I was fortunate to be asked by Aaron Lowe (T | B) to be the host for the second SQLFriends Lunch event. The event was really a good time, educational, and a rewarding social mentoring tool. During the event, I was asked many questions – from the differences in execution plan and performance between a hash join and nested joins to a question that stuck with me. “What’s the best part about consulting?” My comical side answered the question with, “The money of course”. Well, that wasn’t my final answer and I’d like to take some more time to talk about what I really think about the question.
Consulting is a career choice that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Why would I say that? Well, throughout my own career I have been a systems engineer working on server architecture and system integrations, a programmer working deep in .NET WinForms and a lot of web interface development, and, as you all know, a DBA predominantly with SQL Server but ranging out into DB2 and Oracle at times. All of those positions allowed me to gain an invaluable amount of knowledge about hardware and how effective one line of code can be on a system. But, each of these was a fulltime, salaried position for a private or public company without much responsibility for an hourly objective or overall dependency on a project. They all revolved around business continuity, company objectives, many projects that consisted of months and years of splitting to user interactions, support and maintenance of other systems as well as the delivered systems and, most importantly, providing myself as an employee.
Consulting has a lot of the same objectives, but there is a distinct disconnection from the two. Consulting is a project- or task-based statement of work that has an essential structure of providing a product in the form of services or delivered product that is removed from your control. While in the position as a consultant, you still have a relationship with a company like a full time employee. In fact, I think it is one of the most important qualities to be a successful consultant. A successful relationship means trust between the client (company or entity) and the consultant. Trust equates to many things as a consultant: skills, presentation, and delivery.
Depending on the level you enter consulting at, your skills are usually tuned to a high level. Don’t take this the wrong way though. You should be required to have the skills to answer questions on demand that are precise and detailed enough to business leaders so that the overall objective of the statement of work can be achieved. However, this does not mean that you have to be skilled in every key word or mechanism your field entails. What is even more important are skills in defining, deconstructing, and delivering an answer or solution to a problem or complex question. As a consultant, you should always seek the highest level of skills in your specific field of technology but also seek the highest skills in defining, deconstructing and delivering both yourself and the skills you’ve achieved.
As an employee, you may have years to build a relationship with a company. Over that time, evolution of that relationship builds into a level of trust. Many times, a consultant has little time with a client. With little time, presentation is everything. Presentation directly relates to presenting yourself to the entire client or entity during the whole duration you are with them. This starts from the first email, phone call or in-person meeting to the day you leave the client. During the time you have, how you talk, react, handle situations, show stress and present your findings, solutions or finished products, all reflect the organization’s choice in utilizing you and the consulting firm you work for. Take the concept very seriously in how you present yourself and do your best to presenting yourself in a calm, professional and respectful manner while still delivering the skills you have to offer.
The final result of any consulting time with a client is the delivery of what was expected based on what design, task or, statement of work had been defined in the beginning of the relationship with you and the client. Delivery may seem like a simply task. Hand the keys of the server or the software over to the client and hand in your key card. Easy enough, right? Delivery is more complex than that. Delivery takes into account skills and presentation once again. Deliver a finished product or service in a presenting manner in which you are back to the beginning stages of a sales objective to gain a client. Deliver the product or service with well-written documentation, well-designed and thought out. Do so in a supportive and professional way that encourages and promotes the overall high value you as a consultant have provided to the client during the entire duration of your time with them. Delivering products and services as you are parting with a client reflects on that client’s perception of you or your consulting firm for years to come. That ripples through to other potential clients and future growth.
I didn’t answer the question
I started this article with a question: What is the best part about consulting? The answer is skills, presentation and delivery. In consulting, skills in your specific technology are compounded to levels that may not be feasible otherwise. Skills in building presentation capabilities of you as a valued service may not be feasible due to the overall results of failing. The ending result and achievements in delivery is fulfilling and greatly rewarding. Pulling your skills and presentation into delivery creates the achievement that consulting, at times, can only provide in a successful career in technology.
Consulting is absolutely not for everyone. I’ve had many friends and been associated with community leaders that went into consulting, only to go back to full time employment later. Although this does happen, consulting is no different than a full time position in that respect. This is the same determination as you would think of a comparison of a .NET Programmer vs. a Database Administrator. One is a better fit for one person while the other suits the next. If you have an opportunity to go into consulting and question if you should or if you would like it, look over the three main points we’ve gone through in this article and ask yourself if you can build on them while building your technology based skills. Being successful doesn’t have to mean being a consultant or mean you have to have a full time position. It simply means, be successful in what you have chosen to do as a career.