Leadership optimize

What's more important to become an IT consultant: education or experience?

Discover how Chip Camden answers this member question: "Is there a special course you have to take to become an IT consultant, or does it depend on what computer skills you have?"

A TechRepublic member recently e-mailed me this question: "Is there a special course you have to take to become an IT consultant, or does it depend on what computer skills you have?"

The topic of education vs. experience comes up a lot in the TechRepublic Forums. I don't think there's one answer to this question; in my opinion, you need a good mix of book smarts and on-the-job knowledge in order to be an IT consultant -- with a dash of something else. I'll explain in more detail.

To my knowledge (and under the guidance of the Great Google), no institution of higher learning offers a specific course on how to become an IT consultant. The word consultant implies that you possess extraordinary knowledge and insight to share with your clients -- for a fee. Those assets are usually only acquired through the school of hard knocks.

Colleges and universities offer programs for studying aspects of IT, but they expect you to take that degree into the workforce and gain real-world experience before becoming an IT consultant. Various organizations offer seminars for consultants or certifications in specific IT disciplines.

A college education will undoubtedly introduce you to concepts, terminology, and techniques that will give you a head start on dealing with the real-life problems that you have to face in order to gain valuable experience. You'll also learn how to analyze problems and think about how to think about a solution, but I don't believe your degree has to be in Computer Science in order to derive that benefit from it. In fact, a degree in another discipline often provides a perspective that illuminates the tunnel down which everyone else is gazing.

I may be a bit biased; my degree isn't in Computer Science or any related field. I learned everything on the job, where I was an operator, a programmer, a researcher, a manager, and a director before striking out on my own as an IT consultant. My only computer-related course in school (Systems Analysis and Design) didn't teach me anything I didn't already know from working in the field.

When I think about what I would have learned if I had pursued a Computer Science degree, I see "structured programming" and working with the limited data structures available in the languages of that day: Fortran, COBOL, Pascal, ALGOL, and Assembly. I learned a lot about those topics from independent learning and from correcting students' programs -- although those skills were practically obsolete before the students graduated. Technology is advancing even more rapidly today. Now, when you google a programming language feature, if the information is more than a couple of months old, you make a mental note that it might not be up to date.

However, you can't become an IT consultant based solely on experience. There are plenty of IT consultants who have been doing things the same way for many years and haven't learned much. Self-education and self-improvement are extremely important; thanks to the Internet, this has become relatively easy to maintain. Back in the old days, you had to read book after book and subscribe to a monthly pile of trade magazines. I still like to read a book sometimes for deep knowledge in a specific topic, but for the majority of my learning, I do online searches and subscribe to blogs that target my areas of interest.

But experience and knowledge still won't make you an IT consultant. You might be the next Niklaus Wirth or Paul Graham, but it ain't worth a damn until you build a reputation and potential clients find out about you. I'm lucky -- I landed my first big engagement before I quit my previous employer, and I've had a pretty steady stream of clients ever since. Most of these clients learned about me by word of mouth, although my Internet presence is increasingly drawing in new clients. But what if your reputation is nonexistent? How do you build one? I'll save that for a future post.

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

91 comments
tanvirlodi
tanvirlodi

I hope you and your family are fine. My name is Tanvir Lodi from Karachi Pakistan. I am a dedicated and hard worker who has spent many hours working on different technologies both off-line and on-line..I have been working in the IT field since 1989. My email is tanvirlodi at yahoo dot com. If you can write to me I will greatly appreciate that as then I could send you my CV and you could give me some advice. My specialty is teaching and working on computers and I have broadcasted live programs on the radio. I took live calls from all over Karachi and gave either suggestions or solutions to the caller. I also taught BASIC Language programming live on the air. I have a variety of interests and skills that allow me to learn new things quickly. I am fluent in several languages and have successfully completed the three and half month intensive German Language course from The Goethe Institute in Karachi. You can see my skill set from the Brain Bench site at the link below. http://www.brainbench.com/transcript.jsp?pid=3840075 I have completed courses in Fire Fighting, Civil Defense, Rescue from the Federal Civil Defense School in Karachi, Incident Command System and Hazmat Prevention from FEMA USA, Emergency response to Terrorism from Targetsafety.com. I have recently taken on the task of translating the Emergency Response Guide (ERG) http://www.tc.gc.ca/canutec/en/guide/guide.htm by the Canadian Transport department into Urdu from English. I am very fast learner and I want to do SAP BASIS. But I dont have certification fee as Siemens Pakistan is aksing $5600 for the course and certification. Is there a way I can learn SAP BASIS on my own and then with experience I can give exam for that? I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you for your time and I await your positive response. Regards, Tanvir Lodi

