Earlier this year, just by replying to a tweet I found myself in a "Contractor" job, in Rust (yay!) and ended up networking myself into 4x 1 hour interviews. They went from CTO > COO > 2x members of their engineering team, let's call them Mark and Penny. Mark worked on the API side of things in Rust, and Penny created amazing UI/UX in React (think "Scratch", by MIT).
During my entire career, each encounter with a client has meant that I have personally worked on every contract moving forwards, and I too have been the issuer of many "Contractor" contracts to other engineers themselves.
In one of my past engagements in developing a complex Android solution, I spent over 6-months with a British legal-team to finesse the details of their contract, which covered aspects like licensing and even licensing of dependencies!
So you can imagine by now, I have a fairly keen sense of getting good and bad "vibes" off the people I'm about to engage with when I start requesting for changes to a contract. For the sake of anonymity, let's assume the company hiring me was called Lumiere and at the initial conversation my first suspicion started when they hemmed and hawed at my annual rate of $90k. They wanted this dropped to $75k, which was disappointing, as this says (1) they do not value my experience and skillset and (2) they prefer shopping for a better bargain.
I try to be fair (yeah, I need to work on this, I should be more ruthless moving forwards), as the nice guy ultimately gets shat on. I managed to get a Google doc copy of their horrible boiler plate, which by the way was the first time I a saw a "jury waiver clause". It's basically a contractor contract that prevents the contractor from any form of litigation. Anyone signing this, has to be somewhat mad, as it basically means that you have absolutely no right, and the company can screw you as many ways, and you can't do anything about it.
So I made a first pass of edits, saying I wanted added to the contract:
- The 30-day paid leave aspect mentioned in writing
- The pay bump in 6-months to $90k
- Confirmation they would credit my bank account, in arrears
- and some other minor changes with regards to invoicing.
I finally had another call with the CTO and we agreed that I would get a letter confirming the pay-bump. However, the COO comes back with an email saying "you have this email and take our word for it". What is he smoking, sounds like the good stuff right?
With my spidey-senses all tickling, I had to reach out for advice and my fears were confirmed. The boilerplate contract was 100% useless. So I sent them a counter-offer which was designed once more to either trigger a harsh response - they could pay 6-months upfront and include a "claw-back" clause, confirming my suspicions or to see if they would be interested in discussing options further.
Suffice to say, offence was taken and yay, I dodged a bullet there. The outrage was telling, as I was just exploring a possible collaboration and owe them absolutely nothing. The "just an email" spiel also means you can't really trust them.
The only sad part is, I did look forward to working with Mark and Penny.
So, what's the takeaway oh wise one
Well, I'm definitely wiser and learning to trust my gut more for sure. When it comes to start ups always, exercise a good degree of caution. More so when they try to pay you in "equity". Translation: we'll pay you in promises and you'll get effed when you try to collect.
Any employer should be open to formulating a fair contract, and don't let them bully you into a corner.
Many startups are also cash strapped, however big they are. The amount of liquidity they have can be very limited, especially when they are desperate for another round of funding.
There are aspects of this engagement that are still rather confusing, and leaves me with many "Why, oh why?" on the part of their actions, but C'est la vie, it's exciting too as I get to hunt for something better in Rust.