How Engineers are developing the creator economy
When we talk about the creator economy, we often picture people on Instagram that promote different products and post often about their various travels. Or the YouTube show that you watch about crypto with a successful investor. These creators all make money using their platforms and many of them leave their full-time jobs to pursue these opportunities.
There is a whole segment of creators with engineering backgrounds that are also part of this economy. Some work freelance jobs on various engineering projects while others start their own business. If you’re an engineer, you may be wondering how you can get into this field.
Let’s talk about tech developers in the creator and gig economics, how to get started working as a freelancer, the skills/knowledge they need, and more.
What is the Creator Economy
The creator economy is made up of over 50 million independent content creators, community builders, and curators. This includes bloggers, videographers, and social media influencers that have popularized the class of business. It also includes the software and finance tools that are designed for these individuals to help them grow their business and monetize it.
There are three trends that happening right now in the creator economy:
- Creators are turning into founders who are building teams and tools that help them start new businesses
- Creators are moving their top fans off social networks to their own apps, websites, and monetization tools
- Growth in their power in the media ecosystem as fans wish to connect individually with personalities
The creator economy is booming, particularly faster due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The lockdown forced people and businesses to use online platforms for virtually everything.
The creator economy is booming today due to four big reasons:
- Accessibility into the economy- Smartphone subscriptions worldwide is over 6 billion in 2021. Social media platforms are also heavily used and free. This allows anyone to use these platforms to create content quickly and easily with the use of technology.
- Revenue stream potential – It’s possible for content creators to make money using these platforms. That amount will vary by industry and other factors, but people can bring in extra cash as a side hustle or hobby. Done in this way, they don’t have to leave their day jobs to do it.
- Endless opportunities are available – Once a creator has built a solid following in their niche and industry, the possibilities can become endless. From company collaborations, brand deals, to even new business venues, content creators have the potential to drive new revenue streams.
- Creators can reach audiences that big companies have trouble with – In their specific niches and industries, content creators spend a lot of time understanding their audiences. The language and overall culture within a platform become areas where creators are experts. That makes them important to brands who will form deals with these creators to leverage their audience.
Upcoming Shifts in Content Creation
Digital is becoming a whole other dimension when it comes to our human lives. On average, people were spending 13 hours a day online on average according to a report from LDV Capital. The internet has become another way we interface with one another.
We are using it to go to school, make doctor visits, attend concerts, play games, date, and much more. This trend was happening even before the pandemic. Content creation is experiencing some dramatic shifts. The vast majority of digital content is digital in nature: Text, photo, video, live streaming, animation, gaming, avatars, etc.
New breakthroughs in visual tech tools for creating, publicizing, moderating, and monetizing are changing the way that content is being created. We’re moving from physical goods like jewelry, painting, etc. to a creative economy that’s becoming digital.
The ones who will be enabling this dramatic evolution are developers who create these platforms, tools, and services that will allow creators to evolve their craft.
How Tech Developers interface with the Creator and Gig Economies
Let’s talk about one of the biggest shifts that happened when we first experienced when the lockdown happened. Restaurants that primarily sold meals through dine-in service had to close their doors. With take-out or delivery as the only options, some restaurants that didn’t have good systems in place suffered even more.
Apps like DoorDash, UberEats, and Grub Hub exploded as consumers shifted their habits to these channels. Entrepreneurial engineers like siblings Phu and Phuoc Hguygen launched their app-based delivery service, called Foode. Their food delivery app charges a lower delivery commission to restaurants and groceries, while delivery fees are based on the customer’s geographic distance.
One of the components of the creator economy is the platforms that these content creators use to build their audiences. People who are in engineering jobs are the ones who are handling developing these technologies.
For example, there is Stripe that offers a way to power the infrastructure in the creator economy. One of the key pain points for creators is getting their money after becoming a success in monetizing a platform. It is challenging for creators to both accept payments and make payouts. Stripe’s development team upgraded its payments infrastructure so that it aligns better with businesses that are in this space.
Co-founders Guy Oseary and Michael Powers have built a live video platform called Bright that allows users to connect with their favorite creators. The service is built on top of the videoconferencing platform, Zoom, and allowed fans to talk to creators in live, face-to-face video sessions.
Becoming a freelancer and doing contract work completing projects in the creator and gig economy is another way for engineers to get involved. They may offer their experience and skills to help early-stage startups and even mature companies build technology platforms for these economies. We’ll talk more about beginning an engineering consultant next.
Developer Success in the Creator Economy
It has become easier to become a developer creator than ever before. Starting a software company, particularly a SaaS is more accessible today. The founders in these fields are able to use low-code or no-code tools in their product development process.
