The old days and the IT Contractor. Contracting in the Eighties & Nineties

Old days
Old days of IT Contracting

Old Days and the Contractor

The old days and the Contractor by Paranoid Pete.

Mobile Technology

As an IT contractor the Internet and mobile technology are so much part of your working life, it‘s hard to remember what you did before it came along. This was only twenty years ago.

Nowadays, you look at a job site for contracts, email your c.v, and give the agent your mobile number. He/she rings you up, might send you an Internet test and gets the client to interview you over the phone and you could start the next morning.

Into IT Contracting
Into IT Contracting – how I got in

In the contracting days of yore, I would keep an eye out for the permies copies of Computing and Computer Weekly. I never bothered getting them myself. There were contracts advertised in them but they were usually the same each week.

IT Skills In Demand in the Old Days

However, it showed you what skills were in demand and what agencies were on the rise. Generally, six weeks before the end of my contract, whether or not an extension had been offered, I would send out my details by post to about fifteen agencies.

You would photocopy them using the office machine, hoping that the project manager wouldn‘t see you and noticing that some other contractor with the same idea might have left his originals under the copier top.

This mail-shot was time consuming so you might only do two or three letters a day. You would put your work telephone number in bold.

Agents Calling Contractors in the Old Days

Now the fun was starting. Quite often, your newly arrived missive would cause great excitement in the agency and they‘d be straight on the blower.

There may have been only one or two external phones in your office so they could easily be engaged when the calls came. If they did, everybody could hear your business.

Golden Rules of IT Contracting
Golden Rules of IT Contracting – if you want to get rich

If you were out, the agents generally said they would ring back but they never did. A contractor pal of mine who was a dead ringer for the Conservative politician John Redwood, knew this so he would shamelessly answer ‘I‘m a contractor as well, with the same skills as Paranoid Pete. What have you got going?’

I never held this against him as he was so open and unembarrassed about this behaviour.

Agency Databases

There was more excitement in the old days when you got home. Your answer machine would have all sorts of intriguing calls. I remember having a device where you rang up your messages by holding it against the mouthpiece and bleeping it.

Do they still exist?

In those days, of course, there was plenty of work so my personal message would say when I was available and where I wanted to work, thus filtering out useless calls. Agencies didn‘t have such sophisticated databases so you‘d get rung up about all sorts of unsuitable jobs.

This is not relevant here but I once got a call about work in Botswana. I half expected the agent to say that it was at the end of the Northern Line.

Faxed CVs

Anyway, the fax had also now come into everyday use. A common sight in an IT department was a sheepish, blushing contractor desperately hoping that his CV would pass through the fax cleanly without jamming.

Getting Rich from Agency Insolvency
Getting Rich from IT Contracting

I was at one site where there would actually be a queue of freelancers waiting to use it. Agents couldn‘t understand why you were reluctant to employ the fax but then it was so obvious what you were up to.

If you had been to interviews, there was generally high excitement amongst the contractors as to your chances. Again the agent‘s call would come straight through to the office.

IT Contractor Success

I remember we all gathered round Mr Redwood‘s desk when he signaled the all-important call had come.

After being told he had been successful, two or three people literally punched the air in delight. John jumped up and down through the office, shouting ‘I‘ve landed the big one! I‘ve landed the big one!’

That all seemed to be much more fun then. IT Contractors are much more discreet now, going out of the office with their mobiles, glancing at emails with no emotion, just like poker players.

Many won‘t even tell you how they got on, never mind what rate was available. In those days, though, perhaps the lack of privacy meant we all won and lost together but that‘s a story for another time.

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    1. Email and mobile phones have made finding a new job so much easier.

      It’s possible, if you’re discrete and the future client is conveniently located so going to interview is easy, your current client won’t even have the slightest hint you’re not staying until the new contract is in the bag


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