Developer

Why Google doesn't make IT consultants obsolete

With the popularity of Google and other factors, why does anyone still need to hire IT consultants? Chip Camden explains that clients still need the voice of experience to guide them.

 

"Do you know how to do X?"

Prospects used to ask that question or its equivalent more frequently than any other, but times have changed. Back in the old days when scarcity of expertise shook hands with poorly documented and closed systems, consultants could find lucrative engagements on the strength of merely knowing how to perform a few tasks that we might consider simple today. At least three factors have changed all that:

  • Google. If you need to know how to do something, just google it. Early search engines were not very helpful -- if you were looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack, they'd provide each individual haystalk for your examination. Google took search to a whole new level of intelligence, and it spurred competitors such as Bing, Clusty, and others to try to find even more ways to improve searching the Web.
  • Open source. Google only helps if there's something to find. Thanks to the open source movement, the Web is filled with free examples of how to accomplish sundry technical feats. You might even find a free, complete solution that you can download -- just be careful about its license. In addition to source code, a great number of repositories of free technical know-how have populated the Web, from Wikipedia to TechRepublic.
  • User-friendliness. Competition in response to user demand has made many tasks easier to perform over the years. We used to plan weeks in advance for an operating system upgrade -- and forget about adding a new device. Programming languages, after straying into the swamp of over-simplification (e.g., VB and Java), have in recent years become more powerful and expressive while implementing as much simplicity as possible, but no more. Thus, it has become possible for the relatively inexperienced user to perform many tasks that used to require an expert.

So, why does anyone need to hire an IT consultant any more? Just tell the boss's nephew to google an open source solution and slap it in!

And then all hell breaks loose. Why?

  • Although Google can lead you to the advice of an expert, it can also lead you down a path that's just plain wrong -- or wrong for your situation.
  • Google often provides the answer you're looking for, though it may not be the answer you need. In other words, you might be asking the wrong question.
  • Because search results are ranked according to authority, Google encourages a "collective wisdom" approach to solving problems. Inspiration, on the other hand, comes from seeing connections that few have seen before.
  • That's not to say that you can't have serendipitous moments with Google - I experience them frequently. But serendipity is in the eye of the googler. An intuition informed by experience will see the opportunity for relevance, while a novice will think "oh, that's not what I'm looking for" and move on.
  • Freely available solutions may not solve the exact same problem that you're facing. A 10% divergence from the same goals or constraints may require quite a bit of expertise to adapt it to the purpose.
  • As user-friendly as software and hardware have become, the cases in which everything "just works" are still the minority. Paradoxically, user-friendliness itself often makes diagnosing failures all the more difficult, because the interface "protects" the user from what's going on under the covers.
  • The plan is not as important as how it is executed.

All of the above call for the help of someone who has been there, done that. It's only natural that as technology advances, the tasks that used to be hard have become easier -- and that consultants aren't required for those tasks any more. But the growth of technology means that new challenges and opportunities arise constantly, and clients will always need the voice of experience to guide them into those new regions -- at least until Google becomes intelligent enough to become a consultant.

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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...

22 comments
santeewelding
santeewelding

Questioning your relevance is a first sign of the impending irrelevance of age.

aikimark
aikimark

On sites like Experts-Exchange.com, many questions could be answered by a Google (or EE) search. Either the questioners are too lazy or, I suspect, they don't have the experience, skills and knowledge to understand the search results. It takes expertise to understand the problem in the correct context to judge the most appropriate items in a search.

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

Knowing how to do something is trivial, you can Google it. Knowing what to do in a particular situation cannot be Googled.

dogknees
dogknees

And all the other companies producing software? Obviously not "consultants".

oghazal
oghazal

Quality. IT Consultants provide quality solutions, comprehensive and adaptable to future changes. I think this point should go on top of the list. Thanks Chip for the article.

oghazal
oghazal

Quality. IT Experts provide quality solutions, comprehensive and flexible to adapt to future change. I think this point should go on top of the list. Thanks Chip for the insight.

bboyd
bboyd

/smirk Try finding classical music (much of it public domain) on the interwebs without basic knowledge of the genre. I found it very frustrating. I ended up going to a music store and asking they guy who knew something. I'm sure my next attempt at web research will go much better.

SerrJ215
SerrJ215

Also there might be a dozen ways to solve a problem, How do they know witch is best? Or once the solution is found you need somebody to sell it to higher managment. That takes a person.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Getting old sucks. My mother-in-law used to say, "Don't get old." I'd take her advice if I could find an acceptable alternative.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Many people are as clueless about using Google as they are about the problem they're trying to solve. Google is really just one more tool, and the value of a tool lies mostly in its user.

dogknees
dogknees

It's only possible to google something that someone else has done. If no one has, then you're screwed. Seems that half the content of training these days is how to find someone elses solution rather then how to figure one out for yourself.

andrewgauger
andrewgauger

Had someone ask me for a jQuery solution to upload files without using Flash. I asked them if they googled "jQuery upload -Flash"? Keep in mind how to use the tools you love.

e-paladin
e-paladin

Silly, we all know Oompa Loompa's work for Google.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The difference between the consultant and a novice armed with Google is that the consultant can pull all that disconnected knowledge together into a configuration that works well for the situation. That's what quality is all about.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... it's easy to discount their value when the technical issues become easier. But you're right -- the human part of what we do is just as valuable, if not more so.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I find that a lot of what you think should have been done before hasn't.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... sounds like self-flagellation. But then again, I wrote a few in DIBOL.

dogknees
dogknees

I wrote a virtual machine, symbolic assembler and then a compiler on top of all that. Written in a version of Basic on a PDP minicomputer. Many years ago now.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... is usually much more educational, but it has a price: time. An extreme example is writing your own compiler. Those programmers who have done it are in a separate class from those who haven't -- but they had to invest the time in learning everything that went into and came out of that endeavor.

dogknees
dogknees

I see this a lot in training courses. Many just want to know where to find the answers online. Most don't seem to get the idea of working something out for themselves whereas it's usually my first approach(which I know is also not ideal).

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