#028: From Employee to Indy Data Engineer in 5 Steps

Jan 14, 2023


A big reason to pursue a career in data is the lifestyle potential.

You develop skills that span industries and can easily work remotely.

Plus, it’s now more acceptable to work as an independent vs full-time employee.

I know this first hand as I’ve been a consultant through my own company since March 2021.

But while many data engineers have independence as a goal, I also know how overwhelming it can be to take that leap.

So today I want to offer some inspiration by sharing 5 steps to help you go from employee to independent data engineer.

  1. Plan your strategy
  2. Start a business fund
  3. Update LinkedIn profile
  4. Share your knowledge
  5. Land your first client


Step 1: Plan your strategy

We all love stories of the entrepreneurs who risk it all to follow their dreams without a plan.

But please don’t do that.

Once you start working with clients, you’ll have less time for planning.

So take advantage of your free time now.

Create a Google Drive or take notes on paper.

Because now you need to learn business administration, not just data engineering.

There are many topics, but here are a few to research:

  • Taxes: Independent contractor (1099) vs Employee (W2)
  • LLCs: Sole-proprietor vs S-Corp
  • Paying Yourself: Wages vs distributions
  • Admin Tools: Time-tracking, payroll, etc.
  • Insurance: Personal & business

Note: You don’t need to know it all to get started.

But the more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel making the switch.


Step 2: Start a business fund

You won’t last in business if you run out of money.

And as a consultant you may have periods with $0 income.

There’s no safety net of the steady employee paycheck.

So plan ahead for this.

For example, I created a new savings account a full year before leaving.

I put a portion of my paycheck into this “business fund” every 2 weeks.

Think of it like an investment in your own company (vs a public stock).

By the time I landed my first client, I had a nice cushion and felt more secure.

Patience is key.


Step 3: Update your LinkedIn Profile

The best place to find your initial client(s) will be LinkedIn.

So make sure your profile is up to date and full of details.

In particular, make sure to include specific languages or data tools you’ve used.

Recruiters use softwares that send InMails based on automated filters.

And these filters are based on keywords.

Make sure you’re hitting them.

Once you do, the messages will start coming in.


Step 4: Share your knowledge online

The more content you share online, the more people will become aware of your skills.

And you don’t need to create YouTube videos or a newsletter.

Start by writing LinkedIn blog posts, Tweeting or giving thoughtful replies to others.

Don’t expect people to randomly find you after one post.

The key here is consistency.

The more you post, the more people will associate you with your skills.

The more people see you, the better chance you’ll have to create a connection.


Step 5: Land your first client

After you’ve planned, saved, updated and shared, the final step is to land a client.

For me, I was turned down many times by recruiters after saying I would only work as an independent.

But eventually one agreed.

From there, I was off to the races.

Aside from LinkedIn, other great options are:

  • Partnering with a staffing company
  • Joining a consulting talent network (ex. PWC Talent Exchange or GigNow)
  • Upwork

Be prepared to be told No a lot.

But you only need one Yes to start.

Stay patient.


I also realize the independent route may not be for you and that’s okay!

You can have an incredible career working at a company and being part of great teams.

But if you’ve had the itch to go independent, I hope this has helped you in a small way.


Looking for more? Here are 3 other ways I can help you:

  1. The Playbook for dbt™ - Learn step-by-step how to build, automate & scale dbt projects from scratch using best practices (Join 110+ students)
  2. Consulting - Lets partner on your data project. Hire me as a hands-on consultant (Booked until Feb)
  3. Sponsorship - Promote your product or brand to 5,000+ email subscribers and/or 16k+ YouTube subscribers (Starting Feb)


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