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Long story short. I've been asked to return to a company I last worked for 6 months ago to fix a system that I know like the back of my hand (I designed, built and supported it for several years)

I'm an IT contractor (currently in the middle of a full-time contract elsewhere). The HR department of my old company has contacted me and offered an extremely good contract for me to return (ten times what they used to pay me, and twice what I'm currently on).

I've rung around some of my old colleagues and got the full story, the system has completely failed and the company is currently losing millions a day (it's a major multinational company). Not only has it failed, but even when it gets fixed the company is unlikely to be able to retrospectively bill for the provided service. I've also learnt that the company has currently flown in a full team of 'experts' costing 120k per day.

So, what should I do? I'm happy to help my old company but extremely reluctant to breach my current contract. I'm also somewhat miffed that the contract I've been offered (although extremely generous) is massively below the daily rate of the 'experts'. I'm also pretty confident that I can fix the problem very quickly.

Would it be ethical to offer a 'no-fix, no-fee' deal? I'm pretty sure I know what the problems is, I'm also pretty sure that the 'experts' won't be able to fix it and I could probably get it sorted with a weekends work.

If I offer to come in this weekend (day after tomorrow) they'll already have spend nearly a million on consultants (on top of the 10 million plus they've lost in revenue). Would it be un-reasonable for me to charge as much money as they're loosing every day? Even if it's for just days work? I guess the question really boils down to should I charge for what my time is worth, or should I charge for the money I'll save them?


Ok – important update here….. The reason I’m so confident that I know what the problem is that I know the company did something that I told them not to do! Before I left some important changes were proposed to the system, I wrote a very technical rebuttal to them that was followed by a meeting during which I lost my temper and said some unprofessional things. A soon as I calmed down I realised I’d overstep the mark, I wrote an apology to the person I’d lost my temper with (I called him a moron – not realising he was a director) and then handed in my resignation, basically I resigned before I could be fired, and I left the company that same day.

The description of the failure matches what I predicted in my analysis of the proposals, the company should still have the document, but it does involve high level maths and detailed knowledge of the systems involved so it’s possible they don’t have anyone who understands the issues.

Although I’m confident that I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m beginning to think that I should actually just stay well clear and let the company stew

Sorry if I’m not providing full disclosure, it’s a well-known company and I’m doing my best not say anything that could allow their identity to be guessed.

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    @JoeStrazzere why do digital? OP could just ask his current employer whether it'd be ok to help the other company if there is a risk of breaching their contract. – red-shield Jan 24 at 11:53
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    One thing to note if you walk in and ask for $1m because that's what they lose per day, you may open yourself up to invesigation to see if you sabotaged the system to justify ripping them off in the future. Clearly you haven't, but they may want to know that for certain. – Jay Gould Jan 24 at 11:58
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    @red-shield, that sounds more like binary than digital. Digital wouldn't be limited to to 2 values. – cdkMoose Jan 24 at 13:58
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    What's the reason why no other contractor can find the issue? This sounds to me like some crazy duct tape solution with no documentation especially if you already know what's going wrong. If that's the case be sure to check your law for something like negligence. In Germany for example contractors can be sued for obvious gross negligence. – user70925 Jan 24 at 14:29
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    This doesn't sound like "saving" them millions, it sounds more like a hostage situation. It also sounds like a giant mess, that a company would allow such an important system to become maintainable only by one person, who doesn't even work there. It's hard to imagine they don't have a workaround of some type, or that things aren't somehow being inflated. – dwizum Jan 24 at 14:58
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If you're confident you can do it in a weekend, go for a flat rate. Don't take what they offered you, don't go for hourly, just ask for a big lump sum.

How much is up to you, in my case I'd ask for a flat 5000 to get things working to a well defined point, rather than trying to calculate how much I saved or how much they were paying others. But if you want to be greedy and think you can then ask for anything.

My reason for 5k is that it's a nice lump sum I can do stuff with, without coming across as being greedy. Because as a consultant kicking clients when they're down is not great for your rep. But these guys obviously have money. For a struggling client I'd do it for much less or in extreme cases like the tsunami we had here, gratis.

