Are Elance or ODesk good sites to find work?

The subject is a question I receive quite often by junior Developers who are looking for a way to get some extra income. Since the frequency of such question is increasing, I thought it was time to write a public answer. Such answer is no.

The reason behind it is simply that, on such websites, you only find three categories of people:

  • Clients who are looking to spend as little as possible. Forget about quality, thorough testing, reliability, speed and so on, Elance/ODesk Clients are not interested to anything like that. That is, the cheapest contractor will win, almost without fail.
  • Cheap contractors from emerging Countries. While there are some skilled ones amongst them, many are beginners, who attempt to get into Software Development as a way to get some cash, and they will work for as low as one dollar an hour, to win a bid. The result will be, often, a mess, but many Clients won’t care until they will have to pay.
  • You (and many others), checking if there’s a chance to earn some extra cash. Unfortunately for you, the only way you could possibly make it is by offering to do more work to the Client at a cheaper price than the competition. That is, you might have to work for a fraction of your Country’s minimum wage, and treat the Client like a king, until you get yourself known in the community, so that you may (and I wrote may), one day, get a better contract.
    Think yourself as an outsourced Cinderella, with the difference that  you don’t know if your Fairy Godmother is even alive.

If above scenario seems surreal to you, just join any of the websites and have a look around. After a while, let me know how it has taken you to realise that:

  • Spending more than five minutes writing a proposal for your potential Clients is a waste of time (they won’t read it, they just want a cheap bid).
  • Specifications don’t make sense (“I need a system that has a hundred features, but I will describe it only to the winner”, i.e. you must bid without knowing what you will have to do).
  • Many Clients behave like arrogant pr.cks. They offer a miserable budget, and they also dare to make fun of bidders with pearls like this one:

    Most of you seem skilled, so we will decide based on the best price. Competing with each other will be tough for you, but it will make our life easier.

    I’m sure that, if they could, they would write “now kill each other, you dogs, and I will hire the last one standing” (which is the basic idea behind the Elance/ODesk system). I would love to see what will happen if they will get burned by an cheap bidder. Chances are that they will publish an even more aggressive job posting, lowering the budget further “because they wasted enough time and money”.

Still willing to try?

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