Freelance vs. Full-Time Developers: Differences and Similarities

Updated June 24, 2022

Many job opportunities exist for developers with programming skills to build products, such as websites, applications and computer systems. You can choose to work for yourself as a freelance developer or work for an employer as a full-time developer. If you're interested in a career in development, it's helpful to understand the differences and similarities between freelance and full-time developers. In this article, we explain what freelance and full-time developers do, describe the similarities and differences between these jobs and provide tips to help you decide which job you might prefer.

Related: Learn About Being a Software Developer

What is a freelance developer?

A freelance developer is a self-employed programmer who contracts with clients on various projects. These professionals write code for programming projects they choose to accept. Freelancers set their requirements for each job, such as the hours they work and payment rates. Many freelance developers work on a variety of projects because they can decide which ones to accept. Freelancers often complete projects for smaller companies that may be unable to hire full-time developers or don't have enough projects to justify hiring one.

Related: How To Become a Freelance Software Developer

What is a full-time developer?

A full-time developer is a programmer who works for an employer to create or maintain products, such as software. These professionals analyze user needs, write code and test products for their company. As technology continues to advance, many employers seek developers with strong programming skills. Developers may work for employers in a variety of industries, including engineering, manufacturing, finance, insurance and software publishing.

Related: 10 Great Reasons To Be a Software Developer

Freelance vs. full-time developer

A freelance developer acts as their own employer and works on projects independently, while full-time developers work for employers and often collaborate with other team members. Despite their differences, the two jobs have many similarities in their responsibilities, required skills and ongoing training. Here are some common similarities and differences between freelance and full-time development jobs:


Freelance and full-time developers both use programming languages, such as C++ or Java, to create computer applications or software, which allow users to complete specific tasks. Full-time developers may work on various ongoing projects for their company to meet production deadlines. A freelance developer, however, can have many responsibilities outside of development projects. For example, freelancers may create and implement marketing strategies to find new clients, negotiate contracts, complete administrative work and manage their finances.

Job outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the job outlook for full-time developers to grow 22% from 2019 to 2029, a rate much higher than the average of all occupations. The agency attributes this growth to a variety of factors, including the need for new smartphone and tablet applications, the growth of health insurance software due to new policy enrollments and a projected investment in security software to protect computer networks. This growth in the industry is also likely to affect freelance developers, though their job outlook depends more on their ability to find and accept new projects.


The average salary for a full-time developer is $50,911 per year. This can vary based on factors such as location and experience. Many companies also offer benefits for their employees, such as health insurance and retirement options. The average salary for freelance developers varies because they can set their own payment rates. Typically, freelance developers can make more money for their work as they gain experience and skills.


Freelance and full-time development jobs often require the same set of skills, such as familiarity with programming languages, database knowledge and problem-solving abilities. A freelance developer can also benefit from developing sales and marketing skills to showcase their qualifications to new clients. A full-time developer, however, usually has excellent teamwork skills to collaborate with other developers or teams involved in the software development life cycle.

Related: Top Computer Coding Skills for Your Resume

Work environment

A freelance developer can work remotely from any location, including their homes. Some freelance developers choose to work in coworking spaces, which are shared spaces for professionals that have common office features, such as printers and conference rooms. Full-time developers typically work in offices with other professionals. If a company has a team of developers, they usually work in the same area to share ideas and update others on their progress. Some full-time developers may work remotely if their employer allows this option.


Many companies that hire full-time developers want them to have a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, such as software engineering. Although it can be helpful for freelance developers to get a bachelor's degree, some choose to learn coding skills on their own or complete a professional certification to gain relevant programming skills. For freelance developers without a bachelor's degree, it can be helpful to have a professional portfolio of projects to show potential clients they have the skills and qualifications to complete a job effectively.

Ongoing training

Ongoing training can be important for freelance and full-time developers to help them learn new languages or tools for software development. Freelance developers proactively monitor new trends and often learn those skills independently. Full-time developers, in comparison, can receive ongoing training through their company. They often complete this training with other team members, where they can ask questions to help one another understand the new concepts.

Tips for deciding between freelance or full-time development

Here are some tips for deciding between freelance and full-time development jobs:

Consider your strengths

When deciding whether you'd prefer to work as a freelance or full-time developer, try to think about your professional strengths. Working as a freelance developer requires a high level of internal motivation to keep finding work. Freelance jobs can also require developers to learn new skills quickly to meet the requirements for different jobs. Full-time development jobs usually offer a consistent type of work, which can benefit professionals who have strong programming expertise in a specific area. Full-time developers also have strong teamwork skills to collaborate with their coworkers.

Identify your work requirements

Understanding the requirements you have for a job can help you decide between freelance and full-time development. Freelance development might be the choice for people who want to have more freedom in their work and the autonomy to set their schedule. Full-time developers usually work a consistent schedule each week, though they can work longer hours when meeting a project deadline. Full-time jobs could be better for people who want to have job security and consistent pay.

Find part-time work

If you're a full-time developer who's interested in freelancing but wants to learn more about this work before leaving your employer, you can try freelancing on a part-time basis. For example, you may complete freelance projects after work hours or on your days off. This can help you determine whether you'd enjoy freelancing more than full-time employment. While you may work longer hours initially, this can be a good way to build a client base to help you feel more comfortable with the transition to freelance development.

In contrast, if you're a freelance developer who may want to find full-time employment, you can look for companies that offer part-time work while you continue to work on freelance projects. Consider checking job listings online or asking past clients whether they know any available part-time jobs. Working part time for an employer while continuing your freelance work can help you determine which role you prefer.

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