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I am considering transitioning to freelance as a software engineer to create more time and energy in my life for other projects that are non-software related. I have no responsibility other than myself (no wife, no kids, debt, etc...) and have good amounts of money saved up as well as a well growing investment portfolio. I'm not much of a spender either.

Is it realistic to think that the freelance path can be used in a way that I could work for a limited amount of hours while still having a decent amount of income to sustain myself ? If so, how much time would it roughly take to get to the point where I could decide when to work when I need to (if that's even a possibility)?

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Is it realistic to think that the freelance path can be used in a way that I could work for a limited amount of hours while still having a decent amount of income to sustain myself ?

Of course. Many people do it successfully and happily. Given your financial background and needs that looks entirely viable.

If so, how much time would it roughly take to get to the point where I could decide when to work when I need to (if that's even a possibility)?

You need to figure this out yourself: Create a business plan and a budget. First, understand the cost of being self employed in your local legislation. You are not getting benefits, so you need to cover health insurance, self employment taxes, retirement savings, etc all out of your own pocket. Then figure out how much net income you want to make and how much percent of your time you want to work. From that you can calculate your target hourly and check if that's reasonable. In the US a "ballpark" number for this sort of thing is 2-3 times your employed hourly rate, but it highly depends on your locale.

Then start trying to line up business. This may take a while, so you ideally you want to get started while you still have a steady pay check. This will give you a sense on how easy/hard this will be. A good network REALLY helps with that. Once you feel you have "critical" mass, you can take the plunge.

Then track to your target work load. If you are working less than planned, ramp up the sales/marketing activities. If you are working more than planned, you can spent all your extra time on non-work activities.

Over time your network will grow and things will become more steady. If you are in the lucky position that you get more business than you want, you can hike up your rate and work even less.

And if it doesn't work out, you can always go back to being employed. A stint as a freelancer looks fine on the resume.

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  • I would really emphasize that 3x a nominal salaried rate is a must. It's completely inconceivable you'll book 52 weeks a year, and you'll be spending 20-30k a year on buying ***ing phones and nVidia cards, 20-30k a year on health insurance, and all the other endless costs of running a business, as mentioned. – Fattie May 11 at 12:48
  • That's really a function of what your "nominal" salaried rate is, which is different for a normal developer than for deep subject matter expert. – Hilmar May 11 at 16:29
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With software, regarding conventional full-time salaried jobs. As often mentioned on this list:

  • It's a very difficult field in which to get started, to get your foot in the door. It takes forever to get that first job, and the pay is nothing for a year or two.

With software, regarding being a successful working contractor/freelancer:

  • It is extremely, incredibly difficult to get started. It can easily take five years to get to a point where you "can work consistently".

Really that's the situation.

Is it realistic to think that the freelance path can be used in a way that I could work for a limited amount of hours while still having a decent amount of income to sustain myself?

For sure. Any number of top programmers do this.

If so, how much time would it roughly take to get to the point where I could decide when to work when I need to (if that's even a possibility)?

  1. It will take years and years and years to get to that nirvana

  2. Be aware that pretty much universally, contractors/freelancers have to have elite talent in a number of programming fields. You can and should specialize in one niche as a fulltime conventional employee career. Every single "they've made it" contractor/freelancer I know has elite talent in a number of disparate programming fields.

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The only trick to freelancing is finding and retaining customers. If you have the reputation and network in place you can make a living from it immediately.

If not then it's uncertain, it's difficult to get to a decent level as a freelancer based purely on ability to do software work.

Ideally you prepare for it before you start, freelancing from necessity is problematic, competition is huge.

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Is it realistic to think that the freelance path can be used in a way that I could work for a limited amount of hours while still having a decent amount of income to sustain myself ?

Obviously that depends a lot on what "a decent amount" means to you.

I know of software contractors who work a lot one season in order to take another season off. And I know contractors who work part-time. I once worked 2 days per week for a year.

Freelancing can be difficult in the beginning if you don't already have a strong professional network. You may wish to start by going through an agency.

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  • But be aware it's incredibly difficult to join one of the two main agencies. (To make a perhaps bad analogy, it would be like saying "to become an actress, get a hollywood agent". Of course, unfortunately for Actresses you only get one of those once you have success!) – Fattie May 11 at 12:37

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