Why I Consult

So I had a phone interview the other day, and the topic of whether the position was employee or contractor came up.

“It’s listed as an employee position,” I replied. I’m paraphrasing here. But it sounded like a choice. “But I prefer contract work. Not a requirement, just saying, if it’s possible that’d be super cool.”

“Okay,” he said. But then the follow-up question: “I’m curious though, why do you prefer a contractor position?”

Hm.

You know, I hadn’t really expected that question. But I’ve been on enough interviews that there’s a fair amount of ad-lib when stuff like this comes up.

I answered the question the best I could, and now I can’t remember what all I said.

But you know what… there are actually a lot of reasons. So I’m gonna squeeze em out!

Reason #1: I hate stability

Sounds weird, right? Why would someone hate stability? Why would someone willingly put themselves in a position where they could be let go at anytime?

Welp, I’ll tell ya: When everything’s fine and stable, you tend not to grow as much. It’s true for your personal and spiritual life, and it’s especially true for your professional life.

What would you career look like if you never had to be challenged? Would you learn stuff as fast? Would you ever get stronger, or cultivate a love for conquering challenges and expanding yourself? Come on! The bumps in life are what you climb on!

And then when Life Happens(tm) and you lose your job due to [fill in the blank], would you be prepared for that change? Probably not. Job security’s an illusion, even for full-time employees. Just sayin’.

So rather than wait for failure to happen, I set myself up for it so that I’m more immune to it when things outside my control cause it. It’s like having a Chaos Monkey for your career, I love it.

Reason #2: Moving fast

I’ve had a salaried job before, and most notably, switching from that to consulting was such a shock, that the only thing I could do was just hit the ground running.

Result? I ended up solving a particularly confusing problem that was hampering test automation. And I’d never really used the automation or the language before.

Yes, moving fast sometimes looks inelegant and furious. But so can hand-to-hand combat. And, you learn real quick what works and what doesn’t.

Wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.

Reason #3: I like not being held back by perks

This weaves with #2, with wanting to move fast.

I like that companies offer huge benefits, like 100% matching for a 401k, 0% deductible insurance, free daycare. Huge! These are awesome things.

And they are means for employee retention. Keeping talent within the walls is a serious challenge, especially in IT, so these are measures taken to make people think twice about leaving and giving it up.

(although I did read an interesting post over at The Hustle which explained why perks broke down in practice. Give it a read if you’re interested)

My benefits come from being able to come in and fix particular business pain. The company gets help with something that they really really need help with, and I get to help them.

When it’s time to go, though, it’s time to go. It’d be much harder to leave if I had to give up massive benefits as an employee.

Reason #4: It’s easy to make the job about staying relevant or defending my turf.

For me. It’s easy for me.

I hated that more time was spent in my salaried job thinking about how I can stay relevant, or make sure I wasn’t getting “got” by members of my team.

In retrospect, it was my insecurity that caused that. I’ve since apologized to the members of that team who were affected by my behavior, and we’re all cool now.

It does go back to the whole “what have I got to lose?” question. If you have a steady salary, a somewhat comfortable position and benefits, and you feel like you’re being attacked (even though in retrospect I wasn’t–but some people are) then the job does become about making sure you’re able to hold your ground.

And if you’re thinking about that, you’re not thinking about surprising and delighting your customers with Awesome Product(tm).

But office politics and gossip and crap are a real thing that causes real stress with real people. Going in as a consultant, it’s a lot easier to get altitude on that, and not get involved, because I have an unspoken agreement:

I love working with people. Love it. And I will be sincere and friendly and talk with you and be a great listener, and relate to things, because we’re all humans and we’re all in this together.

But I will not tolerate crappiness, backstabbing, overt attempts to throw me under the bus. None.

I’ll still continue to be civil and professional, but I am here because I was asked to come in and solve a particular problem set. I will succeed. And I’m not going to step on you to do it, but I will step around you. Because ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat. 

Reason #5: It’s easy to overwork

This is something I don’t have as much problem with anymore, but I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been consulting this whole time, or if the desire to overwork has been replaced with my desire to, you know, be with my family.

I think it’s the family one.

It used to be, before kids, that I would routinely work so long that my productivity would absolutely tank.

And I didn’t make any more money, because it was salaried work. Which sucked!

Overworking is a legit thing. It’s really bad, but people do it all the time, to their detriment. It’s very very unfortunate. Probably billions of dollars are lost every year just because people work so much that they can’t focus and then they end up doing goofy stuff.

I very much want to be as productive as I can, so consulting at an hourly rate is a protective measure. If I need to work more for some reason, then I have to ask for overtime, and if it’s warranted then I’ll get it. But it’s not an all the time thing.

I get to protect myself, while the client gets the best work for their money. Win-win? Win-win.

Reason #6: Yeah yeah, the money’s pretty good. I’m not going to lie.

I can’t find any non-questionable pictures of guys throwing money in the air just because, but you get the idea.

Being a consultant, even with its risks, the money is pretty good. Likely because the money that would’ve been spent on benefits doesn’t have to be, so some of that can be forwarded onto the consultant.

What About You? Are you a consultant? Why do you do it? Did you fall into it or was it intentional? Let us know in the comments below!


Hey guess what–I went independent and started up a consultancy as a DevOps Engineer.

Turns out that DevOps isn’t too far off from what I was doing as a tester-slash-automation-engineer. It’s still automation, just further downstream. And here I thought I’d have to undergo a complete career change to wear that mantle. Nope!

This company, Arch DevOps, LLC, was started early September 2015. At this time I’m looking to secure my very first client! Exciting times. Every time I call someone to tell my story, I find out that there is so much business pain that’s bogging down teams… they can’t move as fast as they want to, because the wrong processes are in place.

I won’t keep you long, there’s about 2 minutes worth of reading through the site if you click the link above. Also, there’s a LinkedIn company page link at the bottom, and if you click it you’ll have the chance to follow the company page. I push updates out pretty regularly, stuff I find interesting, or snippets of insights that I learn, and want to pass along to people.

Thanks for reading, and keep on automaterin’! –Fritz

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