Many companies turn to freelance professionals to execute some or all of their software development needs. This has resulted in an incredible opportunity for skilled independent software developers to find more lucrative and engaging work.
However, software development is a fast-evolving industry. To succeed in this freelancing field, you’ll need a solid foundation and some experience. You’ll also have to continuously retool your skill set to keep up with any changes.
This guide provides seven keys to help you be successful as a freelance software engineer and describes the trends that will define the year ahead.
Freelance software development: Essential tips for independent professionals
As a freelance software developer, you won’t have the same opportunities as a full-time or even part-time employee. You’ll have to secure your own freelance work. It’s up to you to put yourself in a position to get the best freelance jobs available. To make things even more difficult, you may not have a large marketing budget if you’re a small business owner.
You’ll need to be creative in marketing your services and presenting yourself as an authority in your industry. You can be the best software developer in the world, but if no one knows who you are, you won’t get steady work.
Clients want to know that you have the skills and expertise to get their long- and short-term projects done. You’ve got to find the clearest way to communicate your abilities to them. Here are a few tips to help you establish yourself as a freelance developer:
- Market yourself. Create an interactive website and GitHub profile to showcase your software development portfolio and exhibit projects you’ve worked on. Advertise them on social media sites like LinkedIn and talent networks like Upwork.
- Stay attuned to emerging trends. Listen to podcasts like The Doppler Cloud Podcast or read blogs like CodeBetter. Attending meetups (in person or online) is also a great way to get to know what people in your industry are up to. You can also check out feeds like GitHub Explore.
- Assess opportunities to specialize in specific software. There are several types of software development, from mobile development and web development to application development. Each type requires knowledge and expertise of different programming languages and tools.
- Collaborate with other developers. Developers have to be great at working in teams. Contribute to open-source development projects on sites like CodeTriage.
- Write guest content. Write guest blog posts for sites like freeCodeCamp. This builds your credibility and gives you access to a larger audience to promote your services.
7 keys for freelance software developers in 2021
The software development industry is constantly changing, and 2021 looks to be another year of rapid growth. There are quite a few trends and concepts you should be aware of to stay ahead of the competition. As a freelancer, you have to go into a job knowing what’s expected of you and how to complete the project.
Over the next few sections, we’ll show you what to pay attention to. Familiarity with these practices will help you increase your worth as a software developer and improve your chances of landing great projects.
1. Utilizing Agile development methodologies
Agile web development methodologies are designed to improve communication, eliminate waste, and increase the overall speed of the development process. An Agile team will take a development project and divide it into “sprints” (smaller work cycles that build up to the whole project). Each sprint is no longer than a few weeks.
After each sprint, the Agile team meets with a business leader (the client) to ensure the coders are on the right track. The team then works to implement any changes the client may request. This ensures miscommunications can be dealt with in real time. It also lets the team respond to a client’s changing needs if it’s necessary.
For example, a client might decide midway through development that they need their website to accept a different form of currency, like Apple Pay or PayPal. An Agile team would implement the change in the next sprint after meeting with the client. A normal development team might not be able to make the change, leaving the client unsatisfied.
Here are some other traits of Agile development that contribute to its popularity:
- Short daily meetings (no more than 15 minutes) to evaluate work, sticking points, and daily goals
- A shared language that the development team and business leader use to communicate
- An iterative schedule of multiple deliverables (software solutions)
2. Focusing on native app development
Native apps are developed for a specific platform, like Apple’s app store or Google Play. These apps let companies take full advantage of their hardware. For example, games on the Apple app store are designed to only work on iOS devices, like iPhones, iPads, and Mac computers. Games on Google Play are designed to work on Android devices and Chromebooks.
Some companies even go so far as to create their own programming languages. Apple created Swift, which is optimized to create computer and mobile apps. There’s a good chance that you could be creating software for a particular device or platform. When looking for work, do some research to see what programming languages and practices certain companies use to create their native apps.
