Study: developers are more likely to be self-employed in the UK than anywhere else

Study: developers are more likely to be self-employed in the UK than anywhere else

Stack Overflow has published its 2018 UK & Ireland Developer Hiring Landscape, which examines trends in talent, recruitment, and developer demographics.

As is the always the case with Stack Overflow research, it includes several fascinating insights. The one that caught my attention, however, is the rate of self-employment across the UK workforce.

Nearly 12 percent of UK and Ireland-based coders work for themselves. According to Stack Overflow, this is higher than the US (7 percent) and the global average (10 percent).

So, what’s driving this trend towards self-employment? Stack Overflow doesn’t offer any theories, but I have some of my own to share:

  • Outside of the major cities (well, London really), opportunities get scarcer. There are fewer big tech employers. For talented coders looking for a challenging and well-paid gig, they might be best creating their own.
  • It’s ridiculously easy to start your own business in the UK and Ireland. When I started my freelance writing business five years ago, I was able to register as a sole trader simply by calling the tax office. I think it took me about 15 minutes in total.
    Creating your own limited liability company is a bit more involved, but still fairly simple. The trickiest part is filling out an online form and paying a nominal fee (which can be as little as £10, or $14)
  • The EU makes cross-border trade dead simple, and gives UK freelancers access to 27 other developed markets. It also means that if you have to work on-site for an extended period, you don’t need to worry about visas or anything. Given the UK is in the process of leaving the EU, it’ll be interesting to see how this changes after March 2019.
  • Developers typically earn more as freelancers than they would as employees. And as some of my Twitter friends pointed out, it’s a way to work for the same company, but without dealing with the bureaucracy and corporate culture nonsense.
  • The UK’s NHS healthcare system (and sensible student loan system) means that people are more willing to take risks. If you have a tough month, you’ll still be able to see a doctor.

I reached out to my own network of friends in the software development space, and they had their own ideas. One said that self-employment left him perceived as “feral and unemployable” (his words) to mainstream employers. Once you’ve started working for yourself, it’s seemingly hard to go back.

Another mooted the idea that the UK’s crumbling public transportation infrastructure might have something to do with it. It’s not hard to believe that someone might have spent one too many hours on a delayed train and thought, “fuck this.”

There’s also the argument that being self-employed often removes barriers to entry, especially as certifications are involved. “HR departments struggled to see past my lack of degree. But the business managers that wanted technical expertise were only interested in my experience,” wrote Interconnect IT‘s founder David Coveney

You can read Stack Overflow’s paper here. If you’ve got your own ideas why British and Irish coders are going it alone, feel free to drop me a line via email or Twitter.

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