On being an engineer, and a freelancer, all at once
There seems to be a general view that the only people who go freelance are those who have obtained a certain type of degree, such as one in communication arts, literature, photography, or fallen — by coincidence — somewhere on the design spectrum. The reality is that freelancers cover a wide spectrum of skills and companies from various industries can find freelancers to be critical for getting work done!
Nabbesh sat down with Charbel Youssef, a full-time senior estimation engineer who has been working on tendering and estimation for electromechanical projects for over 14 years, at the time of writing. Youssef is head of department at the Beirut office of a Nigeria-based company. He hires freelancers to fill positions for more than 10 projects every year.
“I don’t know why some people are startled when they know that an engineering company does actually call upon freelancers very often, and for very serious, long-term jobs.” said Youssef.
Freelancers Youssef hires are tasked with material take off (MOT)-related tasks – quantity check of equipment, evaluating the accuracy of the project’s design, working off a raw map and generating figures, maps, specifications, drawing up bills of quantities, among others.
Youssef shared with us some of the main challenges he faced when he started hiring freelancers. He told Nabbesh that “it wasn’t easy to find quality remote workers who are qualified enough and are familiar with the nature of [the company’s] work. It once took me a month and a half during which I must have connected with 30 people via Skype, but I couldn’t find the right one.”
Just when he was about to give up and hire a full-timer, Youssef came across someone’s LinkedIn page. A week later, the two had agreed on the terms of employment.
“Looking back, I’m so glad we didn’t hire a full-timer. The latter wouldn’t have had much to do, which means unnecessary expenses for the company and very little room to grow for the employee,” he said.
Youssef added that despite it being time-consuming, the search for a qualified remote worker is usually “rewarding.”
He pointed out that although he hasn’t met most of the people he’s worked with — as communication was usually done via Skype or on e-mail —the biggest chunk of them managed to earn his trust. He said he now doesn’t think twice before assigning them a task, even if it was challenging.
“Another good thing about working with someone remotely is that, two or three projects later, you just know who does what best, how long it would take each to complete a task, and the outcome one is likely to receive from each person,” he told Nabbesh. “I assign tasks to freelancers depending on their strengths and weaknesses.”
Youssef also stressed that no delays are permissible at any stage as his department is at the end of the chain, which means that his team has to look over the final tender, introduce the final edits, ensure that all accompanying documents have been finalized, and submit the proposal on time.
“Working with remote workers lightens our in-house engineers’ workload. We are always working on two or three projects simultaneously, and we always need help,” he said. “Just as long as they don’t turn up because we don’t have enough space to accommodate them,” he added as an afterthought.
The head of a major architecture firm in Beirut, who spoke to Nabbesh on condition of anonymity, said, “We are a multinational company with lots of expenses. We need to think about spending wisely. Hiring freelancers cuts down on expenses — not because we pay them less, but because we pay them on a project-basis, as opposed to hiring a group of people whose services might be needed only once every couple of months.”
Noha Maamari, 36, a computer engineer and mom of Sarah, Joe and Joelle, has been working from home for a few years. Maamari had a senior position at a company in Qatar but she quit in 2005.
“Back then I realized I had other priorities, mainly my family and kids, but I didn’t want to send my engineering background and professional experience down the drain, so I started doing some freelance work for my company and now I’ve got more than 10 clients,” she enthused.
Maamari told Nabbesh that she feels a sense of accomplishment each time she submits an assignment. She says working remotely has enabled her as a woman. She likes to call herself a “stay-at-home mom-engineer.”