Stanley Smith never wondered what he was going to be when he grew up. “I think I was born to develop algorithms,” he told us. “I learned that when I was 11, doing things around exponential functions such as compound interest and annuity calculations.” So he got a Bachelor’s degree followed by a Master’s degree in physics, and took post-graduate curriculums in theoretical physics, mathematics and statistical decision theory.
Stan then went on to have a 34+-year career as an algorithm engineer and business consultant. But he craved more work in algorithms, and struggled to find local projects for such a specialized area of expertise.
“I always had fairly high-level engineering jobs (principal and senior principal engineer positions), and I had been doing the theoretical side of software implementation. But I was very hungry for that kind of [algorithmic] thinking, which was my stream of consciousness. It was a struggle to find side work, looking at newspaper ads, but it was my only source for 30 years.”
So, without giving up his day job, Stan decided to look beyond local projects and work on oDesk. This decision was perfectly timed with the exponential growth of ‘big data’ and related work, which caused a surge in demand for his analytical skill set. In response to the growing demand for his skills, Stan kept raising his rate and the project requests kept coming.
Now a high-demand freelancer commanding between $55/hr and $70/hr, Stan continues to balance his day job with his freelance career. The large market for his expertise means that he always has more job offers than he can accept, allowing him to work only on projects that he finds most compelling. He explains, “I only take on algorithm- and mathematics-related projects, even though these types of opportunities are rare in Florida. I basically work when I want while doing what I love.”
Because of the high demand for specialized skills on online platforms, Stan advises others with niche skills to also try freelancing—even if they can only commit to part-time—as a way to develop their skills in the area that they most enjoy. He explains, “Here I’m 60 years old and life is getting better and better in that sense. I’m just having the time of my life and it’s a field day for me. I’m doing exactly what I want.”