reisen55
reisen55

Education gives you the groundwork and foundation for an IT consulting career. It helps, but then each and every single client IS DIFFERENT, with different staffing, people and operative requirements. No two are ever alike. People in particular. Experience here helps, not only technical but also people and deskside manner experience. You have to KNOW each account and how they respond to assistance. I have one small account, that I can manage because it is close to other large ones. Used book store, and the owner YELLS LIKE CRAZY when something goes wrong, but he is really a pussy-cat. Just likes to yell. That's my customer. Experience is far more useful that education. And, remember, as a consultant is my job to EDUCATE my customers in return. QED

kingmail53
kingmail53

For a bunch of years I ran a consulting organization of about 250. I'd say that education and training provide a framework. And, that experience fills that framework in. Some of the comments are interesting - what I've found is that there are a lot of people out there with years of experience, the same year many times. In my experience a lot depends upon whether you mean a consultant or a contractor - many people confuse the two. If someone is looking for a contractor, someone to do a specific job with a specific skill, then direct experience - the I built that approach - works best. If someone is looking for a consultant, an advisor, then broad-based education and experience is better. But, what really separate consultants from contractors seems to be a disciplined approach to problem solving and a high degree of Emotional Quotient/Counseling/Mentoring/communication skills.

rizwandar
rizwandar

I concur with your thoughts as I can relate my own experiences with yours. Personally, a consultant need to have few indisputable traits. In no particular order: 1. Flexibility - Flexibility to learn and to adapt to changing environments. For example if you are working in the healthcare industry in one of your assignments, but the next interesting assignment is in the financial industry - take it - get acquianted with it as fast as you can and apply the gained knowledge to solve / contribute in solving the problem in the financial industry. 2. Width Vs. Breadth: Concentrate more on gaining more wide body of knowledge instead of delving down deep. You should have an opinion about what ever is out there. And you delve deeper into areas to solve problems in hand. The focus is that you can learn anything you need to. You know where to get the information and to assimilate the information - you delve deeper into areas of your interests - and you delve deeper into areas to address the specific issues you may face to resolve a problem in hand. 3. Do not restrict yourself - Yes if you would like to concentrate yourself in one field / industry well and good. This will make you a SME for that industry. A generalist consultant (especially a management consultant) is a person who knows the techniques and methodology to solve a problem irrespective of the industry he/she is dealing with.

fhasweh
fhasweh

The question I faced a year ago is the following I have been working as technical consultant for 7 years and had a chance to take my masters through scholarship so I had to choose between real experience and education. It was not easy decision and I ended up doing my masters and I don???t regret it actually although it wont give you real experience, it will give you a new/different way of thinking and an exposure to new things. Regards Fadi

h1t3ch
h1t3ch

Experience is what comes naturally as you become more effective in problem solving, education is what furthers and strengthens that experience. In a business world time is money, and education is what a business gages on how much you can save them money on what you already know.... Hence hourly wage. As a consultant I feel comfortable charging a client $50-$100 an hr. Why? because I know my experience and I have the education and cert to back it. I know how good I am, but would they? Ever heard you get what you pay for? My dad use to always tell me a person only remembers you by your name and your word? You give them your word on something they will always remember your name. Education and Certs add power to your words and your name.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

