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Programming The Almighty Buck

Ask Slashdot: Making Side-Money As a Programmer? 257

earlzdotnet writes "I've been programming for a few years now, and I have a full time job. I'm one of those lucky souls that actually enjoy programming, so I commonly work on my own open source projects on weekends. However, I wouldn't mind working on a short-term projects (i.e. not more than ~2 months) every once in a while on weekends. I've looked at freelancing before, and I could probably make more money by working at McDonald's on weekends than that. I've also looked into making web sites for small businesses, but it requires a bit too much commitment and support for me, especially since I'm terrible at graphics design. I've tried my hand at writing reusable components to sell to other programmers, but that was pretty pointless (I made one $20 sale). I've seen teaching suggested, but I'm self-taught and probably not experienced enough to responsibly teach people. Are there any other options to make a bit of cash as a programmer? Is programming just one of those things that requires complete dedication, or what?"
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Ask Slashdot: Making Side-Money As a Programmer?

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  • by seebs ( 15766 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:03PM (#42874151) Homepage

    It's certainly possible to do programming work in your free time if you can find someone who needs a small amount of stuff done and can deal with being the secondary priority to your real job. I've been doing it on and off for at least a decade now, and I make enough money at it to make for tax headaches. Requires a lot of attributes that you might not need in the regular scheduled day job world; you get to be the entire team, testing and QA and documentation included. No safety net. Can be sorta stressful. Can also be fun.

  • craigslist (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:03PM (#42874159)

    Look around craigslist, there are always people who need little programming things done, scripts and such. A few years ago I was making an extra 800-1000 per month doing these kinds of gigs on my spare time.

  • by Bovius ( 1243040 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:08PM (#42874225)

    I have good news and bad news: you can totally get little contract jobs on the side for extra cash as a developer, but you have to put time and effort into drumming up clients, list as if you were doing contract development full time. You have to convince each new client that you're worth their money. I've had some luck doing contract work for previous employers that already know I'm trustworthy, but I can't just turn it on and off like a money faucet.

    Your other option is to make something and sell it yourself, which is even more of an up-front investment of time with less guarantee of a return. You'll be spending even more time doing marketing and business management.

    So, the short version is you're not likely to get easy money without putting more effort into it, unless you've already built up numerous business relationships. Sorry! I wish I could just write useful code and get paid for it too, but it turns out I have to keep convincing someone to give me money for my work.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:12PM (#42874259)

    A couple of years ago I tried this myself, although I didn't start out with the intention to make any money. I was working on some mobile apps for BlackBerry's PlayBook tablet. They were offering a free tablet to people who made an app, and I'm a real sucker for "free" electronics.

    I discovered it was fun making mobile apps, so I have kept at it, spending perhaps 500 hours of time over the last two years. For the first 6 months or so income totalled about $3,000, which was enough to make it fun/rewarding, but not lucrative. But eventually, I made an app that did really well, and it only took 8 hours to make version 1. In the last 16 months or so I have earned about $190,000, and sales on BlackBerry 10 are already more than they were on PlayBook.

    If you enjoy C++ development, I'd recommend the BB10 platform. I wrote this up last spring on my "secrets of success":

  • Re:Salesforce? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:22PM (#42874369)

    Find a small business focused erp/crm platform (SalesForce, ASPDotNetStorefront, Epicor, NetSuite, etc.) and become an expert in one part of it. Post forum and blog articles on it, run your own sample site/store/system, and build a reputation. People who want to do the things you post about (something like replacing a default menu or search screen) will pay you to do it for them for a real wage.

    Depending on the customer, I charge anywhere from $80 to $250 an hour for my time, and work about 10 hours a month on average outside my full-time job (in an unrelated field to my consulting).

    One thing I learned, don't be afraid to let your customers know that you do this part time. Many would much rather have a real person to ask question of who won't nickle and dime them. And the companies that would rather work with an 'established partner' will drive you crazy with process and requirements, so letting them know you are just a person doing this part time lets them know you are not the right person for them.

  • by MangoCats ( 2757129 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:27PM (#42874425)

    Totally concur with this... when you freelance, you're not just coding, you're the whole business, including marketing, sales, accounting, collections, spec capture, coding, testing, customer service, etc.

    If you make $x/hr coding at your day job, you'll probably need to make $2x/hr for your coding time to cover all the other stuff doing little freelance jobs - if you're looking to make a similar overall hourly rate.

    It can be a lot of fun, it can also help you appreciate all the stuff your day job does for you.