3. Working with big data and AI
Companies use data to analyze and predict how their customers will respond to their e-commerce sites and craft targeted messages. By collecting massive amounts of user behavior and personal information, they can see where most users leave a site, which pages lead to the most sales, and what demographics their customers fall into.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can go a step further by using complex algorithms to analyze data. It can automatically advertise products that users might be interested in and answer client questions for a better user experience. AI is also used for self-driving cars, virtual assistants (like Amazon Alexa), and video games.
All types of companies use big data and AI, from e-commerce sites and marketing companies to social media sites and financial institutions. Businesses benefit from knowing who their customers are and what they respond to.
Familiarize yourself with AI processes and learn languages that are widely used in AI development like:
4. Getting comfortable with continuous delivery
The original development process, also known as the “Waterfall” methodology, delivers software at the end of a long project, while the Agile methodology releases software at the end of each sprint. However, some development processes call for continuous delivery.
The DevOps methodology calls for continuous delivery, automation, and solid communication. It breaks down the walls of software developers (Dev) and informational technology (IT) workers (Ops). Continuous delivery allows a DevOps team to analyze and optimize its work in real time.
In a DevOps team, every part of the development process happens simultaneously and is the responsibility of every team member. Development, integration, testing, delivery, and feedback assessment constantly happen. Members of a DevOps team might be full-stack developers (developers with front-end and back-end skills).
Some continuous delivery open-source tools you might want to familiarize yourself with include:
5. Working with hybrid teams
With the rise of video conferencing technologies and work management platforms, companies don’t need developers to work in their offices. They can have access to a higher number of qualified candidates worldwide by leveraging independent talent.
However, business leaders will often choose one of their full-time employees to oversee software developers. For example, in an Agile team, the whole process revolves around the communication between a development team and a representative from the company.
6. Integrating the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) consists of various devices that connect to a network to share information. Companies make smart homes, smartphones, smartwatches, and several other things that help us complete tasks. Creating these types of devices requires a great deal of coding knowledge and collaboration with people like engineers who design and build physical products.
There’s so much that companies can do using these types of products. They can be used to monitor and manage inventory for manufacturers and livestock for farmers. They can be used in security scanners that use facial or fingerprint recognition software. Hospitals can even use them to measure a patient’s health readings, like blood pressure or heart rate.
To develop these types of products, you’ll have to know:
- How sensors in these devices work and how to program them
- How user interfaces should be designed for the best customer experience
- How to use server-side languages like PHP and database languages like SQL to make data storage servers
7. Being aware of and limiting scope creep
Scope creep happens when the parameters get wider during a project. This means that the project requires more effort and time. If you want to make a profit as a freelance software developer, you’ll need to limit scope creep.
Several things can cause scope creep, from miscommunications between team members to last-minute requests from a client. For example, a client might hire you to redesign a company’s homepage. After you finish, the client tells you to also redesign the landing pages for their pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements. You’re getting paid a flat amount for the project, so you won’t be compensated for redesigning the landing pages.
The best way to handle scope creep is with clear communication. Before you start a project, meet with your client and any team members to ensure everybody clearly understands what the work entails. Also, explain to your client that unforeseen changes to the project scope could result in extra charges.
Some scope creep is unavoidable. For example, the Agile methodology gives clients the ability to make changes to a project during the development process. However, if a client adds new priorities to a project, they should drop others. When you get new requests from a client, work with them to see what project details can be dropped so that the scope doesn’t grow too much.
Showcase your software development expertise on Upwork
Building a freelance software development startup can be a rewarding career that pays you well to do what you’re passionate about. But it can be difficult to find the right projects to be successful. To be valuable to clients, you should always know what’s going on in your industry.
Keeping up with everything in the software industry is a labor of love. New technologies and ideas come out all the time. If you want to make it as a freelance software developer, you’ll have to pay close attention.
Upwork is a great resource for starting your freelance career. We give you a place to showcase your skills and connect you with the best companies looking for your expertise from all over the world.