Experience always trumps education and I mean real experience. If you can do the job you can do the job and if you are smart enough to do the job you stay current or you won't know how to do the next job. Experience by its nature implies a reputation (a track record of working somewhere to get the experience); good or ill. The facet of experience that is most empheral is not the skills or tasks but that extra something. Like explaining sight to a blind person it is difficult in the extreme. The experience has to extend beyond the rote into the people, business, the politics, situations and many othe aspects too large and diverse to enumerate. In what will probably be a vain attempt let me explain. In one company there was a programmer that everyone feared and disliked. He had problems getting his code tested. So, I decided to look into the situation in particular because as the consultant I was tasked with unearthing situations like this to get the test department on track. I volunteered to be his lackey to find out what was wrong. I discovered that he had some personal issue with people pointing out issues with his code. So, I thought about this and came up with a different way to deal with him. I would call him and say I was having a problem and would he be so kind as to point out where I was having the issue. He grandly helped me and was pleased, as was I with the resolution. Then, I under the guise of getting help included other testers so they could see how to handle this issue with the programmer to train them how to work with this unique individual. You can't hardly teach this type of thinking to most people and it is the ability to gain these types of insights (with people, companies, software, etc.) that is the mark of a good consultant.

jdclyde
jdclyde

There are some places that won't talk to you without a degree. There are other places that won't talk to you without "X" number of years experience. And some places want certs. There are also places that know a degree/cert does NOT equal skills or a good work ethic, and will hire you anyways. By having that degree/cert, you just make more opportunities available to you and that is never a bad thing. Does having a degree AND certs make me a better tech? Because both are in my field, they HAVE made me a better networking tech than my co-workers who have not carried on their education, even though work pays for it all. I will be adding cisco certs to the list this summer.

Joe_R
Joe_R

An education doesn't always provides experience, but experience always provides an education. I suppose that means a person (meaning a potential employer and/or contract) can choose one over the other - or have both. To me, it's a no-brainer; but that's just me. People without [i]an education[/i] include: Harry S Truman, Henry Ford, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates..... (and my brother, who impresses the hell out of me!)

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

What is better - education or experience? Neither. The most important requirement is: A customer who pays their invoice and says to the next customer "that consultant did a good job". I'm not being (too) facetious !! - a young guy or gal can become a consultant on lower-level tasks and do exactly as you did - build their skills over time into higher or more complex tasks. They don't need a lot of experience or education to start at a confident lower level in the industry. All the experience and education is meaningless if the client-care attitude isn't there. I've seen very smart and experienced consultants never hired again because of their lack of client-focussed attitude. I've seen people - I've even paid them from my own pocket! - that (even while they are being paid on the hourly rate) put their hand up and say "I don't know but I totally commit to you I'll find out". My personal preference is the latter.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I just answered a forum post about this very topic. I especially like the mention of college and how it develops research methodology and dealing with real-world problems. That knowledge is timeless whereas almost all other stored information or experience is dated.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

How does your education stack up against your real-world experience? How do you think that affects the kind of gigs you can land?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... so I don't know how readily you could get your hands on the product (I thhink it's pretty pricey) or any documentation for it. Maybe some of the other readers would care to comment. Good luck!

