2016 Update – In July of 2016, I went all-in with Straight Path Solutions and left Linchpin as a partner and managing director. I blogged about it here. The good news? All of the below are still quite true, in many ways? Even more so now. Even 4 years later 🙂
Pardon The Cobwebs…
It’s been a.little.while since my last blog post! I’ve been busy this summer! My wife and I bought a 2 room schoolhouse built in 1904 and have been up there during most of our free time renovating it so we can open it up as a resource for all of the homeschooling families in the area (Union Schoolhouse if you want to see more). I’ve been busy with client projects and meetings and busy moving forward with growth and projects at the day job. So the blog… Well it’s been a bit neglected (though it’s brought me a few jobs this summer so I guess we can blame the blog on keeping me busy 🙂 ) But I saw this month’s #meme15 topic and it looked like a good one. Especially since I never finished my series that were trying to convince you, dear reader, to join the ranks of independent consulting – that series started with my “I’m Cheating!” post… I’ve also just had a great long conversation over dinner with a friend from the SQL Server world at the end of a client meeting the other day. This topic came up so the ideas are fresh in my mind.
Onto the #Meme15 Post…
First some background – Jason Strate organizes this and has a few rules. You can read all about it on his site. The topic this month is simple… List 5 reasons you love your job. So I’m writing this both as an independent consultant working for myself and as one of the business partners in a SQL Server consultancy at Linchpin People. The answers work well for each.
… In no particular order:
1 The Change of Scenery
When I’ve had a full time job, I’ve been working at a company with a predefined culture and set of problems and typically in one industry. There were a lot of things that would never change with any one company. That can be a great thing sometimes but it can also be a horrible thing. Especially to someone who likes to see things planned right, done well the first time and with the future in mind. As a full time employee those traits sometimes can be big burdens. Early in my career this really caused problems for me. It wouldn’t take long before the wind of idealism was beat out from behind my sails and I’d turn into a sarcastic, frustrated employee. I ended up coming into a company, making a lot of improvements in performance, reliability etc. then get stuck in firefighting mode or get frustrated and leave… Maybe that’s too much to admit in a blog post that clients and potential clients will see – but it’s the truth.
As a consultant I find that I’m often going into an environment that has been in “let’s just worry about today” mode and been bitten by doing that – they want help getting out of that mentality. I get to have clients in different sectors – A couple longer term clients of mine are fun – A big enterprise Credit Union in Seattle – the 4th largest in the country, a large city in MA, a couple smaller mom and pop shops that just need to know their DBs are behaving and a huge data warehouse at an online travel industry site playing with SQL and Hadoop. Plus short term planning and strategy clients in all different sectors and sizes. I get to touch a lot of industries and work with a lot of different kinds of teams, structures and people. That’s great.
This also has meant I can really take lessons from one client and apply them to all others. I means I can hear someone say “we’re thinking of doing x” and I can say “PERISH THE THOUGHT!!! Client z just tried x and they’re still clawing their way out of it.. I really recommend you look at y instead…” I get exposed to things I already have “expertise” in and I get exposed to things I only know academically (I let the client know that, by the way) and get to learn and cut my teeth as I go. I’ve probably grown more in this past year of independent consulting than I did in any one year as a full timer.
2 I Can Make A Difference
This isn’t to say that “working for the man” Mike couldn’t. I like to think I did for the various employers I had. I hope I did anyway! But it’s different. My rates aren’t really low and when a company is in a relationship with me – they are looking to get their money’s worth from our relationship. Something about an initial engagement, references or our initial conversation convinced them that I was the right person for some of the professional services dollars in their IT budget. That means that I’ve felt as though the advice I’ve given as “Consultant Mike” has a much higher success ratio (in terms of being followed to actually see the changes) than it did as “Employee Mike” – now the advice hasn’t changed (well sure sometimes it does as I learn more and experience more.. If I were a politician you could call me a flip flopper then) but the “weight” of the advice has gone up. I don’t like that, and I’ve worked with some GREAT full time DBAs, Developers and Architects who had given great advice but it wasn’t until I said, “Amen!” that the company saw it as great advice. But I seem to have more freedom and power to make a difference. I can be a bit more blunt now and say “You know.. you really shouldn’t have just turned on replication without understanding it first. These decisions take a lot of time to plan properly and there are a lot of variables.. That is why your main system was heavily blocked all day yesterday.. I suggest we spend some time to understand just what it is you need from a reporting perspective and then work towards that.. In the meantime here is a workaround.” And instead of getting mad? They listen, follow the advice and they all live happily ever-after (or something like that).
I LOVE teaching. I’ve been working with a lot of clients lately in a mentoring relationship. Sometimes in person, sometimes via webex. Basically I spend time in couple or few hour chunks showing them all of my secrets. I check the health of their servers with them. I analyze performance with them. I explain my thought process and give them the “if you ask 10 of us about this one you’d get 6 different answers” caveats where appropriate and I get to watch them grow. I can see the changes in the questions they ask and can watch their skill level rise. That is awesome. Sure I may end up with less hours overall with them, but that is fine – there are a lot of potential clients out there. Besides that, they know that I share knowledge instead of horde knowledge, fix their easy issue and then walk away. So they still call me when they are ready for the next level.
4 The Camaraderie
Maybe it is just the SQL Server consulting world, maybe it isn’t. But for the most part competition isn’t competition. The majority of the great (I’m not counting Straight Path there yet – I hope we are building Linchpin People to be there) consultancies and consultants out there help each other out. They refer around to each other when too busy. They give advice. They say nice things about each other to clients behind their backs. I never chose SQL Server DBA/Performance/Architecture as a career path 12 years ago. It chose me as I’ve blogged about before. I’m blessed that this is the path I went down, though. The people in it are amazing and we just get along and help each other out.
5 The Flexibility
I’ve been busy. When people ask me about marketing my answer has always been and today remains “I’ve been too busy to try and look for clients” that isn’t bragging – it’s just a realization that I’m in a skill set that still seems to have need. Clients have been finding me and I’m filling future months up. So life has been busier in some ways (there is all the non billable time I wasn’t considering when becoming a consultant at first 🙂 ) but it’s been more flexible. I’ve been able to have days where I can say “let’s go to the beach” or “let’s go work all day at the schoolhouse” now when I say that sometimes some project work will have to be done later at night or double the next day or I may have to schedule a break from the fun to join a call, etc. but I’ve had more schedule flexibility than I ever had. I feel more free as an FTE in a few ways and this is definitely one of them.
It won’t be so long this time…
I need to get some posts going. Maybe I’ll start with the ones I promised at the end of the I’m cheating post back in May:
So the rest of this week the posts will look like (I can’t believe I said rest of this WEEK… That was back in May… that’s one of the downfalls of being busy on my own and with the schoolhouse.. Blogging has taken a new priority level)
- Things I’ve learned (and wish I knew) – Sick days are different, taxes are a bit different, etc.
- Relationships – We all knew they mattered, but they make a world of difference in business
- Slingshots, Parachutes and Partners – a few ways to go it alone without being so alone
- Benefits and Drawbacks (for me, for clients, for you)