Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Mobility for today's job market

A quarter of the way into the new year.  Weather gets nuttier, the ground gets squishy, and if you have a job site account that's been updated in the last few months you start getting spammed by recruiters about jobs all over the country.  As someone who's been in IT for two decades now I look back at what I would do differently.  I'm someone who followed the old model of get a job, buy a house, and settle down.  I've worked with people who have adapted to the newer model of short term gigs and constant relocation.  Some keep picking up and moving constantly.  Others... have cracked the system in a way that makes me wish I had thought of it when I graduated college.

If you're in IT, Gaming, art, or any other industry (I'm going to group all these as IT as it's quicker to type! Sorry artists...) that has a highly migratory work force you've probably experienced this.  You get a job offer that promises 1+ years of contract work with relocation required, or you wind up in a direct hire job working for a company that requires 70-100% travel.  Instead of renting apartments, breaking leases, or buying a house you'll never see how about getting a RV or trailer?

So instead of buying a house or renting an apartment, head out and buy a trailer, truck camper, or even an RV.  You'll have a up front cost but it will be lower than renting or buying a house, and in addition you'll never need to box up and move your stuff again!  Just pick up and move your home to the next area!

Lets cover the two types of jobs that are very common in the IT sphere especially for recent grads or newbies.  I'm going to cover specifics for the two types of jobs, then I'll cover the common ground between the two after.  You might be considering a contract over direct hire, but some of these tricks work in either method depending on how you contract.

Contract work:
The typical contract position I've been seeing a lot of lately is 6+ months, onsite required, no benefits or vacation time provided.  You'll be expected to be onsite within a period of time and rarely do you get enough time to find a good place to rent.  Instead of finding an apartment find a nearby rv park, Walmart, RV service center, or even national park.  If you're a single person and have a camper van or truck camper ask your employer if it's alright if you remain parked on late nights or overnight stays.  You can reduce what you spend per week by relocating your vehicle where it's free for you to park over night.  Walmart, Truck rest stops, and even some road side stops can be completely free to use.  Use an RV park or service center to empty your black tank every few days.

As for your hourly rate, work your relocation fee into your rate for that customer.  Set a standard flat rate for just your work over a period of 1 year.  Try to aim for a industry standard.  Standard Java is around $50 an hour, while specialized skills like PLM / SAP / or some middlewear applications can demand $100 an hour in some industries.  For a shorter contract raise that rate by a known percentage.  So for a 6 month contract raise it 10%, for 3 month raise it 20%.  Also take into consideration RV park expenses.  Take the daily expense, divide that by 8, then tag that into your rate.

Direct Hire work:
Many direct hire companies are essentially just a intermediary contract house.  You work for this company, get paid a standard salary with benefits, but you get less annually than you would working contract.  The strengths here is you are somewhat immune to fluxuations in the market for demand.  You'll remain hired even if work dries up, but you may be asked to train on other products to make you more marketable.  Many of these jobs require you to have a home base, but require travel.

In this type of situation take the following into consideration before accepting a job.

  1. If the company requires 100% travel, ask about corporate housing.  You might be able to get paid a little less, but have the company put you up in housing and provide you a rental car.  The amount you'll save far outweighs what little less you'll receive in compensation.  Consider this before looking for an RV.
  2. If your company is not willing or able to provide corporate housing then consider an RV.  As your company will cover your travel and repay your expenses consider the following:
    1. Establish a LLC to own your RV:  Form your own little holding company.
    2. Bill yourself a reasonable rate: As the RV is the property of your company you can bill yourself a reasonable rate for staying overnight.  Many companies have a policy for an agreed upon rate for staying with family.  They'll usually have no issue with paying that.  Or you can bill the "government rate" which comes out to about $98 a night.  You bill yourself, then submit the bill to your company.  You may need the ability to bill your credit card so you might need to add a square or other credit card method.  Many companies won't question lodging expenses that come in on the corporate card as long as they are within reason or even more affordable than other alternatives.
    3. Pay off your rig:  A brand new RV can cost $80k-$120k.  I've known contractors who by billing the $98 a night rate have paid off their rig over 4 years and their LLC makes a profit off of it now.
    4. Ask your family with permanent addresses if you can leave your "residence" set at their house.  Keep your drivers license there.  This can be very helpful if you live in a state with low taxes but work somewhere with high taxes.  As you're working as a traveler your taxes are at your state of residence.  This could also help with your automotive insurance and insurance on your RV/Trailer.

When picking a rig pick something you know you can handle. Remember you can always upgrade later, and you can start off affordably by buying used.  If you own a truck like a F150 your options are more open than if you own a small 4 cylinder car.  A V6 SUV is a good middle ground.  Pick something that has what you need to survive (remember a hotel will give you a bed, closet, TV, and bathroom and that's it).  A 22 foot trailer, or descent truck bed camper will have that.  As someone who travels frequently you'll find you don't use the pool or gym much at hotels.  That and the food at the built in restaurant usually leaves you wishing you had a kitchen to cook for yourself anyway.

I strongly recommend a trailer or truck camper over an RV. Mostly because finding someone to service a truck or SUV us relatively easy.  Finding someone to service a RV is not and rather expensive.  In addition once you've parked your camper you can unhook your tow vehicle for getting about.  As for the ecology of this you'll find it to be better than continually moving.  Think about it.  You generate waste when moving normally of plastic, boxes, etc.  Moving your trailer or RV means there is no packing up needed.  Just put things away and secure the rig before you pull out.  Yes you get lower fuel economy while driving with your rig, but you get worse with a uhaul and your car in tow.

Honestly as I look forward toward retirement I'd consider doing this.  You have much lower expenses and if you decide you want to work some more you can with little effort.  If things get stale you can easily pick up and move without the expense of moving.  If you're just heading into a career in Gaming, IT, Programming, Engineering, or similar consider this first.


  1. Good info here, at least it sounds good from the perspective of a 19 year old pizza driver. I'm the guy that just delivered to your house btw.

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