rg
rg

Many insightful opinions have been offered to this thread and the "Education vs Experience" debate may never reach a singular conclusion. Thiry four years after I wrote my first program, I can offer this (from both my experience and education): My intensive program of study in computer sciences at one of this nation's top universities has had absolutely no applicable value to my IT endeavors for the last 25 years. My second major, physics, however, has provided me with tools that I use almost every day in my work with clients and their networks to solve problems and in designing networks that avoid many (future) problems. It is only the ongoing learning through experience in the field (both my own and those of my associates), that has allowed us to continue to be successful as a company and as a partner in the success of our clients. We try to be "true" consultants for all of our clients' IT needs, as well as the "contractors" for the specific projects within our fields of expertise. I hope this doesn't seem pompous, but I think (in "Real Life") you can't truly separate experience and education with respect to being a truly effective consultant for your clients. Certifications may be a necessary evil to "get your foot in the door" at some companies, and some "certs" even can be accompanied by a referral base from the certifying agency. If you have a need to build a client base from "scratch", this can be a great way to make contacts, but you'll still need to have the experience and education to service that client's additional needs, once the original service is rendered. We are all involved in an ever-changing field incorporating new innovations daily. I believe it is understood, as professionals in this field, we must all expect to maintain a constant self-education ethic to remain "qualified" to service the needs of an ever-changing range of needs for our clientele. If we are lucky, we can apply new aspects of this ongoing education quickly to resolve issues for our clients, or create more productive, efficient solutions for them, thereby gaining the experience to prepare us for the next building block of innovation. The desire to learn, the commitment to continue mastering new technologies, the ability to ascertain what a particular client requires for present and future success, the constructive application of experience to more quickly accomplish goals and the ability to maintain a fair and prosperous relationship with clients with continuous communication is what I see is required for the successful consultant. I apologize for the wordiness of this post; I hope the meaning is easy to see.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Not all contractors are consultants, but most consultants are contractors. They're roles that don't describe the same aspect of the job, so they can (and do) overlap. There are also layers of decision-making that call for different skills in a consultant. For instance, if you're trying to decide what programming platform to use, then you want a generalist consultant to help you decide. But once you've decided on your platform and need help designing your strategy for using it, then perhaps one of your best choices for consultant would be a person who helped build that platform.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]a high degree of Emotional Quotient/Counseling/Mentoring/communication skills[/i]" You might need to develop those skills quite a bit more, judging by the way you phrased your comments so that they sound like an insult to the majority of people in this discussion.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

two different people, they certainly are two different 'jobs'. At least if you define a contractor as an outside resource temporarily employed to fix an already defined problem. However that could be write a stocking application or fix this broken team. Two completely different skills sets. Would you say fixing people problems, was the same year of experience over and over? I'd put a consultant down as some one you fetch in to say advise on restructuring your department. A change to the infra-structure, or even a strategic technology shift for product. Either way the theory being that a consultant is for when you don't know what to do and a contractor for when the resource is not present to do it how you want it done. As such I look at the role, not the person, to define what I want. To say contractors are undisciplined consultants, just about wipes out any chance of me ever consulting you. Maybe you should work out the Emotional Quotient, Bigging myself up vs denigrating others?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Interesting -- I've tended to take an opposite approach with similar results. I've focused on a niche and achieved expert status, while at the same time extending my knowledge into other related areas. I like to know about a lot of different things, but they all branch out from my main focus.

apotheon
apotheon

I think you mean "Breadth vs. Depth", not "Width vs. Breadth". That which is wide is also broad.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... more/better things than you would have if you had spent that time working? Thanks for sharing your experience.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... are always tougher than technical ones. You're right, experience teaches best how to address those.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

to point out the obvious. Sometimes they are quite valuable in that regard as after management have bought the consultation, they feel they have to act on it some way, to justify the spend. I'm sure you did a good job, but there's no need to wrench your arm out of it's socket patting yourself on the back over such a simple personel issue.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

That you just alluded to: 1. education - you do have to learn something for them 2. marketing - gets your foot in the door So if you're having trouble finding work, maybe they aren't a waste of time. You have to weigh these benefits against some other potential use of your time, like creating your web presence or building some showcase project.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Education is the experience of focused study. Experience is education via applied theory. Both are about learning. But I tend to agree that the more you've applied the theories, the more useful you are to clients.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Well, I'm not really tormented by this question -- it was a reader who brought it up. But you're right -- the significance of one or the other is secondary. Actually being able to deliver the service is the point.

drowningnotwaving
drowningnotwaving

Hi Michael, Let me give an example where solid 'discipline' needs to be tempered with "get down and dirty" ... I have been in the financial packaged software industry now, in various guises, for many years. I've experienced lifting our target market up from 4-8 user sites through to many hundreds. As we got into the larger sites, the need and benefit of the discipline was vital - analysis, plan, prjoect manage etc. The result was a far better project, of course. The aura of "higher discipline" sometimes was a double-edged sword. What we often lost was the ability to go and do a 4-user site in 3 days from start to finish. Overall I totally agree with what you say. Just sometimes, and perhaps in smaller sites, there are clients that just want the job done. I remember one particular client screaming at the consultant - "[i]I don't want to spend four days planning and analysing - I want exactly what you did last week for that other company down the road!![/i]"

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

How many times in my professional career have I thought "Man, I need to get up to speed on these new technologies". The bright side is that my experience and education allow me to pick up new things relatively quickly, and to understand them at a level way beyond what I would have been capable of in my early days.

