Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Consulting

I've been thinking about this for quite some time now. 2+ years ago I joined a small, boutique consulting shop that focused on OBIEE. If you've been around her for any length of time, that 2+ years is a lifetime for me.

I've had the pleasure of meeting quite a few, very skilled, Oracle people over the last few years. I've shared beers with them and I've been able to pick their brain...a lot.

I ask questions, lots of them. Both my parents were journalists and boy did they ask a lot of questions. Wasn't the best thing, especially when I hit those teenage years (leave me alone!), but I can look back now and appreciate what they passed on to me.

I guess I'll go through my thoughts, pros and cons, of consulting. Fill in the blanks where necessary in the form of comments.

Cons

Let's start with the bad stuff, maybe that means you'll stick around to hear the good stuff below.
  1. Travel - This is both pro and con in my opinion. If you have a family, especially young children, travel is not fun. If you don't like to fly on airplanes, it's not fun. If you don't like living out of a suitcase, it's not fun. If you like coaching your son's baseball team, it's not fun. If you like having a schedule of any sort, it's not fun. I miss my family when I am gone.
  2. Food - Again, will be on both lists. If you try to watch what you eat, it's not easy to do while traveling. You have to work pretty hard to find good, healthy food while traveling. Sometimes it's just too easy to eat whatever is easiest. Heck, your tired from traveling, just make it easy. Easy <> Healthy.
  3. Exercise - It's incredibly tough to get into a groove when you travel a lot. You have to go out of your way, at times, to find either a decent running trail or decent gym equipment. Not easy.
  4. Benefits - No company provided health insurance. No time off. No sick days. If you aren't working, you aren't getting paid. If you suck at time management, like I do, this can be quite painful.
  5. The Hourly Wage - Pay is down there as a pro, as it should be. The part that I hate, is that if you aren't careful, you'll begin to think of all of your time as time you aren't billing. That ain't healthy. I think I've finally broken this mindset, but it wasn't easy.
Pros

Pros are easier.
  1. Pay - You get paid by the hour. I prefer this to the salaried positions...I would work upwards of 65 to 70 hours a week as a salaried employee. I'd end up making like $3 per hour. Blah. That sucks.
  2. Travel - If you like to travel, you'll get to do lots of it. I traveled a fair amount when I was a kid, I enjoy it (except the plane part, transporter technology needs to be invented soon). The first year with this consulting company included quite a bit of travel. I was a platinum member (75+ nights) at Marriott. I will be losing that status shortly as I have only traveled one time in the past 18 months for work.
  3. People - It should be no surprise that I like people. Well, with consulting, you get to meet a lot of new people from all over. I was a military brat, moved 8 times before I graduated high school, I really enjoy meeting new people.
  4. Problem Solving - I'll call this the AskTom effect. I have no doubt that Mr. Kyte was a pretty smart fellow prior to starting up that little site, but I think that forcing yourself to answer approximately 10 questions a day, has increased his breadth of knowledge by an order of magnitude. Granted, many of the questions he could probably answer of the top of his head, but...a big but, he constantly provides examples for those easy ones. And what about the hard ones? He answers those too. How often are you asked questions that test your knowledge limit in your particular area of expertise? He does that on a regular basis. I think the same goes for consulting, only on a smaller scale.

    Each and every client you go to has their own unique set of challenges. Things you wouldn't otherwise see if you stayed at one place your entire career. I believe you learn a lot more than the average person if you spend time in consulting simply because of those unique challenges.

    Here's another example. Cary Millsap estimates that he went to client sites about 35 times a year, for 10 years, during the 1990's. That's 350 different environments, different challenges all of them. Do you think that has had an impact on his knowledge and experience? I certainly do. I'll say the same thing about Mr. Millsap, he was a smart guy before doing all that, but I argue that it made him that much better at what he does/did.

    As does consulting in general.

    I've been through a few jobs in the past few years. Each job I learned something new. I was exposed to different problems. It made me better at what I did.

    The beauty of consulting, is that now I don't have to "change" jobs every now and then, I just get new clients. It is possibly one of the reasons I stayed in Gainesville, FL for so long, I got to stay in one place but everyone else came and went (it's a college town for those that don't know, a very transient population).
So, in summary, I really love the problem solving aspects of travel. Being paid for the time you actually work is a bonus, but there are trade-offs. I'm not sure I'll do this forever...I think it would be awesome to be at a job for years on end where you know everything about the business. I just don't see that in my very near future.

7 comments:

Marco Gralike said...

Problem I have with consultancy is that it's " in and out ". You solve the problem and that's it. Most of the time you don't see the end results over a longer time period, so you don't know for sure if it actually was, although you hope of course, the spot on right solution.

Tim... said...

I agree with what you're saying. I felt pretty much the same way when I was contracting. That was longer assignments than most consultancy jobs, but the variety of companies I experienced really helped push me further.

I find the conference speaking like mini-consultancy as you are constantly introduced to new sets of people with their own set of questions and issues. First few times I was terrified of not knowing the answers. Now I just say, "I don't know". :)

Me and my contractor friends always used to say contracting/consultancy is a young (wo)mans game. The more ties and responsibilities you get, the harder it is to pack your bags and leave for the week.

Cheers

Tim...

chet justice said...

@Marco

Yeah, good point. I'll need to add that.

Add to that the reputation of many consultants within a company...they just slap something together, get paid, and don't have to deal with the consequences. I think I was assuming all consultants are equal, in that they all want to do their very best.

chet justice said...

@Tim

re: A young person's game

I can see that with contracting, but with consulting (theoretically anyway), you should know quite a few things. That's where, I think, those long term engagements come in, when you are young so that you can make mistakes and learn from them in a more long term arrangement (i.e. sort of free from reprisal).

Michael said...

Chet, I agree with you 100%. Consulting/contracting is a mixed bag of joy and sorrow. Every Tuesday night when I am traveling, knowing that I have another two days of work before I can head back home... it's hard. The thought of going back to the weekly travel schedule sends shivers down my spine. I, like you, have been working from home for the greater part of 18 months. I recently went up to Atlanta for a project and bleh...being reminded of that life was an eye opener and helped me a bit in figuring out what I do and don't want to do going forward.

At least the money is good. :)

Gary Myers said...

"Both my parents were journalists"

Same here. It probably explains something, but I'm not quire sure what.

Anonymous said...

From what I've seen (both as a consultant and working full-time), many consulting firms are just H1-B indentured servants billing at ridiculous rates (and they only see 15-25% of that).

Naturally, the results are half-assed and they break 2 weeks after the consultancy leaves. Consultant-driven solutions cause nothing but problems for internal developers at large companies. It's better just to pay a couple grand and train your own developers on whatever the "tech of the day" is. OBIEE, for example, is not hard (took me about a week to learn how to architect a repository, then another to start hating it because of how horrifyingly limited it is).