This is a three part series. Please read, We will all be contractors – Part 1
A few years after the “Dot Com Bubble Burst” there seemed to be a new wave appearing in Web Development. Yes, it was Web 2.0. (We thought that term would never go away.) Essentially, it was database backed websites that were easier to use and provided a new business model. The beginning of 2004 marked the rise of the Content Management System (CMS), Web Applications and Software As a Service (saas). From Wikipedia,
“A Web 2.0 site may allow users to interact and collaborate with each other in a social media dialogue as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to Web sites where people are limited to the passive viewing of content.”
The backend technologies were not the only systems that evolved. Front-End Development also got a huge boost with simple interfaces for the online applications that needed them. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) also came on the scene as a force, establishing itself as it’s own discipline. With every new Website needing a Web Designer, a programmer and optimized for Search Engines, the industry was ripe for consolidation.
What’s old is new again
Now that all companies essentially needed a new website, the race was on. If you weren’t hired away to work for a Web Application Startup, agencies were hiring like mad. A little of the gold rush mentality was back and if you were a small shop living month to month, working for yourself for a few years, a nice fat salary and consistent hours seemed appealing. The new sites we were building weren’t brochure sites, they were full blown applications with deep interactive features and games, to increase engagement. These took considerably more time to build and those who worked long hours, slept at their desks and “took one for the team”, were celebrated. It’s well known that Web Professionals work long hours, but during this time, it was excessive. It took on a myth all it’s own. The money was absolutely crazy. You would drive up and see Mercedes, Audi’s, and BMW’s lining the parking lots. For a good solid three years, it seemed this would never end. What we didn’t know was, that starting in 2007, the American economy was slowly eroding under our feet. This resulted in the worst financial disaster the U.S. has ever seen since the great depression. Here we were again, overextended, overworked and without a job.
Fool me once…
This time around many of us felt like we just got punched in the stomach. Yes, there were signs that things were slowing down, but we just worked harder. Then, one day, everything just stopped. Everyone scrambled. Some got hired elsewhere, some went back to contracting and many companies were bought, sold or just disappeared. The damage had been done. How did we end up back here? Not only was this disappointing, it was foolish. Some agencies survived and everyone became a freelancer. That’s pretty much the only way you could work for an agency during the recession, was to be working for yourself. Companies also bypassed agencies and went after freelancers to reap huge discounts. So where was growth happening? International. Though we had been outsourcing for years, the low rates for Web Development overseas was now, too hard to ignore. As we were recovering, International Web Development was getting more work, more experience and more organized. Remote development became commonplace, which spawned a new niche, “Managing Remote Teams.” As our communications evolved, people started seriously asking, “why can’t I work remotely?”
One thing that doesn’t get mentioned too often about the “Dot Com Bubble Burst,” was that if you lived outside of a city, it was highly possible you were still on Dial-Up. Broadband first started in big cities and slowly worked it’s way out. It wasn’t until the introduction of DSL, that many people could even think of getting large files at home. By the time the recession hit in 2008, High Speed DSL was out and the introduction of Fiber Optics was already being implemented in some cities. With having more access at home, it was clear the importance of the office was changing. Fast forward to 2014 and the office seems more like a central hub. Meetings and gatherings can still happen there, but it’s questionable if any work actually gets done . As Jason Fried said in his famous book, Rework, “Work doesn’t happen at work.” In addition, if you work for an agency, most likely, your colleagues are spread out across the city, country or world. In the Web Industry, remote work has become so accepted, that occasionally working at home in the evenings, while on maternity leave and on vacation, is almost normal. Companies are seeing this too and reducing office space, benefits and staff. Employees used to be looked at as an asset, but with little needed to accommodate them, they are turning into a liability. With coworking spaces in several towns taking the place of the office, do we need an office anymore? If we do, who would want to go there every day? Why would anyone want to go to an office where there wasn’t any people?
We will all be contractors is a three part series that examines how the rise of the Web Professional Contractor came to be and how it is flourishing in this unique and special time.