BobR
BobR

I have 'some college' and several professional certifications, all of which have lapsed. I let my certifications lapse when 1) no one asked for them and 2) Clients asked what the letters after my name meant. In the rare instance when a potential client cares about my (lack of a) degree, I know they are not looking for what I have to offer. Having the technical skills is simply the foundation. Doesn't matter where/how they were acquired, education or experience. What differentiates me and allows me to succeed at consulting are soft skills like attitude (the customer is always right), people skills (making everybody, from the clerks to the executives, feel good about having me there), natural problem solving skills (sorry, trade secret :o) ), etc, etc, etc. I don't see how these things could be taught in any type of formal setting, but... maybe they could.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

Years ago I worked with guys who busted their humps and crammed to get their MCSE certification. They crammed for 2 months and took their tests. They got their certifications, but couldn't really do anything with them. They now knew some of the technical information, but did not have enough experience to put any of that knowledge to use. I used to be the opposite; had working knowledge of systems, but no technical certifications. I decided to say "to heck with the certs, give me a degree." Now after 17 years in IT, I am getting my degree and am not going to worry about certifications for the time being.

rods
rods

I have been been in software development, marketing and sales for 25 years. I have worked with some very smart people with and without college degrees. For the most part education is a must because you learn the fundamentals, just like in sports. But there is absolutely no replacing experience. Certain domain knowledge may go out of vogue or it may age as others have suggested. There is a lot to be said for having seen a lot different kinds problems and having had to solve them. Also, there are people who are "smart" enough to program and then there are those where it is more of a gift than a skill. I'll take those with the gift every time. Plus, keep in mind there is a huge difference between programming and software engineering. Visual Basic created who group of people who could program yet they know little to nothing about software engineering.

MarkRyken
MarkRyken

I don't see problem sovling anywhere. I see aptitude but just because a person can pick up a skill doesn't mean they can solve a problem when it doesn't work as expected. Another one that hasn't been explicity named is knowing your limits and being able to admit when something is beyond them. I'm sure there are consultants simply trying to make more money by dragging things out, but I think a lot of the time it's they've gotten in too deep and either don't have the ability to persevere till it's solved (in a timely fashion) or admit to the client they're in over their head. My wife tells me sometimes that I'm too honest sometimes but I have my clients trust and it has served me well thus far. We're also all over the board with the type of consulting and the size of consutling we're talking about here so there are always going to be differences between them but the two skills above I believe are essential as a consultant regardless of type or size.

Fregeus
Fregeus

When I hire a consultant, I want him/her to have experience in the his/her field of expertise more than education. Experience is what makes a great IT person, not education. That has been proven time and time again. TCB

rodfernandez
rodfernandez

Being in the business for 25 years and mentoring many a "Rookie" (And being well mentored myself) I find the best is a consultant with a mind for the business. Thinking not just technical solution but how it will impact the business and knowing when to say "tell me more" rather than diving in to fix what looks like a problem but is really a symptom of something else. Having the real world experience has made it so I no longer need(or do) the MCSE/VCP... because clients have been burned by "Paper MCSE's" and look at what you have done and who will recommend your work. To go to the original Techy world of Startrek when Kirk said to Spock I need you to give me an answer. Spock said I cannot as I would only be guessing. Kirk said "I would rather have your guess vs. anyone elses certainty". This is from the history that Spock had built on doing the right things more times than not. Or in our modern day world it is our reputation for being able to do the job that is most important.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Convincing the client you can do the job in time and for less than somone else is charging is all that matters. Doesn't have to be true, usually isn't in fact. Opinion based on my experience of the highly experinced fully qualified consultants who convinced my bosses to vacuum up the rest of the budget to land me with some unmaintainable crap.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

A lot of government jobs require certs and/or education (based on the points system(s)). In the private sector, experience usually means more. However, sometimes, you have to have those certs/degrees or you are put at the bottom of the pile.

