Why Hire Junior Contractors?

George Dinwiddie asked me a question in email, “Why do companies hire junior-level contractors?  I feel bad about spending the company's money trying to teach these junior contractors to be better software developers.  A junior-level direct hire makes sense, as you expect them to be around long enough that the education pays off.  But a junior contractor seems like a total waste–training someone for the benefit of a later engagement, probably with another company.”

Sometimes, I just don't understand the money games companies play. It's “cheaper” in terms of money outlay to hire junior contractors, because you don't pay benefits. But, you also don't receive the value of the money. You're investing in a person who can't possibly stay long enough for you to get the payback.

The problem is you can't measure a single person's costs or productivity. You hve to remember that it's the team‘s cost and the team‘s productivity. Any new hire will reduce the team's overall productivity. That's one reason I advocate assigning a buddy for a while, so only one person is directly affected by questions.

But it takes anywhere from 6-12 months for people to become effective in an organization. How long do your contractors last? Many organizations (in the US) have a rule about eliminating contractors in a year. If you've hired junior contractors, you've just wasted the money you spent for a year on that contractor, and reduced the productivity of the team.

If you believe you need to hire junior contractors, think hard about what you and the team will get out of them.

6 Replies to “Why Hire Junior Contractors?”

  1. Why hire junior contractor programmers?

    (1) It looks like you are doing something.
    (2) It doesn’t cost much money.

    Of course it is a waste of money, but often (1) is what people are after, mere appearance (see, for example, Congress, U.S.).

  2. Overall I agree with Johanna. Hiring anyone “junior” is a monumental waste of time and surely to piss off one’s own team to ‘babysit”. Adding to the injury, you’re probably providing a poor example to the junior contractor who’s going to learn a lot of bad things – as the environment is not optimal.

    Now as to the appearance of doing something, at the end of the day (yes there are end of the days for projects as forever that may be sometimes), the free lunch stops and an accounting will happen. It might cost a few people their jobs…hopefully not one’s own!

    Only inexperienced managers hire “junior contractors” or management consultants as the case may be…

  3. Lui, I don’t believe that “only inexperienced managers hire junior contractors.” In fact, I’ve seen otherwise.

    I do believe that in some companies the corporate contracting office, in an attempt to save the company money in the only way available to them, set rates that ensure only junior contractors can be hired.

  4. I do not disagree with the perspective you all have, particularly when they are used as cost saving, but if we do not hire junior developers how they gain the experience to be a senior developer?

  5. Been there, Done that….

    Not sure about the corporate policies, But being a Senior Consultant myself, I would always like to have a junior consultant to shadow me, as a way to express/share my knowledge and to make that person competant (My ego satisfied). There are things that I hate to do over and over again for years, and I would provide my best (Combined ROI is much higher), when these day to day tasks are handled by a junior (A benefit to the company)….

  6. Hi George,

    Sure, managers of all stripes will hire and use junior contractors, but to me, that’s akin to playing russian roulette with your operations and projects. The supposed cost savings evaporates from the rework that inevitably happens when using junior contractors. Just don’t do it unless there’s a way to provide the necessary support. Otherwise, you’re asking for a lot of trouble for not alot of upside. My personal experience says that a truly qualified senior contractor is worth many times the junior contractors available out there. I’d hold out and negotiate it as a cost savings.

    As for using junior contracts on projects as Shree points out, yes, that’s fine because there’s senior oversight. What so often happens is that senior oversight is non-existent and junior contractor is asked to perform outside his/her competency and the fire fighting begins. Personally, I’d rather pay a senior contractor to do something faster and with better quality than a junior contractor cheaper, unknown quality, and often longer time.

    This isn’t to say there aren’t any good junior contractors out there – there are – however, caveat emptor. All of this is of course dependent on the company’s environment and needs.

    But that’s just IMHO.


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