camaraderie and being part of a squad with its own identity and rituals. I missed learning from more experienced colleagues and mentoring the less experienced ones. And being a contractor at Deliveroo for almost a year only served to underline exactly what I was missing. The calibre of their user researchers and the way they worked together and across the business was so impressive that I wanted in. Permanently.

Long story short

In July of last year I joined Deliveroo’s User Research team as an employee, and now I find myself leading it. I’ve not forgotten the benefits of contracting, and I know it’s been a seller’s market for a long time, especially in tech. But you can also have too much of a good thing. Sometimes your work goes somewhere, but oftentimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you get paid on time, but oftentimes you don’t. Every new contract was a roll of the dice and I’d grown tired of saying twist. So when the dice rolled back round to Deliveroo, I chose to stick and if you’re looking for impact, variety and a great team culture I’d encourage you to do the same.

Now that I’ve officially turned gamekeeper by becoming the team’s Hiring Manager, I’m hoping to poach some of the top research talent and lure them onto our payroll permanently. We currently have openings for Principal User Researchers and Senior User Researchers and I’d love you to apply. We’re a mature and well-respected team within a seriously ambitious company where no two days are ever the same. Clichéd as I know this sounds, it really is the most challenging and rewarding role I’ve ever had, and I guarantee the same will be true for you too. Plus did I mention the roof?

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