Leadership

Consultants are no better than internal IT departments

Justin James responds to Erik Eckel's recent IT Consultant post in which he states that consultants are pros, and corporate IT staffers are minor leaguers.

Erik Eckel recently wrote that "consultants are pros, while corporate IT staff are minor league." I found his post to be highly offensive and incredibly inaccurate. The reality is, the consultancy that he owns and runs may be more agile than the typical corporate IT department, but it doesn't mean they are "pros," and corporate IT folks are "minor league." Far from it. In fact, Erik contradicts this argument whenever he complains that his competitors in his local area have done a poor job.

To summarize Erik's post, here is the comparison he makes:

  • Corporate IT departments are big enough to allow the workers to specialize in individual technologies. Consultants need to know many technologies, which makes them superior.
  • Corporate IT workers don't work nearly as hard as consultants.

To both of these points, I say that he is completely mistaken.

Consultancies have just as much specialization as a big corporate IT shop once they get to the same size. If you look at any of the "big boys," you aren't going to see the same person fixing Exchange and looking at Oracle in the same day. In fact, many consultancies are very specialized. At the same time, the IT workers in small organizations have just as much variety in their skill sets as Erik boasts that his workers have. For example, I work for a small company, and I handle everything from issues with desktop PC apps and networking issues to running databases, Web servers, and mail servers. When I am not doing all of that, I am writing software to integrate with our backend systems. Does that mean that I am a "pro," while the Oracle DBA is "minor league" because they specialized? Absolutely not. It means that I can do a lot of non-Oracle tasks that the DBA can't, and the DBA will know a lot more about Oracle than I ever will.

Simply put, "jack of all trades" always means "master of none." I've seen specialized IT staff (consultants or internal) find stuff that I never would, simply because they are experts and have a lot more hours using the product than I do. It's the same thing when you call a help desk for support; the idea is that the help desk has a lot more experience in the product than you do, and therefore knows something you don't. Erik's consultants may be able to do a lot of different things, but I doubt they can do any of them better than a specialized expert.

Regarding the "volume" issue, Erik is entirely off base. Here's a quote:

"Because of consulting's nature, the need to get the business back up and running fast is critical; it's always a stressful environment; there's no time to learn on the job; and there is rarely time to grab lunch or even hit the restroom."

I've seen this in corporate IT too. When Walmart's email servers are down, does he think the IT staff punches the clock at 5:00 PM and says, "oh well, I guess we'll fix it tomorrow"? If corporate IT was as stress free as Erik makes it out to be, no one would become a consultant. Erik is talking about break/fix work, and it is like this regardless of if you are internal IT or a consultant.

If you look at the beginning of Erik's rant, he talks about his difficulties in hiring, that the people in corporate environments are scared of the breadth of knowledge needed and the volume of work. You see this all over. I've met plenty of consultants who couldn't switch gears, and consultants who melted down when they were asked to do more than one thing at a time or had a heavy volume of work. Why Erik seems to think that "consultants" are magically in love with this is beyond me. I've worked 55 hours straight as an internal IT person. I've had situations where I was sleeping on the couch with the cell phone in my hand, so I could be immediately notified of progress while I was internal IT. There are many occasions when I worked 60 - 80 hours a week as internal IT. Why Erik thinks that consultants are so special with regards to stress and volume is beyond me.

The differences that Erik cites are mostly the differences between being working for a large IT shop and a small shop. The business model (internal vs. consultant) isn't a legitimate difference, other than comparing the head of an IT department to someone managing a consultancy. For the workers on the ground, the work is the same. Bigger shops (regardless of the business model) specialize and smaller shops generalize. It's that simple.

Calling corporate IT pros "minor league" is not accurate. It sounds to me like what happened is that Erik interviewed people who work for a corporate IT department who aren't able to cut the mustard and get raises and promotions internally, and are now trying to score work with a consultancy to get some big bucks. What he's running into is the supply/demand issues of IT labor. There is a serious shortage of qualified, hardworking labor in the market. But to think that it is unique to corporate IT and that it doesn't exist in consultancies is pure fallacy.

