As a recent graduate with a masters degree in computer science with a total of 2 years of internship experience and some open source development experience, is it likely to people will take me seriously as a freelance developer? Will possible clients be reluctant to work with a freelancer who does not have significant prior experience as an employee?
As a recent graduate with a masters degree in computer science with a total of 2 years of internship experience and some open source development experience, is it likely to make it as a freelance developer?
A guy I know, X, is perhaps the 2nd or 3rd best programmer I have ever found (in decades of searching). He didn't even finish college and he was being hired for freelancing like crazy (including by us), indeed in his case for great money. If X wanted to he'd certainly never have to take a salary role (assuming he continues to enjoy doing freelance).
Another guy I know in your situation, Y, who is a truly elite programmer in a certain specialty - I can't hire the guy because he's always too busy, I just keep emailing please please. !
I know many examples like this, so, yeah, it's 100% possible.
Will possible clients be reluctant to work with a freelancer who does not have significant prior experience as an employee?
If you are truly good you will easily find freelance contacts.
Note that, sure, you won't be paid top dollar as a new chum - but that's fine. Why would you?
The fact that you're young, eager, and there's no reason you wouldn't work for a moderate lower rate, makes you very attractive indeed.
The answer is basically "for sure", there's
- plenty of work for crusty old ultra-expensive freelancers working on major famous products
- there's plenty of work for eager starter programmers at a moderate rate working on smaller and garage projects.
(Particularly with the www, this is of course very true. We don't do any www but you can always find someone "on your block" who need some sort of programming help with a web site.)
I note that you have two years intern experience which is a lot. You shouldn't have any trouble, so long as you're pretty good.
Is it a smart move to start freelancing when I have very little professional experience as an employee? Will this hinder my ability to find clients?
No to the first and yes to the second question.
You generally need much more experience to be a (successful) freelance programmer as they are expected to be able to work more independently. Working for somebody would also give you opportunities to network with more people.
I think it would be good if you tried working for a consulatation company full-time. It's somewhere between being a regular full-time employee and being a freelancer. However, be careful when it comes to signing a non-compete agreement since some of them could be strict enough to noticably limit your future employment/freelancing possibilities.
Although a lack of experience may turn clients away, something more likely to turn them away would be inability to show your work. If you have a personal web portfolio plus side projects that are live on the internet, and can show them off and how they're made, that's huge. To the clients, that's proof that you know what you're doing. This doesn't just go for finding clients in freelancing, but for entering the regular job market as well.
Finding freelance work is difficult. Sites like upwork.com or freelancer.com are there but you end up with too much foreign competition working for $3/hour, making it difficult to get your foot in the door.
When you start your freelancing journey you're going to rely on word of mouth and learning to market and advertise yourself to get started and keep a clientele. And I believe that's where challenge is, not your lack of experience.
tl;dr The challenge of starting freelance will be finding the clients, not hooking them.
Most of the other questions already get to the point: it is probably not a good idea to start as a freelancer when you don't have work experience, in general: it is difficult to find clients.
I want, however, to focus on some points other answers did not touch:
- Professional network: while websites that put freelancers and potential clients in contact do exists, the real freelancers I know get the majority of their clients from contacts they made in the past, while working as employees. This was also my case when I worked as a freelancer.
If you don't have a strong professional network, it will be difficult to find clients. A potential client that never worked with you in the past has probably no good reason to hire you over another potential freelancer. But managers and co-workers of the past who know that you can get the job done and are professional will absolutely hire you over an unknown freelancer.
Being a freelancer has a lot of variance: you don't have a secure income. In order to gain an average salary, you will earn almost no money some months, and a lot some other months: be prepared to that. If you're the kind of person who have problems to save money, you will have a lot of problems.
If you fail to find clients and projects for some long time, this will somehow appear like a gap in your resume. This not be a problem for you since you're right out of school and involved in open source development, but be wary.
At last, personally, I had a lot of problems to keep in touch with new frameworks and tech stuff when I was a freelance. Working in a team with other developers, you will always be learning new things even if you don't actively try to. Working by your own, you really need to be careful about learning new stuff constantly.
Freelancing is very difficult if you have not built a name for yourself, for example, you used to be a medical doctor, but taught yourself programming and started a successful company with your self-taught programming skills.
There is a success story there and now potential clients will be curious about you and presumably you have some skills documented somewhere and other documentation via your successful company.
Otherwise, you will be like me, every once in awhile someone will have seen your work that you have prominently documented somewhere and gets inspired enough to hire you. With all the noise on the internet these days and the fact that you are competing globally, for what is a tradeable good, its challenging as all heck.
Prepare to keep a full-time or part-time job as you work towards freelancing, for several years, maybe your lifetime.
Even when you get lucky, for example, I did get noticed by a major corporation once, they may just need you for a couple of months and then its saionara, nothing personal, it just wasn't going to be long term and guess what? You may think that this big name corporation will land you a ton of more clients later on...not really. They will continue to trickle in unless you become some type of "household name" in a winner-take-all economy where you are competing for a tradeable good with the rest of the planet. Remember, there is a hungry middle-class that has now matured in Brazil, Russia, India and China. All they need is a smartphone and computer to do what you do.
The current trend is the owner of a company and the CTO are the hot ones, everyone else is just a line cook.
So if you can either start your own successful company or obtain a prominent position as a CTO somewhere, then your freelancing clients will start to pick up.
Otherwise, holding down a job and doing freelancing at the same time will be your new normal.
I wish you lots of success.