robo_dev
robo_dev

If you're working as a contract programmer, you could have a third-grade education and it does not matter if you can write good code. If you're working at a college or government computer research facility, then having that PhD will get your foot in the door, as will the MBA at a bank or investment firm. When you say 'education', do you mean advanced degrees or training/certification (or both)? Education can get your foot in the door, and the more experience you get, the better the gig.

tanvirlodi
tanvirlodi

Dear Camden, Hope You and family are fine. I read how You started in the consultant path of IT. I have the skills but I am stuck in Pakistan where people dont want honest persons or opinions, they dont want hard workers or Intelligent person. They only want workers 9 to 5 who look busy do nothing :-) I am still waiting for an email from you so I could send you my CV may be you could comment on it and help me find the right way!! Thanks in advance. Tanvir.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I don't think there has to be a distinction. Just because you know the discipline of research doesn't mean you can't take an agile approach to a problem. But I agree that oftentimes the Enterprise mentality takes over and adds three months of design work to the creation of a single web page.

magic8ball
magic8ball

To the company wanting exactly what was done at the other company was something along the lines of 'What exactly was done over there exactly won't work over here without the planning and analysis done first' Just my 2 cents.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

I also think understanding that aspect comes with experience versus book learning to be sure. I just like the skill set and self discipline I learned from university as it allows me to become knowledgeable about any subject as long as I put my mind to it.

jgaskell
jgaskell

I don't think there is a bigger fallacy in business than the concept that 'the customer is always right'. The customer is frequently wrong, but the skill that comes into it is being able to tell the customer that they are wrong without losing them as a customer. Of course, there are the (rare) customers who will not see reason no matter how it is presented to them and these are the ones you need to cut loose as a consultant, no matter how much it goes against the grain. The only sense in which the customer is always right is in the broader sense of the word 'customer' that means the market. If you have a service or product that is not selling, it is not because the customer is wrong, it is because you have the wrong service or product, or because you have not communicated the benefits of what you are offering well enough. That was the original meaning of the saying, but it seems to have been corrupted to mean that every individual customer is always right, which is clearly ludicrous.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The very fact that we can talk about the important interpersonal parts of the job would indicate that it could be taught -- at least, to indicate that they're important and provide some rules and suggestions for behaving oneself in a manner to take full advantage of them. As for problem-solving, you can teach techniques -- but I do believe there are some brains that just get it and others that don't.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

I used to be able to parley my certificate from Chubb into 'better than certs or a degree', but that school has gone from an elite place to a coder farm. I'm going to have to bite the bullet and get the degrree.

kingmail53
kingmail53

Dirty Harry sez, "A man's got to know his limitations." The corollary is that lesser experienced consultants and contractors tend to not reach out for help early - and, get behind the 8-ball more often.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

You're right about the "gift" versus just being able to shlock through it. How many thousands of lines of shlocked VB code have I seen? Gifted programmers don't like VB, because gifted programmers want more power and less hand-holding.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I agree with apotheon that problem solving is a skill -- but it's certainly one of the most important ones. And you're right about the need to be honest when you get in over your head. We had a good discussion about that over here.

jgaskell
jgaskell

This one has been done to death on TR pretty much, but my experience is that education is more important than you suggest. As stated in the original article, university education (college, if you must) teaches you a way of thinking about problems that you cannot get solely through experience. I write from the point of view of someone who hires consultants and technicians for an IT services provider, rather than someone who pays for the services of a consultant and in the past, I have hired based on qualifications only, experience only and qualifications and experience. The guys with the qualifications almost invariably work out better (industry certs don't count). In fact, if it came down to a choice between someone with plenty of experience, but no quals and someone with a degree, but a bit less experience, I would most likely go with the guy with the degree. That is not to say that experience is not important - it clearly is. It is just not the be-all and end-all.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

If the question is "what do you know about technology X?", which answer do you want: a. I learned about that in college b. I've read about that online c. I've used that before d. I built that

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Very good. A related thought: when I was a corporate management stiff, the president of the company once told me "I'd rather have you make ten decisions with nine of them wrong, than to make only one decision that you spent too long ensuring was right." Experience helps to improve that 10% success rate on guesses.

