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FAANG or Freelance/Consulting?

I often consider the work required to build my own saas or freelance company further vs the requirements to get a high paying job at faang or pre ipo startup job. For context, I already work in freelance as a side hustle and earned about 35k in 2020. Most clients came from my network and it wasn't too hard to get started.

For faang, I would probably need to work 6-12 months re-learning algorithm skills (that probably won't have compounding benefits) to be comfortable interviewing.

From there, I actually have to perfect the resume and get interviews. I then actually practice interviewing. I do believe interviewing could have some compounding benefit, ie for problem solving, communication and handling stressful situations .

Say I land the job. I have arrived. Likely building small features at scale, managing a large workload, getting paid well. I'm specialized and focused on software engineering. I'm not certain I would feel fulfilled doing that.

Overall it depends on aptitudes and interests. For me it might be easier to build a sustainable high paying freelance/consulting/saas business than trying to crack faang. Easier probably because I'm more excited for one than the other.

I'm more interested in stretching myself learning other skills like marketing/sales/distribution rather than software engineering alone. I don't expect to become a pro at any of them, 10k hours would be nearly impossible to hit in each category, but the pursuit is worthwhile.

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    While there are certainly negatives to it, as somebody who didn't go this route, I recommend getting some FAANG experience under your belt.

    Here are some of my unorganized thoughts:

    Pros:

    1: It's much easier to strike out on your own with deep pockets and a long runway. You don't want to be making startup/freelance decisions from a point of financial desperation. Checks always take longer than you can stand to clear.

    2: The words "A former Googler..." or "former iOS engineer" give you a TON of prestige when soliciting funding or press. The ability to leverage the reputation of these brands for your own personal gain will help you a lot.

    3: As you said the learning experience from high pressure interviews will help you a lot down the road with sales, and can iron out any interpersonal communication issues you have. Putting yourself into uncomfortable situations is always a net gain.

    Cons:

    1: Time & Golden Handcuffs. Once in and moving up the ladder, it's a lot harder to strike out on your own. The next big bonus or big promotion is always right around the corner. I have several friends who's "3 year Apple Job" turned into 9 years and a condo/wife/kids in the bay.

    2: The FAANG support systems. Every ancillary tool you need is provided for you and managed by a team of hundreds. My biggest frustration working with ex-googlers is the hours they spend complaining about ticketing/crm/sourcecode/etc systems, because whatever they had at their job was perfect. You may struggle to develop the scrappiness required to be a successful freelancer or startup founder.

    FWIW I doubt it would take a full 6-12 months to get good at interviews. Find a good Stanford MOOC on data structures, spend a few weeks grinding out test interviews, and start interviewing at your lowest preference employers.

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      Really appreciate the time you took writing this reply. Its obviously a multi faceted decision, I probably could have written 10x on the subject, but figured I would get some initial thoughts out, start with something, and discuss from there.

      I should also mention, I don't see freelance/consulting as the end goal for myself. I am interested in building a saas or another more sustainable business. I also lean more towards bootstrapping in those projects.

      I think you are right, the name on the resume and the actual experience would be invaluable in the corporate world. From an entrepreneurial level, I wonder if being able to write highly scalable code is really what you need to become a saas founder or even be successful at freelancing/consulting. I think maybe working in product at FAANG could be more broadly applicable, but even then you wouldn't learn to be as resourceful. I may be mistaken, but a job at FAANG would be pretty limited in scope not giving the necessary exposure to the set of skills it actually takes to build a successful saas or any other business for that matter.

      I think I speak from my own background and experience on the interviewing process and what it would take for me. I don't have a direct CS background, so it will involve some self learning. So just giving myself plenty of buffer to learn and practice given a full time job and other responsibilities.

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    One more advantage to working at a larger tech company is building a larger network. This is something I definitely undervalued early in my career.

    Most of your best opportunities come from your network. You already said that's where most of your freelance clients are coming from. Those people might also be your future cofounders, beta testers, employers, employees, etc. So how much would it be worth if your network was several times bigger?

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    I think any programmer working as a freelancer or a consultant should aim to move on to the next level which is to own a successful product. Freelance work is not a reliable long-term situation... It's very competitive, clients can cancel a project at anytime, and there's no income when the freelancer is not working, or if unpaid overtime is required to finish a project. The most valid reasons to do freelance work are freedom to build a business and freedom to travel the world. A reliable job is much better if there is one available.

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      Yeah, I agree. For me its a stepping stone. I do think there is a path to highly paid and reliable software freelancing/consulting work. From my experience, it's enterprise size companies at premium rates with year plus long contracts.

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        Those types of contracts are more like being an employee, and the client often forgets that you are a consultant and not their employee...

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    A lot of good points you made. "Overall it depends on aptitudes and interests." Yes, true. It also depends on financial obligations. Some people need/prefer the $100k+ salary and will build on the side until they get a bit of traction.

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      No question there's a lot to it. Life circumstances like size of family, cost of living, risk tolerance for example. I always keep it in the back of my mind even though so far I am enjoying freelance and think it has a lot of value in preparing me for next steps in the journey, I have to remember the alternative is compelling for a lot of reasons, no doubt.

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