Why you should work freelance as a software developer in Germany

Manuel Meurer
Dec 28, 2017 · 5 min read
Break free from the shackles of employment! — photo credit: Catarina Coutinho

If you are one of the about 700,000 software developers in Germany, it’s likely that you live a relatively comfortable life — flexible working hours, attractive pay, interesting technical challenges and great future prospects. Most developers are permanent employees, but a growing share — currently about 100,000 — is working freelance. The reason most freelancers give are more freedom in choosing your work environment as well as the higher pay, but there are several other advantages of working freelance, which we will look at in this article.

Higher income

In most cases, IT freelancers are indeed paid better for their work than their salaried colleagues — namely on average 84€ per hour. For a month, in which a freelancer works full 40 hours per week, he can therefore invoice more than 13,000€.

84€ is the average, mind you — experts in a certain area can often (depending on the client and geographical location) charge more than 100€ per hour.

Keep in mind though that the freelancer needs this money to bridge periods without a project and to save for retirement (employees automatically pay part of their wage into the government retirement fund). Moreover, not every hour the freelancer works can be invoiced to the client. In the end though, with a hourly rate in that area the freelancer earns substantially more than a permanent employee.

It’s a seller’s market

The life of a freelancer normally goes like this: for several weeks or even months he is on the lookout for a good new project. In the end he is so desperate that he takes on a project that doesn’t fit well to what he really wants to work on, and is not paid as well as he’d like. But at least he has a steady income for a few months, can pay rent and maybe even put something aside in a savings account. As soon as the project is finished, the cycle starts again.

This is of course slightly exaggerated, but the fundamental problem — a back and forth between of relatively well paid project work and a unpaid acquisition phase — is definitely present for many.

The IT sector is an exception that regard. Here companies have the highest demand for freelancers — four of five companies work with them regularly — and freelancing is a completely accepted form of working — in contrast to freelancing management consultants for example, who are still seen as “failures” who couldn’t make a career at one of the established consultancies like McKinsey or BCG.

This high (and growing) demand for freelancers puts them in a comfortable position: they can basically pick their clients and projects and with some aptitude barely ever have a problem finding a new project starting when they want it to start. A phase without a client is something most IT freelancers choose themselves, to go on holidays or work on their own projects.

Interesting projects

One of the most attractive facets of self-employment is the multitude of different clients a freelance developer can work for. And due to the already mentioned “seller’s market” they can basically pick the clients that they like best. This way they get to know new business areas, technologies, and work methodologies which they are interested in personally and which make them fit for the future.

Clients have realized this as well and often make decision for or against using a specific technology with a focus on how it will influence the attractiveness of the company towards potential future developers. A decision for a relatively unpopular programming language for example could more than half the pool of candidates.

No unnecessary distractions

While some people love office life and discussing the latest episode of Game of Thrones with their coworkers in the coffee lounge, many others see these things as unnecessary distractions. As a freelancer you have the freedom to choose whether you’d like to work at a client’s office, from a coworking space, your own office or maybe simply your home.

Some clients expect the freelance to be onsite at their office at least part of the time of course, but even then you can avoid most smalltalk by mentioning that you have lots of work to do and are paid by the hour.

While most employees of a client will of course work focused and diligently most of the time, the sheer presence in the office can impair the productivity of a developer immensely. The reason for this is one of the worst inventions of the last 20 years — the open office plan! Originally developed to foster employee communication and cooperation, for developers it has become mainly one thing: a concentration killer. Especially when working on complex tasks, it can take a developer 10–15 minutes after a short distraction by a coworker to become productive again.

Possibilities for personal and professional growth

If you’ve ever worked as a permanent employee and tried to convince your boss to let you visit a certain conference or training course on your company’s dime, you will feel much better as a freelancer. Such activities count as “professional development”, are tax-deductible and often even an absolutely essential part of acquiring new clients and networking with other freelancers.

Moreover, working as a freelancer in itself means that you improve in certain professional areas such as communication and presentation skills and the ability to accept criticism and deal with stress.

Freedom and flexibility

What many freelancers love most about their work, and what is often the deciding factor for people switching to freelancing, is the freedom and flexibility that it offers.

You don’t like a client for a certain reason? Nobody forces you to continue working for them after the current project.

You think you don’t earn enough? Focus your attention on an area where you can charge higher rates.

You’d rather work with others in a team than alone? Find similar-minded freelancers, start an agency, find an office and take on bigger clients and projects!

You’re not an early bird? Pick projects where you can choose your own working hours and make “no calls before 10am” a rule.

Especially a change in your living circumstances (e.g. children) can make the option of not spending 40 hours (plus commuting) in the same office very .

Conclusion

To state it clearly — of course self-employment is not recommendable for all developers. It brings with it certain challenges and risks, and ultimately it just has to fit your values and preferences.

If you need continuity in your professional life, don’t like to negotiate your pay more than once a year, or have doubts that you’ll be able to work with the discipline that is necessary as a freelancer, a permanent position might be better suited to you.

But if you’d like to try the adventure called self-employment, you will benefit from the excellent frame conditions mentioned in this article which will most likely not go away in the coming years.

And if it doesn’t work out — going back to a permanent employment is always an option.


Did I preach to the choir and you already are a freelance developer? Then join us at Uplink, a network for professional freelance developers from Germany! Uplink is a simple, fair and transparente alternative to classic IT recruiters!

Uplink

The Network for IT Freelancers in Germany

Manuel Meurer

Written by

Developer, founder of @UplinkHQ

Uplink

Uplink

The Network for IT Freelancers in Germany

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