J.Ja

About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

54 comments
sikombe
sikombe

Having worked in the IT department of a bank for just three years, I want to believe that consultants (being more of technologically advanced marketers) tend to have a lot of expertise on limited and specific requirements of the client while IT Guys have a broader knowledge on what needs to be done and what alternatives are there. In the first place, it is the IT Guy who determines which consultant to go with ( - making the IT Guy superior already.) It is the IT Department guys who understand how one system relates with the other; be it Hardware or software. Consultants tend to be more inclined on products they can support and advise the "IT Guys" that what they have is a better solution only because the IT Guys may not have the time to look for alternatives (considering the amount of work and people the need to deal with); in the end making the Consultant look like they are better than the IT Guys. Where the IT guy has time, the consultant does look like the minor league (my opinion). http://www.nzanji.co.zm/2011/05/08/things-to-consider-before-you-buy-a-computer/

hadasha
hadasha

I think what differ a consultant from a corporate IT pro should be the level of experience and skills/ specialization the first should possess. Put other way, a consulting is an expert in the field or technologies he gives consultancy. Whenever a company call in a consultant to solve its network routing issues for instance (OSPF, BGP), those companies will surely not call Eric. They will call an expert, if need be a CCIE with relevant experience in the field. So please don't get him wrong!!!

loco hombre
loco hombre

The real trick, as a 'Jack of all trades' myself, is finding a competent consultant. More than once have I called in a 'specialist' only to watch them get on the cell phone and have someone from the home office walk them through the process. I even had one guy spend 4 hours working on an issue (while on the phone) only to leave without a single ounce of progress being made. Needless to say, when they tried to bill us for the work, I refused to pay. I just want to know that the consultant I hire truly has the skill set to address the problem I hire them for. We can't afford $160+ an hour for on-the-job training.

Edmund
Edmund

IT takes all kinds. Because corporate only hires *me* when all other resolutions fail, they are usually fairly unwilling to place me on anthing that I'm not already a subject matter expert. (And yet, how do you get to be an expert EXCEPT by doing)? Some times being a "jack of all trades" isnt' a lot of fun either; especially when you are trying to come up to speed on the particular whizz-bang that the client is focused on. And, remember you are also always trying to keep the queue fed...

schmidtd
schmidtd

Maybe it is my environment, but if I am looking for outside skills, I am normally looking for someone who knows a particular product inside and out. I can see an argument in favor of consultants along the lines of "I have seen product X implemented in 100s of different ways and dealt with 100s more problems particular to this product." That kind of experience would make me want to contract out and could probably beat some in house talent. Why on earth would you ever want to hire a generalist conslutant? Don't you normally have a specific task in mind?

baxter.crocker
baxter.crocker

First - Management doesn't always use consultants because they don't believe in their own people ???it???s because they are unsure of their own abilities to make decisions and hiring a consultant takes the blame for project failure off their shoulders. They simply say, ???we will get rid of the consultants.??? Second ??? Internal IT staff who are passionate about technology and are ???ahead of the curve??? can still get what they want by ???Feeding the Consultants.??? They have to come up with recommendations and you make it easy by providing the solutions. They just have to dress them up and it???s official. Beware of consultants who won't listen, those are the ones who are "behind the times" and embarrassed to deal with more advanced ideas.

asjeff
asjeff

Unbelievable. As J.Ja says Corporate IT do huge amounts of hours on the job and huge amounts of hours off the job. I just don't get to charge for weekend work - and when you're doing 20 hours of unpaid over the weekend that tends to make me far more agile and knowledgeable than that bleeding Eckel twat!!

reisen55
reisen55

I have worked 7 years in corporate support and 4 in independent. In the corporate world, we knew our servers and stations very well indeed. We are paid for our time without complaint. Server down? Get it up NOW and don't worry about an invoice. Corporate people are masters of their domains. But limited to that domain - no windows pun intended. Since going independent, I have worked with software and systems I never dreamed of. My corporate house was a Lotus Notes shop. Exchange? Ha. Since then, I have entered a new world of incredible complexity and challenge, some good, all a learning experience. The freedom and responsibility granted in independent work is immense. Windows 2003 server downgrade with a 2008 server new domain controller in 2 days. Corporate? Takes longer and possibly not even something I would do if that replacement took place in our data center, in North Carolina!!! Independents have alot on their plates, and have to learn FAR more than a corporate house ever does.

