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This question might be more applicable to the Stackoverflow crowd, but is not a coding question.

I recently hired a freelance developer to build a certain script. From there, after the script was run and built, they hit "execute" and this script took several hours to run; the script could be run in the background, and did not take any active participation on their part. In fact, I could have just as easily run the script on my computer.

I was surprised when they sent me the bill, and included the time the background script ran as billable hours. I've worked with many developers before, and never encountered this exact situation, so before I confront them I was curious if those in the community believe this is against standard practice or whether I should take it as acceptable (even if aggressive) billing practice.

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    You may also want to ask this question at "Workplace StackExchange" : workplace.stackexchange.com Jan 21, 2022 at 8:28
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    I think this depends a lot on what the script was for, how critical it is, and how important it is to catch issues as soon as possible when they happen.
    – Daniel
    Jan 21, 2022 at 12:38

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Would you have been happy had, say, the developer gone to bed or gone to a movie while the script ran? Even if the script was generating errors or causing the CPU on some machine to spike or causing some other problem? Or if it was running 10x longer than expected?

Most scripts that are generated and run for most clients require some level of human monitoring because there is always a chance that something is going to go wrong. That doesn't mean that a human is staring at the output constantly for a couple hours. But it probably means that they're available in case someone starts complaining (i.e. "ack, the website has crawled to a standstill!") or in case the script starts doing something unexpected. And if they need to be available and watch the script or respond to potential issues, it's pretty reasonable that they'd bill for that.

Personally, I would prefer to either do some other billable work for the client in the foreground while the script runs so that I'm not billing solely for watching a script run or to have a lower "on call" type rate that would apply to periodically watching a script. But that depends on things like when it's reasonable for a script to run and what sort of rate you're paying. As a DBA, lots of the scripts I run need to be run after hours rather than during the middle of the day and I'm probably not doing my best development when I'm kicking off a script at 1am so multi-tasking probably isn't a viable option. And if you're already paying a low-end hourly rate, it's a lot less likely that the contractor is going to want to agree to an even lower on call rate. If you're paying a high-end hourly rate, there is probably more room for discounting. Of course, this also assumes that this is something that would happen often enough to bother handling differently.

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  • Thank you, this is helpful context. In this case, this was a non-urgent data processing script (run completely locally), so yes it would have been fine if the developer was off-call. For these other situations, your description makes sense, and I appreciate the context you've provided. Jan 21, 2022 at 13:47
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I work for a consulting company where this comes up fairly regularly. The litmus test for us is this:

Could the individual running the script reasonably go work on something else while the script runs>?

If they have to babysit it, or it is not running long enough that it would be practical to switch to another task in the meantime, then we would bill that time.

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The question isn’t just whether the freelancer could be working, but whether he could make money during the time. Would he have accepted “you work from nine to twelve, then you hit a button and go home, then come back the next day, and you get paid three hours, not a day? Unlikely. He needs to earn his money.

What would you have said if the script broke after 20 minutes when he’s gone, next morning he fixes the script and hits the button again?

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I was surprised when they sent me the bill, and included the time the background script ran as billable hours.

What does the contract say? You were either paying a flat amount for the development and testing of the script, and having them produce the output of that script. Or you were paying some sort of hourly rate that had an estimated number of hours, and a description of what tasks those hours would have covered.

When delivering the estimate as part of the contract negotiation, the freelancer would have to estimate the level of effort during the run time. They would have to decide if the CPU cycles being assigned to this step of the process meant they couldn't bill somebody else for that time. They would have also had to charge some rate if the running of the script occupied the computer so it couldn't be used for other tasks. The more requirements regarding the machine, the time, and place ; the more likely they will have to bill for those hours.

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