Developer creators have the opportunity for lucrative business ventures. Median developer creators are making more money than the top quartile of other creators. The difference between a full-time software developer or engineer and one that does freelance projects is that the latter works on an ad-hoc basis. Take a look at Indie Hackers for example. These developers are making over $120k a year on these projects.
Here are a few of the most compelling opportunities for software developers in the creator economy:
- Open-source software – From collaborative to solo endeavors, a growing number of projects are managed by only a handful of developers. For example, three developers authored 73% of Bootstrap commits.
- Online Education – The majority of the top-selling topics found on Udemy are related to technical topics. The demand for developers exceeds the availability and older engineers need to update their skills. Topics like web development, data science, and Python are among the most popular subject areas.
- Live coding – The popularity of live streaming platforms has grown rapidly through the pandemic. These streaming platforms have also expanded to offer additional channels outside their key programming. For example, on Twitch, a gaming streaming, and eSports platform, you can also find channels of users who host live coding sessions. Many of these engineers who have grown a following have gone full-time, making their money on fan donations, subscriptions, and brand deals.
What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Freelancing
If you are considering going the freelance route and taking on contract engineering projects, there are many things to consider. A freelance career is not for everyone, so here are factors that you should assess if this is a path you are looking at pursuing.
Advantages of Freelance Software Development
The primary benefit of working as a freelance engineer is the same as it for other types of jobs like freelance graphic design. You get to have flexibility over your work. As a freelance developer, you can choose how much you want to work, when, and where.
In most cases, you don’t need to be tied to working certain hours (i.e. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or be in a certain geographic location. Freelance developers typically also have the freedom to decide the projects that they are interested in, over being directed at what they need to code.
It may also be easier to find work as a freelance engineer than landing a full-time position. New developers who are starting out lack the real work experience of coding that many companies look for. Finding a company to work with on a freelance basis can help build a developer’s experience. It’s also possible to use these contract opportunities to turn into a permanent position at that same company or have interest from others.
The hourly rate of an engineering consultant is typically higher than that of their full-time counterparts. Companies can afford to pay freelancer engineers more because there is less overhead. A contract hire will not need space in a company’s office, health care, and other benefits that traditional permanent employees receive.
Disadvantages of Freelance Software Development
Working as a freelancer is not always consistent. You must always be marketing yourself and look for new projects to take on as you get closer to contract expiration.
Another downside is the possibility of a contract being suddenly terminated. This could be due to a number of different unforeseen reasons. As a result, you must have a backup plan or risk going without income while you find another opportunity.
As a freelance developer, you must run your career like it is a business since that is what it is. Full-time employees don’t have to figure out how taxes they must pay on their income. They have human resource and accounting departments that do that for them. A freelance developer must market themselves to potential clients, invoice their clients, and reach out to clients that haven’t paid.
You may not receive a regular paycheck as your earnings will depend on the projects that you are working on. Managing cash flow is a major challenge as a freelancer.
There are some ways around this though. For example, you can hire an accountant to handle your books and figure out your self-employment taxes. To help avoid situations where you are running down a client for payment, consider asking for up-front payment or partial payment at the beginning of the contract.
How to Become a Freelance Software Developer
As a freelance engineer, you will often work for several clients at one time. Great project management skills to manage these multiple projects are a necessity. But what do you need to do to prepare for a career as a freelancer in the software field? Consider these strategies to help with making the transition.
Choose your Language
Becoming a generalist in the engineering field will actually work against you. It is much easier to market your services and get hired when you specialize your language skills. So choose a certain type of programming such as database development to focus on.
To demonstrate your proficiency, it is also a good idea to learn a niche language or two. By narrowing down your fields, you can establish yourself as an expert. This makes finding subsequent work much easier.
Get Involved with Open Source
As you begin to build your portfolio, contributing to open source projects is an excellent way to show off your coding skills. Better yet, create a new open-source tool. Just like the advice given above this section, you should specialize yourself.
Choose a certain niche or ecosystem in the open-source world to contribute to. This will build your name and reputation within that niche and when projects arise in that field, you’ll have a leg up on the competition.
Keep up with Trends
Take the time to understand new development trends that are happening. Blockchain, AI, and the Metaverse are a couple of the fields that are trending today. Many companies are wary of hiring full-time positions in these areas because of uncertainty if they will be relevant in the future.
One way to keep up with the up-and-coming trends is to network with peers and join larger communities online. By following the conversations that are happening, you can identify future trends and adjust your skill set to cater to them.
Think Beyond Code
Coding is not the only opportunity that is possible for a freelance job as an engineer. Companies that have a smaller in-house development staff are likely to look for developers to do more than just coding. They may need help with product design, website development, planning software management strategies, and other areas.
Building your skills and experience to include areas outside of writing code can allow you to market yourself with a wider net of possibilities. This allows you to go from just a developer to a technology consultant who can offer big-picture guidance as well.