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Are you a freelancer, or are you thinking of becoming one? Whatever your situation, you’re probably wondering “What are the best freelance coding jobs to go for?”
As with so many of these things, the answer is: “it depends.”
All things being equal, more money is best. But money is not the only thing which makes a freelance contract ‘great’. To help you decide, we’ve used our own data and written down the factors to consider when you’re making decisions about what kind of freelance programmer jobs you should be looking for.
(And if you’re still wondering if freelance programming is for you, we discussed this very question right here.)
What Makes a ‘Good’ Programmer Job?
There are many potential definitions of the term “best job”. Sure, we would all like to get paid millions of bucks to relax on the beach, but in the real world, the perfect job depends on things like your location, experience, interests, and personality. Here are some key factors to consider:
This one seems like a ‘no-brainer’, I know. It’s nice to stack cheddar, but money isn’t everything. Giving up too many of the other things on this list can make the pay rate less sexy.
Also, think about how you’re going to get paid. Is there much risk of the client not paying or are foreign exchange costs eating into your revenues? Some of this risk can be mitigated by working through a platform or agency that protects you or vets employers to ensure they’re reliable.
You can also reduce your risk by getting paid more frequently or by staging payments (for projects) so that you get some money up-front. You can negotiate contracts so the deliverables are defined carefully enough to avoid confusion.
It’s great to get the highest pay possible, but don’t ignore the other factors below.
The happier you are in your job, the more you’ll love doing the work. If you get paid a little bit less but you’re getting paid to do something you love, how much is that worth to you? What’s more, if you enjoy the work, you’ll probably perform better, so the client will be happier, too.
So if we look at good freelance programmer jobs, it’s not just about money. You should definitely consider if you see yourself enjoying the work! As you’ll see below, yes, you could get paid more as a CTO – but do you want all this responsibility?
Being able to manage your work-life balance is one of the most attractive reasons for working freelance. Within reason, you can pick and choose projects or clients as they suit you.
So maybe that simply means you like the look of the work, or the contracts let you travel, work when it suits you, and take a break between jobs. It’s up to you — just remember to maintain a good balance.
Workplace culture is an important factor in enjoying your professional and personal lives. If you work remotely, getting kind comments in a Slack window, enjoying laughter-filled Zoom meetings, or joining occasional social meetups can make a big difference.
If a freelance contract is based at the client’s premises, you can enjoy more of the company culture. Either way, pay attention during the hiring process for indications of the workplace vibe.
By definition, freelance work can’t provide the same job security as full-time employment. That’s why the pay rates are (or should be) much higher than full-time salaries.
But there are ways to boost your job security as a freelancer. You could negotiate a contract that includes a longer notice period for ending the contract. Or you could choose specifically for contracts that include the possibility for extension. And for project work, you may want to require staged payments, with partial payment before you start the work.
One of the biggest benefits of freelancing is the freedom it offers. If you need money now, you can grab as many freelance projects as possible and build up some savings. If you finish a rewarding contract, you can take a break before looking for the next one.
Working on a project basis lets you decide when to get the work done (as long as you meet any targets), and if a client only needs you to work twenty hours a week, then you might be able to do those hours as and when they suit you.
So the matter of freedom you’re looking for definitely determines whether a specific freelance contract is right for you.
You might think that freelance programming is all about the money and there aren’t any fringe benefits, but that’s not necessarily the case.
Some freelance roles can include a new laptop or phone, or the opportunity to enjoy on-site perks when working in a client’s offices. Others include free training or team days, or even office drinks or parties.
It might sound a bit odd, given that we’re discussing freelance coding, but freelancing can be a great way to land a full-time job. Employers can see how valuable you are, before offering you a full-time job, and you get to ‘test the waters’ before jumping into a ‘real job’.
Freelancing is also a great way to build your professional network, expand the range and depth of your skills/experience, and find out what kinds of work you love the most. You can leverage this knowledge to sharpen your career focus, explore more opportunities, and open doors to new jobs.
Working 9-5 can provide job security, but it can also mean getting stuck doing the same old, same old. Every. Single. Day.
With freelancing, every new client or contract is an opportunity to try out new skills, technologies, and industries. However, this definitely depends on the job!
Maybe you’ll find yourself stuck in a freelance contract that pays well, but leads to very monotonous work. In other words, make sure the contract you’re looking for is challenging! – if that’s your kind of thing of course. That way, you can increase your skill set, and boost your CV (and pay) all at the same time!
One of the knock-on effects of the challenges posed by new freelance jobs is learning new things. We’re not talking just about programming languages, frameworks, and applications.
Typically, you’ll also learn more about communication, working with people, and yourself. So, it’s worth thinking about the learning opportunities when deciding if a freelance job is good for you.
Don’t forget the new people you’ll meet when you’re freelancing. Every contract role with a big company is a chance to network with other programmers and managers. Every project is a chance to win referrals and gain new clients. When you’re deciding if a freelance gig is right for you, think about how it can help build your professional network too.
Here are the Best Coding Jobs – According to Actual Data
The world of freelance programming is big, and it’s growing every day. Below, we’ve outlined some of the best coding jobs now available for freelance work.
You’ll find key details for each one, like average pay rates and the typical required skills, to help you decide which area might work best for you.
Full stack developer
The full stack developer is an expert in all areas of app/web development, from front-end design/build to back-end architecture. This expertise in both client and server software means full stack developers are always in demand.
As a full stack developer, you’ll be expected to be a master of all areas of developing an interactive web application. That means designing and building the back-end database queries and scripting, as well as creating the browser-based interface seen by users. Full stack developers can also be responsible for management of web hosting, configuring/maintaining servers, and DevOps.