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    They have a team they pay 120k per day, and you suggestion a 5k for a solution? I think he can easily ask 50k at least. – Martijn Jan 24 at 14:54
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    Good answer. I don't quite agree for a flat 5k for weekend when they can and do pay 120k per day, but I do agree with flat rate and not kicking down. – Mołot Jan 24 at 15:26
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    I would go for 5k or what was offered, whichever is higher. If I was building software I would have no problems charging millions for an updated version if the software was making a million dollars a day. However if I built software working for someone I would feel that maybe I did a bad job if a team of experts could not solve the problem. Maybe its managements fault for not letting me document or do turnover but still poor work no matter who is at fault. So in short, even if you don't feel bad sticking it to them your rep might suffer. – Joe Jan 24 at 15:37
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    There is a reputation and good will issue here. Overcharge, and the OP may be suspected of leaving a bug in deliberately, or at least of poor design making it difficult to fix. Charge a reasonable amount for a weekend of work by an expert, and it will all be good. – Patricia Shanahan Jan 24 at 15:56
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    "Hi - I designed, built and supported the system that has cost you 10 million in revenue. For a cool 1 million, I'll make it work" - may not go down too well. – Laconic Droid Jan 24 at 16:24
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The most important part of you negotiating this deal is that you do not say that you think you can fix it easily or you know what the problem is.

As you stated "I designed, built and supported it for several years" - It shows that you know the system well but if you know the problem without seeing it then it shows that you thought there may have been a weakness or a potential issue that you did not deal with. As someone mentioned in the comments, this makes it look like you planned for this to happen.

As for the negotiating - You have two choices, take a lump sum or take a rate. If you're absolutely certain you can fix it within a weekend then I'd say take a lump sum as you won't get as much money out of a rate. However if you think it could take more than just a weekend and you can get more out of taking a rate then that's your choice.

Ensure as you can only do it on weekends that you make it clear that you must do it during weekends otherwise you'd be breaking your contract that you are currently tied up with and that you do not want to do this.

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My mother always told me "if you don't ask, you don't get".

Counter-offering is not a problem. Contact them state that you can do some out of hours work if that is possible, if not you can do this during the weekend and you feel confident that you will be able to get it fixed this weekend. Ask them to match the rates to the "experts" if you manage to solve the issue as between the notice you would need to give your current employer and having to go back it would be an issue for both you and them.

What does this achieve:

  • you offer an immediate help (out of hours help, if it is an easy fix as you say you can do 2h a night after you finish work and get it fixed in a couple of days);
  • you open the door to become their go-to expert but not be in their books;
  • you can take the opportunity that you had this offer to try and get a raise at your current job;

worst case scenario you get a "no thank you" and you carry on working as you are...


edit: look a the company stock market value, if it has been dropping you can justify your knowledge of them using experts to fix it and how much it is costing them to get the problem fixed. That way you're not admitting to have received possibly damning information from someone who shouldn't have shared it with you and you are presuming this upon public data.

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    The OP doesn't even need to mention the experts-- since the approximate rate the experts are billing is already known, the OP could just ask for a similar number. That's what the experts are charging, and they were hired, so it is clearly a market-plausible rate (though their consultancy may have more cachet than the OP, so the OP may not be able to demand quite as much). – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jan 24 at 13:44
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The first question is "why has it failed?" Specifically, you built the system, you maintained it, and now it's costing the company millions per day. You think you know what's causing it (you could be wrong). If you're right, was it the result of a mistake on your part?

I'd say, much like the others here, that "tell them you'll do it on the weekends, start immediately" is the right answer regardless if you can manage to work under those conditions. Don't break your contract with your current workplace, but consider taking leave if that's an option. The difference is in how much you charge.

If you feel that you might be in some meaningful way culpable for the failure, then accept the offer that they're making. You made a mistake, and it's horking them over. This is not a time to be either cashing in or drawing more attention to yourself than you need to. Playing by the script will get you out of the situation with minimal liability issues. If you're pretty sure that it can't be reasonably traced back to you, then don't quote a price. Just get them on the line, tell them that you're willing to do it lump sum, note that they're currently spending $120K/day on experts that don't work, and ask how much they think is fair based on that. That'll set the baseline to a more profitable place for you, while still not pushign as hard as you could be (because you're not mentioning the "losing millions a day" part).

Regardless, I'd say to poke them a bit on why they didn't contact you before. If you are in any way responsible, it covers you better ("You wouldn't have lost nearly so much if you'd only called me earlier") and regardless it helps set you up in their mind as the go-to guy for any issues that happen in the system later (ongoing sources of work are good things).

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