So you want to be a consultant?

by Quinn Heiner
Being a software consultant involves a diverse skill set beyond that of a typical programmer.  I recently had a discussion with one of the top technical managers at our company and in that discussion came up with four points to consider when it comes to setting yourself apart as an exceptional consultant.

  1. You have a user interface, too. (cue shameless plug) as mentioned briefly in the 7 habits brownbag (both blog post and presentation), being a great consultant is just as much about marketing as it is about technical skills.  If people don’t know what you do or how well you do it, how marketable are you at that point?  Your brand needs to resonate with others.
  2. Programmer vs. consultant – a programmer shows up to work, codes in isolation for eight hours straight, and goes home never giving a second thought to anything or anyone else.  A consultant is a superset of this, in that they have all the technical skills a programmer has plus more.  They’re in the business of solving business problems through technology.  They’re constantly engaged with customers and other developers.  They’re constantly improving themselves outside of work and sharing what they’ve learned.  They check their egos at the door.  They have the perfect blend of hard and soft skills.
  3. Getting involved.  So you want a good user interface and you want to be a consultant instead of just a programmer, but how?  That’s where getting involved comes in.  The best software engineers are the ones who build things often.  You need to be taking advantage of every training opportunity your company has to offer (and most consulting companies should offer the best career development opportunities, because….).  This not only improves your skills, your brand, and your overall career satisfaction, but it also gives you leverage to negotiate higher billing rates (other shameless plug about salary negotiation here).  My top five extracurricular activities include, but are not limited to:
    – Brown Bags (both presenting and attending)- Blog posts (both reading and contributing)
    – Certifications
    – Code challenges (CodeFights and Codewars just to name a few)
  4. Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals.  So how do you prove to your account manager, project managers, and others that you’re getting involved?  By making and setting goals that you can quantify.  Every six months in my one-on-one meetings with managers, I always lay out 2-3 solid goals that I take very seriously for the next six months, whether that’s passing a cert, 100% participation in the code challenges, completing x hours of Pluralsight training, etc. and because of that, I’ve never needed to question how to invest more in my career or how to become a better consultant, because I’ve always felt I’m progressing in a way that’s a win-win-win for the client, the consulting company, and myself.