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Up to the Top

Here we are in 2016 and I see it's been a few years since I've talked about work in the abstract. Let's roll things back a year and tell the story of then.

At the start of 2015, I decided to look into the world of online work. Prior to that, I always did my consulting in person and on-site. But I'm open to experimentation and new business approaches, so I decided to see what the “gig economy” offered someone with my skill set.

I did a quick survey of the various sites that seemed to have legitimate job listings for software developers. For various reasons, I decided to give oDesk my main attention. Although I could have registered at all the different sites, it wasn't clear it would be worth that kind of hassle. So until I was sure I understood online work well enough, I was going to keep it simple. I wasn't even looking to make a profit on the time I was spending, I was in it for the learning experience; the possibility of extra cash out of the deal with just a bonus. I gave myself a full year to fully understand how things functioned.

It wasn't a perfect fit. I have decades of experience, but nobody on oDesk seemed to care about any experience that wasn't done under their watchful eye. They offered skill tests, but it was obvious that other freelancers were cheating on them. Searching through their job listings trying to find the best offers was far too time consuming.

And as 2015 ticked on, some major things happened with their platform. oDesk rebranded as Upwork. It started making significant changes to how it evaluated freelancers (the Job Success Score). It gobbled up Elance, another major online work site. They were changes I could roll with, but they definitely weren't changes for the better.

The biggest sin of Upwork, though, is that the good looking jobs just started to dry up. When I chose oDesk at the beginning, it was in part because they seemed to have the largest number of development jobs that paid the best. By the time the end of 2015 rolled around, I was tired of seeing “jobs” that were from people who were looking to get a copy of Uber for $300.

Throughout the year, I even spent time participating in their Upwork Community message boards. While trying to be helpful to clients and other freelancers, I was also openly critical about some of the problems that came with the changes that Upwork had made. If you go looking, you might even be able to find some of it. Other things I wrote, though, got edited or deleted for not being positive enough. It seemed clear that Upwork was not really interested in fixing their problems.

And so my year long experiment with Upwork ended along with 2015. It was not profitable, but it was a success from a learning perspective. My account there is going to be idle until the day they figure out how to actually attract jobs that require world-class professionals rather than sweat shop labor.

That brings us back to 2016 and what to do, what . . . to . . . do. I've decided not to give up on the online world of work completely, and so I'm aiming higher. The subject site of my first experiment of 2016 is Toptal. The claim remains largely the same, so let's see if they live up to it.

Of particular interest to me is going to be their Enterprise offerings. Upwork purported to have a similar program, but I never saw any activity from the big names they listed. Indeed, one of the things I found to be a major shortcoming on Upwork is that they seemed to do everything they could to completely hide who is posting a job, making Upwork a breeding ground for scammers and window shoppers. We'll see if Toptal is any better in this regard.

So that's how I'm starting my Impossibly Stupid new year. With lessons learned and, as always, looking towards the future.