apotheon
apotheon

You took the opposite approach. In my answer to robo_dev's subthread above, I answered from the perspective of being good at the work. In your comment here, you answered from the perspective of being financially successful. I suspect the difference is that I'm a consultant who takes pride in his work, and you're someone who deals with consultants who don't take pride in their work so much as they do in their ability to leech off a corporate budget.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Yes, the degree and certifications do provide some measure of the reputation that I mentioned in the last paragraph. But only so much.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

"If you're working as a contract programmer, you could have a third-grade education and it does not matter if you can write good code." Sounds like the voice of experience (LOL). Let's define education as any sort of "book learnin'", as opposed to applying the principles to a real problem in the working world.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

to sterling@camdensoftware.com (all the spammers already know it). If it makes it through the spam filters, I'll r3ead it and comment on it. But I have to say that I don't know much about the IT market in Pakistan.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

And saving your client's life makes a better recommendation than any certification!

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... about how to best achieve what they want -- but they are often more knowledgeable than us on what they ultimately want to achieve.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

We engineers are particularly prone to this behavior, because when we see a fallacy we want to stamp it out as quickly as possible. But we need to realize that jumping down someone's throat isn't the best plan -- that it actually breaks another part of the system: the human part.

BobR
BobR

I think you really nailed this whole topic there, Chip. Some brains just function differently than others. I don't learn soft skills very well formally, I learn in bits and pieces from a wide variety of sources. I have to learn a concept (education), watch myself screw it up (experience), iterate several times, before I internalize it. At that point it becomes intuition. For example: Books on marriage helped me immensely in dealing with people, such as the example of never telling someone they are wrong. Throw out an idea, let them discuss it, let them make it their own. I often watch myself reinforcing someone that their idea was a good one - when it was originally my idea. Just one example.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I think that often goes to insecurity, too. Being afraid to reveal their ignorance because they're trying to maintain this "expert" facade. But sometimes it is just pure hubris.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... for the education to be in the specific area you're looking for, or do you think that it's the disciplined mind that can be engendered by a degree in an unrelated field?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Too true. Been there, too. Do I have to admit that I've also occasionally been that "last genius"?

burntfinger1
burntfinger1

e. I fixed one of those the last genius built :)

Fregeus
Fregeus

...that I am answering the question with operational architecture in mind. I'm not a programmer nor was I ever one. I deal with machines and commercial software. Take Cisco for an exemple. If you built it, I very probably can't afford your rates. :) Have a nice Easter weekend. TCB.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I've been looking for a good excuse to spend more of my time there, and you just gave it to me.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

It does command a pretty high price tag, but the demand has always been there. Sometimes, though, it means that clients want to limit their hours to just asking me a few questions.

Fregeus
Fregeus

a. I learned about that in college Not good enough b. I've read about that online You better of read a heck of a lot. Strick minimum if you used similar systems. c. I've used that before Best answer, lets get to work d. I built that Gee, am I really in this much trouble? Fantastic answer, but how much do you charge? Can I get answer c and spend a little less? TCB

apotheon
apotheon

That's one of the reasons work on open source projects can be so valuable as a means of making money.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Sort of dropped into to it by accident in 2000, learnt how to market myself, when things got hard though. I managed to put food on the table, but it wasn't really me. It's definitely about selling yourself, there were jobs I missed out on that I could have done in my sleep, but Some f'ker with gleaming white teeth, a good back slap and a golf bag kept beating me to them.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

My last consulting gig, they were already deep in the doo doo. (BTW, the reason I was hired was reason "D" in your list, I built the system they were using) Having had experience with this group before, I warned them and warned them as the deadline approached, as did the manager who hired me. As things REALLY began to hit the fan, they complained that more people were needed. The manager put his foot down and said "TS", it will take more time to train people than it will to get the job done at this point. They couldn't quite grasp the concept. YES, we were using 'out of the box' programs, but we had customized them to the point that they bore little resemblance to the original. So you needed someone with highly specialized skills, or the time to train them. FYI, there was an open job order for the entire length of the contract, they were never able to fill the position.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The corporate equivalent of a "Hail Mary" pass -- call in the consultant.

