Freelance programming career?
April 8, 2014 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone have some advice about how I could start a freelance programming career?

I already know how to code some flash Actionscript and VBA and am now learning python, but I'm not sure what the best way is to find new clients?

Ideally, I'd like to go in a path of being a data scientist and analyze big data in an operations research context, but I only have an MBA instead of a Ph. D. Also, I'm limited by a mental disability that makes it difficult for me to be functional on a consistent basis and this is why I think a career working from home might be best for me.

Thanks in advance for all the advice!
posted by Gosha_Dog to Work & Money (8 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps work on some Python-based open-source projects on Github or Bitbucket, which match your interests in "big data" analysis. This would put some code out there for prospective clients to look at, and also help you make contacts with others who do it for a living.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:14 PM on April 8, 2014

Post in one of these monthly threads.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:43 PM on April 8, 2014

It will help if you have a working project that you can show off. Knowing some things about coding but no actual track record is a tough sell. Being able to point to something that is actually finished and which actually works will help.

There are freelancer websites like Elance, Rent A Coder, and ODesk, but these are fairly dysfunctional markets, lots of unreasonable and/or scammy people on both sides. Pay will be terrible, at least starting out. You might be able to claw your way up to better clients starting here, but it's going to be an unpleasant struggle. My sense (from hearsay not experience) is that ODesk is the best of the lot if you decide to go this route.

Looking in gigs/jobs on Craigslist is somewhat better. I have had some success finding clients via Craigslist.

You also might put the word out on your personal network that you are available to do small programming projects cheap (doing somebody's church website seems to be a classic starting point) and you might pick up your first project this way.

> Ideally, I'd like to go in a path of being a data scientist and analyze big data in an operations research context

I don't know much about this, but I doubt it is very compatible with freelancing, at least not at the learning-the-trade level.
posted by mattu at 5:47 PM on April 8, 2014

You could try you hand at Kaggle competitions, perhaps?
posted by foxfirefey at 5:54 PM on April 8, 2014

Here's a previous thread about working as a freelance software developer - the person's situation is different from yours, but a lot of the advice there may be useful to you. For example, I linked there to my former coworker's blog where he discusses practical things like where he finds his clients - it's mostly through his personal network. So I'd focus on ways to build that network - for example, if your area has a Python developer meetup group, I'd suggest checking it out and getting involved with it as a step toward meeting people who can refer jobs to you.
posted by dreamyshade at 7:26 PM on April 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't have any advice on the career aspects. But I'm also trying to learn about programming and statistics with a view toward a career in data science, and the courses at Coursera have been very helpful. There are many different programming/computer science classes, and this Data Science Specialization seems like a good sequence.

If you want to work with data you are going to need to know something about probability and statistics. This means you are probably going to need to learn how to program in R. The Data Science Specialization has courses in that also.
posted by number9dream at 8:18 PM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I work with some of the things you're describing (data science and OR), and I'll agree that it's rare for me to see people "freelancing" in this field. However, if your MBA was quite technical, and you already have the skills to be doing this, then I think this is possible.

If I was you, I'd basically try to brand myself as a one-person "growth-hacking" consulting agency. Next, I would contact some mid-scale services and offer my skills for free. You want to target companies that are small enough to take a risk with you, but big enough to have enough data to play with. Hopefully, you do a really good job with this, and you can write up case-study style reports on your website about how much lift you got these companies. Next, use these references to start charging.

Again, from my experience, this isn't something that really exists already. However, I've often heard start up teams say that they would like to be more data-driven, but can't afford a full-time data scientist. I'd say there's a market, but your ability to break in is going to depend on connections to existing start-ups, and how good you are at your "portfolio"-building projects.

(Upon preview, number9dream's advice is good for if you're just starting to learn about data and modeling. What I describe here assumes you already have these skills.)
posted by tinymegalo at 12:30 AM on April 9, 2014

I recommend that you use agencies or individual recruiters to start. They take care of everything from finding the clients to legal & accounting to, crucially, collecting. The latter can be very... problematic, especially if you are struggling mentally and emotionally.

Down the road, when you gain more experience - I am talking being able to identify deadbeats or clients from hell in the first five minutes of conversation - you can start getting projects on your own. Your personal network should be built up by then too, so you will have an easier time.

LinkedIn is the best place to find recruiters. Just keyword your profile appropriately and join the relevant groups and wait for the emails to roll in. Depending on your area, Meetup is a great place to find groups to attend as well. I've lived in NYC and Minneapolis and both have active techie groups that meet regularly.

(I have done consulting for about 15 years and I really like it. If you are in the US feel free to contact me for specific advice such as legal and accounting. Good luck!)
posted by rada at 10:36 AM on April 9, 2014

« Older What are some sites like Slate, the Atlantic and...   |   Allergy-friendly bakery in central/south Indiana? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.