Life of a Consultant: Renovations by Randy
“You’re talking about the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind!” - Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, Young Frankenstein
I always had a dream of being a writer. I latched onto that dream after my other dreams died horribly: actor, director, producer, singer, and king of the world. Then one day, I was asked to write a blog. As one might expect, I was mortified into inaction. Am I ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille? Do I really want to do this? Be careful what you wish for, indeed.
Alas, here I am, offering advice to new contractors, young and young-at-heart alike.
“I see people going to college for 14 years, studying to be doctors and lawyers. And I see people getting up at 7:30 every morning, going to work at the drug store to sell Flair pens. But the most amazing thing to me, is I get paid for doing this.” - Steve Martin, “Let’s Get Small”
You may be wondering: who is this guy? Then again, you may not. Well, for starters, I am a recovering engineer who has spent a bit too much time with the great thinkers of my generation. You know, guys like Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Gallagher, and Sam Kinison. I spent the early part of my professional life as a consultant in the environmental engineering field after spending what seemed like 14 years in various engineering schools. But I never worked in drug store or sold Flair pens.
“What would the world look like if we all became what we wanted to be when we were children? Imagine a world full of cowboys, firemen, nurses, and ballerinas.” - Lily Tomlin, Saturday Night Live
I was the engineer who was always tasked to tackle the information technology needs of a project. For me, that was always the fun part of being an engineer: working on the non-engineering IT issues of the problem at hand. It was fun for me, so much fun that I never thought of it as a career path. I was bent on becoming a Professional Engineer, not on enjoying my life’s work. Eventually, the engineering market I was in crashed, and I reached a crossroads in my life. Of course, I saw that crossroads approaching faster than a tractor-trailer in the oncoming lane. That was when I came over to the dark side of IT. I realized that fun is an integral part of building success in one’s chosen field. I needed to enjoy what I was doing.
Welcome to MATRIX, young Jedi.
“There is nothing new under the sun.”- King Solomon, The Book of Ecclesiastes
If I had a notch in my belt for every engagement I have had with MATRIX…well, I would not have a belt. That sucker would be shredded. But what have I learned through the years? Hmmm, good question.
In the world of IT, everyone pursues a better mousetrap, but a good hunter has timeless skills. If I spent every waking moment learning every new framework, platform, and methodology that crawled out from under some rock, I would lose my mind, my health, my house, 3 cars, and 4 cats. I have found that while new technologies can lead to a cool, slick solution, they really do not solve a problem. They are just the means to an end, not the end unto itself. Staying current in emerging technologies is generally prudent to keep one’s skills sharp, but no one can know everything about everything. I do not know everything, but I know people who do. Google and StackOverflow.com are my friends.
“For you, it will do anything you tell me to tell it to do for you.”- Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor), Superman III
The most valuable, enduring skill I think a developer can have is the ability to help a client articulate their problem. The best developers I know are equal parts technologist and therapist. One would be amazed at how many clients either do not completely know what they want or need, or worse, cannot articulate what they know they need. I am not saying that clients are stupid. They are not. They have money. Focus on the logical definition, and the technology will unfold in due course. One cannot automate what one cannot articulate, regardless of the technology of choice.
One thing that I have thoroughly enjoyed throughout both my engineering and IT careers has been the opportunity to learn about many different industries and business sectors, ranging from refining and manufacturing, to insurance, finance and investment banking, to e-commerce, and automated traffic enforcement. Learning about the nature of your clients’ businesses builds empathy for the problems they face. While the semantics of those various industries vary widely, they have and continue to share common problems with respect to their information technology needs. Identifying those repeating patterns has been invaluable to me. After all, variety is the spice of life, as the saying goes.
Now, go forth, be fruitful, and multiply contracts! Your staffing representative is watching…