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

That is the basic analogy when you take away all the flowery language. I've done both IT and consultant gigs. An Advantage: The outside person is the proverbial " man from Mars " and SHOULD offer questions about " why things are done this way ". A consultant is either a " one off " for a certain project ( in, finish the project, then out ) or someone who fills in for needed staff in an IT department ( think leaves or vacations )...The irony is that YOU might be offered the job after the existing staff is back up to speed... During consulting, I have often found that the **** ME**** wall is related in inverse proportion to the person's technical ability...

jbchristensen
jbchristensen

As a former consultant, I always kept in mind something I was told by a client early on in my career. "We bring in consultants to have someone to blame." If a consultant thinks they are the experts, they need to be a little more humble. Consultants don't have a corner on the knowledge market or on the ability to research. We're there so the hiring manager can look smart for knowing their group's limits & bringing in the "expert," or having someone to blame if the project fails. As my momma always said "An ex is a has-been, and a spurt is a drip under pressure." j

willis0966
willis0966

Consultants are people just like everyone else; not particularly smarter or dumber than anyone else working in the same field. Generally, the consultants have a few areas of expertise - as do a lot of people working in the "internal" department. Whether it's IT consulting or Electrical Engineering, it really doesn't matter. A consultant either has the skill to help or not. Many people working "internally" may have the same skills but are either loaded with other projects or cannot, because of previous commitments, help with a particular project. Consultants also fill the gap when an internal department is marginally under-staffed. They are not "magic" but they can be useful. I find Eckel's assessment to be innacurate but "self-serving." A common mistake a lot of professionals make is to belittle someone else to make themselves look better. My thought is, "They are putting up a smoke-screen to divert attention away from their weaknesses."

mehherc
mehherc

I have worked 10 years as a consultant and 6 years as corporate IT. The only real difference between a consultant and corporate IT is the pay. There is no real difference in duties to perform. As a consultant to a company, you have to act as a system admin. As a corporate IT system administrator, you have more freedom to make changes but more red tape to deal with. Due to all the red tape, I believe, is the reason why corporate IT gets paid more. Same problems, same issues, same users, etc., etc., etc. I do miss the ability of going to different locations and meeting new people. However, a stable location has lots of benefits.

rcameron1
rcameron1

Justin's article was written like a PRO while Erik's article was written like a MINOR LEAGUER. I believe that Erik's article, while trying to get one point across, completely missed the mark. So Erik, welcome to the minor leagues in terms of your mastery of the English language and your powers of written persuasion. Justin, you apparently are a pro as you countered all of Erik's points quickly and succinctly. Erik, are you in any way offended by having your article called Minor League? I guess not, based on how you couldn't possibly understand how people could be offended by your original article.

gorman.mi
gorman.mi

Yes indeed you state the reality in a very rational way. As someone who has worked as a freelancer and also as an in-house IT team member I can't see any real differences, except you probably get treated with more respect as an in-houser. You have the opportunity to get to know your user groups, and colleagues better, have better access to resources and get paid more regularly....you certainly do not have it easier in-house as far as the actual work load, and you usually have to be multi-skilled due to staff shortages in any case.

jwoods
jwoods

I started in the lower ranks of IT and have made my way up the ladder. I didn't make that climb by knowing only one thing or for only working a 40 hour a week. Currently, the IT staff at our organization is required to do cross training. That doesn't mean they will all be experts across all platform, but each one of them will be able to help somewhere. The cross training here includes: Windows (desktop and server), Unix, Linux, Cisco Appliances, VPN's, and a list that goes on. Justine put his take right on the line, and was very accurate. Sorry Eric but I think you have a little bit of a bias going on there!