apotheon
apotheon

"[i]...akin to hiring nine women to have a baby in one month.[/i]" I haven't heard that one before. Too true.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

...akin to hiring nine women to have a baby in one month. consultants/contractors are often called in once the situation is near FUBAR.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

When I was consulting I tried to be better than those I'd dealt with in the past as well. It's not so much that consultants do shoddy work, it's more that they get forced in to positions where it's impossibble to meet desirable standards and make a buck, unless you plump for repeat business through quality. That's only possible because 'your' familiarity with the client's needs and the last solution, plus a hopefuilly good relationship are allowed to count. Doesn't matter how much effort you put in though if the client looks at each job fresh, and goes on price. So I submit the ability to sell yourself, is way more important than anything else.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I've found too many consultants that don't take pride in their work and see what they are doing as "better" than what the folks in house could do.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

We definitely take all expert opinions with a grain of salt. I do think that he'll someday find a niche in which he will excel and be happy with his life. He has phenomenal math skills. One of our friends said to me that he'll probably solve the whole time-travel thing someday. Thanks for your encouraging words.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

If I or my parents had given into the words of those experts, my career would involve cleaning restrooms at finer fastfood resteraunts. Use the autistic obsessiveness and route behaviors to create an expert. If your son has any savant skills, help him find a practical and marketable use for them.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... for my son's future. Obviously you've managed to build a successful career for yourself. Thanks!

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

And yes, I am on the spectrum. I keep it under control with a few drugs and most of the time I'm just fine. People can generally only tell when I have a meltdown.... Then I tick, blurt things out, etc. It's clear as day that I'm autistic at that point. And yes I did nearly knock myself out by baning my head against a doorframe repeatedly.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I never would have guessed you're autistic, Locrian_lyric. I have an autistic child (who is brilliant, BTW), and I have learned to recognize some of those features in myself (though I manage to conform well enough to keep them unnoticed). Many people consider autistics to be frequently guilty of "rigid thinking" (insistence on sameness and all that), but the type of rigid thinking you're talking about is apparently of a different order.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I really got a kick out of your post...DEAD ON!

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Some places won't even consider your resume unless you have the degree pluss X number of certs. Some go so far as to require a degree in Computer science ONLY. I tend to not be too broken up about those places when they don't want me, as it usually displays a kind of rigid thinking that makes us autistics blush.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... is how it demonstrates the flexibility and deficiency of human language. When a person says "fruit", s/he may be using the term scientifically or qualitatively, and it's left to the wisdom of the listener to determine which is intended, based on context.

apotheon
apotheon

I love that explanation of wisdom. It got a chuckle out of me.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not using it in a fruit salad.

apotheon
apotheon

I considered including "wisdom" in my list of qualities, but figured it was covered somewhere between the others. Maybe I should have explicitly mentioned it anyway.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Well said. How many times have you seen someone who "got religion" from learning about the latest programming craze, only to crash and burn when attempting to apply it to every single problem domain they can find? (points at self) By aptitude I assume you mean an ability to quickly learn the essentials. I'd add one important quality: wisdom -- which I'll define as the ability to discern what is essential, coupled with a knowledge of the principle that no principle is a panacea.

apotheon
apotheon

If we're defining "education" as (formal) "book learnin'", my answer has to be "neither". Both "book learnin'" and "experience" are valuable not in and of themselves, but because of the knowledge, skills, and attitude they engender. Sometimes, experience and formal education can even have [b]detrimental[/b] effects on knowledge, skills, and/or attitude. There is one other factor that really matters and comes to mind for me: aptitude. If someone has the right aptitudes, attitudes, knowledge, and skills, I don't care where (s)he got it. It could be primarily from formal education, on the job experience, personally motivated exploration of the possibilities ("playing" with technology), or surgically implanted, for all I care. It's those qualities that matter, and not how someone got them. So, with the understanding that by "education" you mean "Education", I say neither is more important than the other, because neither is really important [b]at all[/b] for its own sake.