While we’ve written about hourly rates for full-stackers before, here are some averages:
- Average Hourly Rate: $75 – $130 (more info here)
- Years of experience required: at least 2-3 years
In contrast to a full-stack developer, a web developer normally focuses a bit more on front-end development. However, web dev can be a great way to move into full-stack development. If you don’t have much experience, you can still look for project work building small websites.
There are many different types of web developers, and they have each different rates. But here are the averages:
- Average Hourly Rate: $60 – $120
- Years of experience required: 1+ years, but potentially 0 years (see above about small websites)
Data science covers a wide range of interdisciplinary fields. From a programming perspective, the work usually involves analysing large sets of data, creating algorithms to manage/organise information, and developing applications to identify patterns and translate data.
Data science is one of the few areas of programming that typically requires an academic background/qualification.
As internet-connected devices, advertising platforms, social media and other digital technologies continue to expand, data science is booming. Most roles in this field require post-graduate degrees and significant analytical/programming abilities.
- Average Hourly Rate: $80 – $150
- Programming languages / frameworks required: R, Python, statistics, SQL/NoSQL, sometimes natural language processing (NLP), data visualisation tools (Tableau, Power BI)
- Years of experience required: 4+ years
Machine Learning Scientist
Machine learning is often combined with language processing and deep learning. Like data science and analysis, machine learning is a big growth area, so it’s a great career to pursue if you have the needed skills and academic background.
Programmers with skills in AI and machine learning are finding work in almost every industry, from retailing and policing to app development, SaaS and scientific research. This is a great industry for freelancers that love a challenge but you’ll be expected to bring plenty of skills to the table.
- Average Hourly Rate: $85 – $200
- Programming languages / frameworks required: Python/R/Java, PyTorch/Tensorflow, data modeling, MLOps tools (Dask/MLflow), NLP
- Years of experience required: 4+ years
Mobile app developer
Mobile app development covers a wide range of skills and platforms. One attractive aspect is that with a little experience, you can start getting small projects on platforms like Fiverr. Mobile app developers with several years’ experience, especially managing teams, are always in demand.
Android developer rates are slightly different from iOS developer rates. However, you can also choose to become a general app developer, with skills in both areas. In that case, the summary looks like this:
- Average Hourly Rate: $50 – $120
- Programming languages / frameworks required: Cocoa, Swift, C++/Objective C, Kotlin/Java, Android SDKs, Apple’s UIKit, Android/Google APIs, libraries like REST, Android Studio/Xcode IDE, GitHub/Bugzilla
- Years of experience required: 1 year
Game developers often work in mobile app development, but they also develop for other platforms, like VR and consoles/PCs. If you love gaming, you should enjoy freelance game developer work. There’s a lot of teamwork in game development, so be prepared to deploy your teamworking skills.
Game development involves such a wide range of skills that it’s hard to define exactly what you need in your toolset. However, that also means there’s a place for almost every programmer. You’ll need familiarity with certain industry standards, like the game engines, but beyond that you could find yourself developing gameplay, crafting artwork, or optimising video card drivers.
- Average Hourly Rate: $70 – $110
- Programming languages / frameworks required: UI/gameplay programming, C/C++/C#, Unity/Unreal game engine, UE4/5
- Years of experience required: 1 year
You might expect Chief Technology Officer roles to be strictly full-time employment. But in today’s world of fast-moving, entrepreneurial technology operations, there are sometimes opportunities to work as interim CTO.
CTOs work at a high level and, though they need relevant technical knowledge, the roles typically involve more management, architecture, and strategy than hands-on programming.
- Average Hourly Rate: $90 – $200
- Skills required: entrepreneurial spirit, leadership skills, cross-functional team management, integration of new technologies, process development/implementation, strategic design, software/hardware/network architecture
- Years of experience required: 10 years
Almost everything in today’s digital world depends on cloud engineers. Though you’ll need strong hands-on programming skills for these jobs, a lot of the work also requires high-level vision, the ability to engineer robust, scalable solutions, and success working with stakeholders.
To win work in the cloud engineering world, especially in senior roles, you’ll typically need to demonstrate strong skills in relevant technologies and professional experience. You can also find entry-level opportunities in areas like management of CI/CD pipelines that will let you build your skills and experience.
- Average Hourly Rate: $90 – $150
- Programming languages / frameworks required: Python/YAML/PowerShell/JSON, Docker/Kubernetes, DevOps, cloud architecture/APIs, cloud platforms (Google Cloud/Azure/AWS)
- Years of experience required: 3 years
Which Freelance Coding Jobs Should You Choose?
So, which job or career path is best for you as a freelance programmer?
As you can see, it depends on a lot of things. Money’s a big one, obviously, but working freelance gives you a lot of freedom to pursue new pastures, learn new skills, work in a way that suits your lifestyle, and take some time off when you feel like a break.
Other questions you’ll want to consider are: where is the work based, where are technologies heading (there’s a lot of discussion surrounding AI at the moment), and most importantly, what can you be passionate about?
The best thing is, because you’ll be working freelance, you can always try out new things. If you like working in big teams, you can look for large companies and projects. If you relish the challenges of helping a start-up maintain momentum and build its market, there’s always something in that space.
And if you really want to run your own business, building a customer base and being your own boss, there are freelance opportunities for you, too.
If our guide has helped you identify which coding jobs are ideal for you and you’re excited about moving into the world of freelancing, you might like to check out our guide to winning your first client too.