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Contracting Grows in Popularity as Option for Out-of-Work Techies

Working on one's own requires other kinds of sophistication as well. Tech wizards who are creating new products, not just banging out code according to script, should consider whether they want to keep the rights to their inventions or whether clients will own their intellectual property. Defining the goals of the project and who owns what is best done in writing, before work begins.

Fortunately, Web sites have cropped up to offer tips on how to write legal contracts and other advice for freelancers. But for those with serious legal or accounting needs, a trip to a lawyer or certified public accountant is probably in order. Others who would prefer not to bother with the tax headaches and unexpected stretches of downtime can turn to staffing agencies that keep contract workers on permanent retainer, paying them regular salaries and offering health benefits to people who work full-time hours.

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One graphic designer who was dismissed last month when his Virginia-based consulting firm cut its payroll said he's selected the freelance lifestyle in an effort to "be more responsible about my own financial situation."

Yet those who consider contract work a long-term refuge may want to think twice. In this day and age, no job is completely safe from the flurry of mergers, acquisitions and management shuffles that occur every day -- even among the freelance set. The friend who's been handing your projects for the past six months could be gone tomorrow. And so could you. The difference is, it can be difficult for contractors to return to the world of 9-to-5 work after having enjoyed more control over their schedules.

Instant Reply

Consultant Jerry L. Hartless e-mailed last week to disagree with an @Work column a few months back about the rise of the Peter Principle in technology firms. He says bad managers and inflated expectations in the technology industry are the real culprits.

"Unfortunately, I consistently see the same mistakes wherever I am working: No training, lack of direction, poor management, low morale," Hartless writes. "The only reason anyone would get promoted beyond their level is because everyone above them has quit, been fired or just [become] burned out. With the turnover rate in IT organizations today, it is a tremendous strain on most people just worrying about whether the company will be around tomorrow or will they still have a job. As an example, every company that I have worked for in the last six years -- minus one or two -- no longer exist."

Send tips, gripes, and your experiences in punching the virtual time clock to Carrie Johnson at johnsonca@washpost.com.

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