  • by niado ( 1650369 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @03:45PM (#42874621)
    These clauses are invalid in some areas (e.g. California). There's lots of complicated legal stuff surrounding this topic. Interesting starter link here. []
  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @04:38PM (#42875085)
    The full set of task include:
    -developing clients
    -obtaining a project
    -specifying the project
    -writing tests for the specification
    -writing the code
    -testing the code yourself EXTENSIVELY
    -documenting the code
    -teaching the program to the client
    -storing the code in a versioned database
    -fixing bugs (for months or years)
    -documenting bugs/enhancements in a database in case they return again
    -marketing the code to secondary customers if allowed
    -downtime between projects
    -learning/obtaining new hardware and software

    If you freelance, you do these all yourself. Maybe a quarter of your time will be spend coding. There are many open-source/online aids to help you with some of these tasks. Newbies and college kids think a programmer spend 90% of their time programming. Hah!
    If you work for as developer for a software company many of these tasks will be off-loaded to specialists. Then you might code as much as half your time.
  • Re:Salesforce? (Score:4, Informative)

    by jekewa ( 751500 ) on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @04:47PM (#42875181) Homepage Journal

    There are other freelancer resources out there (like the aptly named [] that list a variety of projects from a variety of people in a variety of languages, so you don't have to try to tie yourself to a particular platform or discipline.

    This is by no means an endorsement, just an acknowledgement that there are sites out there.

  • Re:Salesforce? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @05:21PM (#42875461)

    But unless you're from a third world country, you will make more working at McDonalds than getting any job from

  • by quietwalker ( 969769 ) <> on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @05:25PM (#42875501)

    I have been doing side jobs for a long while now, and I've can't stress the parent post enough - it's a lot more work than just programming. Like, 80/20.

    It means that I have to be an incredible communicator, since I'll not only be the entire technical team, I'm the analyst, tax accountant and lawyer as well. I need to distill the verbal needs into discrete requirements, estimate costs, lay out contractual obligations, and so on. It's a heap of work. It's _real_ work, same as I do in my day job, just more varieties of it in less time.

    Say I'm contracted to build a website - nothing too fancy, 1 main page template, 1 subpage template with 5 variants, a sign up form, bunch of javascript, database on the back end. I can manage that in a few hours. Actual effort including changing requirements, various designs, deciphering their documentation, getting hosting/account/access, fixing the provided assets, walking through setup, helping the copywriters populate the pages etc = 40+ hours. Doing it well enough that they feel I'm not only professional but exceptional - and they're getting their money's worth - quite a bit more.

    Don't get me wrong, it can be personally rewarding both financially and intellectually, but it is a job, and it's not even my primary job.

    I've found that I can manage as long as I set strict limits. I have to cut off potential clients as soon as they start making demands that aren't compatible with having a separate full time job; meetings during my normal working hours, travel, iterative development, taking vacation time from my primary job to work on a contract, etc. I stress the importance of having a predictable schedule - they can have it fast, but they can't have it now - I can't count the times a client left a voicemail with something like '...and it turns out we need it by tomorrow's 8 am meeting'. I try to stick with known business contacts, and maintain my business relationship with them - which is more time spent.

    In my experience, projects of smaller size end up being horrible. I avoid Rentacoder and other similar sites since they appear to be unable to pay actual market value for the many of their tasks, or focus on items of dubious use - like the old request for forum-specific email harvesting programs. Outside of certified job posting sites, I have to worry about even getting paid. (If you want a scare, read []

    I don't know how you could do this casually and profit. It takes dedication of time and energy. I probably spend 30-40 hours a week on my side contracts when I'm active, but I work less than every other week, on average. Everyone wants an early completion date, but they rarely have their projects lined up in a row. I also find myself scheduling breaks, days I don't work, just so I can unwind a little.

    It's ironic, but it takes a lot of stress to get yourself to a point where you can relax and enjoy what you're doing.

    I think that if your goal isn't money, but rather to have fun, I recommend what other posters have suggested - find an OSS project. Something you can enjoy for itself, but not something that you're contractually obligated to spend your nights and weekends on.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 12, 2013 @05:35PM (#42875605)

    Right... so if you had spent the past year paying a developer to write you some custom software in a specialised niche, and then you learn that at weekends he was using the subject-matter skills you had helped him learn to do consulting for your main competitor you would be fine because it wasn't done on your time?

    I know this sometimes comes as a shock to my cousins in the United States of America, but "employee" is not a synonym for "indentured servant".

Statistics are no substitute for judgement. -- Henry Clay