Thoughts on being a consultant…

Since 1979, I was a regular IT employee of the organizations I joined and left up until early 2008. “Consulting” to others in the organization was something I started doing as I gained useful knowledge and experience (while trying to dump anything un-useful on an on-going basis…like Data Flow Diagrams), often within a staff unit that did R&D. I drove the implementation of new methodologies at one company, for example, to the point of defining and delivering training to other employees.

Of course, I also worked with external consultants now and then; most often they were people with experience in a method or tool the company was adopting, to accelerate that adoption. It is a slightly unusual that I never worked with out-sourced resources over those years; the employer I spent the most time with had been an early example of outsourcing their computer operations to a subsidiary, and then selling the excess capacity to other companies. But, the project and development staff stayed within the main IT organization to be ‘with the business’ and that included me. (This does not include the many contractors I knew who came on-site to work; to me they were peers who just had a different employment model.)

Back when outsourcing got going, it was all about the impact on programmers and related tech roles. As a Business Analyst, I was comforted by the initial assertions by various gurus and pundits that Business Analysts could never be out-sourced, because we need to be near the business people to do our jobs.

However, as I gained experience, learned a lot and (hopefully) got better at what I do, it became apparent to me that while Business Analysis could not be outsourced to other continents, it is a discipline that could be done by external resources. They would come in for a focused period of analysis and deliver a set of requirements that could indeed be understood by the business and be of use as input to design and development. I knew this because even as an employee, because more and more I would do analysis for one project, then move on to the next one while the first project moved into development. I would be available to that development team as needed for questions or changes, but this only required a small part of my time. So, it was not necessary for a Business Analyst to stay with a project until its conclusion, there was no more Business Analysis to do to keep them fully engaged. (Now, if a BA also manages the project, or does testing, that’s a different thing, and I avoided both of those tasks most of the time.)

Being somewhat of an optimist, I thought this could be an opportunity rather than a threat, and I started looking at consulting companies as an option for a career change. This ‘looking’ lasted a while, as the majority of consulting companies did not do business analysis; lots of design and coding, but no analysis. I did not want to branch out as an independent consultant, or even a straight contractor, a little too risky.

However, I and the right consulting company found each other in 2008. It took only a few weeks before I joined up.

Hmmm, this has been a lot of lead-up to what my thoughts are now; perhaps they will help someone else who is heading down the same path as I was.

So, thought #1, concerning Travel: the typical week is fly out to a client’s location on Sunday evening, work 5 days, return home Friday evening. I had never minded doing business travel in the past, but it was not frequent, so the concern is what will traveling all the time do to you; will you burn out in some way?

Two years in, the travel is OK. It’s not glamorous; all I see is airports, hotels and client offices. Only one time have I stayed over at the client location to do a little sightseeing; that is not the same as a vacation with family, though, so I don’t expect to do it again soon.

Speaking of family, I have three sons, and the youngest was 20 when I started this. I don’t think this could have worked when they were growing up, it would not have been fair to them or their mother, so the timing has worked out.

Benefits? A lot of hotel points that did cover lodging for our last vacation. Most of my flying is short-haul on the east coast, so the frequent flier points are building slowly. Don’t believe I will reach the million mile level anytime soon…

More thoughts to come in future posts….

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