jimmeq
jimmeq

It truly depends on the Consulting firm. Some have great staff, others not so great. Our company hired a consultant to install Exchange 2010. At one point they deleted several lines from AD, and we lost our email system for the day. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Second tech did not know what Organizational Forms folders provided in Exchange 2003. I expect a consultant to be an expert specialist in whatever task they are hired to perform. We are currently downsizing our IT staff, and will need to call consultants more often. Internal IT techs often are fielding a phone call from a user who is having a problem with their Smart phone, then a meeting about WAN fiber runs, then modifing Exchange, then someone can't get thier personal email form AOL, another meeting about Switch gear, a phone call, etc. Oh, yeah, and the reminder from the self important anal exec who got one spam email. Consultants appear to be treated with more respect than the daily IT staff for unknown reasons. Certainly, consultant techs are hard working and knowledgeable, but not necessarliy more than IT staff. I've had my share of 20+ hour days. One last thing, when working those long days, we all take time to eat and bathroom breaks. A hungry tech is not able to concentrate when their stomach is grumbling.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

I'm going to stay out of the internal/external debate. Personally, the major difference has to do with understanding their business. Consultants are more likely to realize that IT/IS/etc. is a seperate (service) business and needs to be run that way. However, I am going to take exception with the phrase "jack of all trades and master of none". Any of us can be a master of whatever we wish to be. All it takes is effort, desire, and ability. All of us are masters at many skills ... can you walk? can you talk? can you read? You have three examples right there. So I'm going to throw another phrase at you ... five years experience or one year repeated five times?

LewSauder
LewSauder

I think the debate between who is better technically is off the mark. Having worked in both consulting and corporate IT, I've seen the arrogance of consultants thinking they are superior in every way. The reality is that there are high performers and low performers in each world. For a consultant to be successful, they need to be good technically, but also focus on high levels of customer service, communication skills and ability to sell future projects. This is where I've seen the biggest difference. Many consultants shouldn't be consulting and many corporate IT technicians could be very successful consultants. There are trade-offs to each career choice and hopefully, people will do what they enjoy most. Lew Sauder, Author, Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting

pgit
pgit

I could not have put it better, it does boil down to size: small diversifies, large specializes, obviously because they need to. The Oracle DBA is the perfect example, too. That and the mention of Exchange. Never in the course of handling a switching problem, adding a new LAN segment or helping someone access resources with their workstation have I been asked "oh, while you're here could you take a look at the database...?" Even the customers know there's a clear line between the generalist and the specialist. I only deal with a few clients with Exchange or Oracle n the mix, but every time I get a call about it they tell me up front they have already consulted the specialist and she has indicated that the problem is not with that software. They usually say "she said it's your problem", which I actually like to hear. I hate wasting time not knowing something outside of my responsibility has been checked and is not the problem. Otherwise I'm left wondering if maybe someone's AD credentials have gone south, a DB is corrupted or something I have simply not had the time to develop the proper skill sets to handle efficiently. I have a little knowledge of such things, and you know what "a little knowledge" is... I thought the referenced article was a bit absurd, actually. I have seen people accuse authors of intentionally inciting heated 'debate' for the sake of traffic. I hadn't thought this could get by the TR editors, but maybe there is a desire to stir things up, liven up the commentary... might be a good move psychologically speaking, like providing us with a release valve, so we don't go venting around the office where it could hurt us. =D Thanks, J Ja, you extinguished the 'other side' completely, taking the high road throughout.

lastchip
lastchip

I too found that post extremely offensive and certainly would not waste my time responding. It seems Mr Eckel has a very high opinion of himself, with an inflated ego to boot. Thank you for a well balanced response. I've been in IT long enough to know, no one knows everything about everything and those who purport to, are stretching ones intelligence to the limit.

gedwards
gedwards

The consultant who can come onsite, knows everything, and has all the right answers, is a rare creature. Most of the ones I have dealt with there is a transfer of knowledge - both ways. At times I have felt instead of us paying the bill, maybe it should be the other way around. Or call it even. But what does an internal Jack know? GE

bobdavis321
bobdavis321

I am the entire IT Department. You have to be VERY good at what you do to be such a "Jack of all Trades". On the other hand when I have a problem with Sage ACT I just call them up and ask for help. Sometimes its a waste of time but other times they can solve the problem in a fraction of the time it would take me. I have been amazed at what consultants know but they do not have the broad knowledge to run an entire IT department, not even close!

ksec2960
ksec2960

My specialization is networking. In both places that I have worked i was called upon to do everything from exchange, desktop/server support to networking. I have the exact opposite opinion of allot of consultants that I have worked with. They are to specialized so much so they are ineffective at troubleshooting issues. I have also worked with peope in internal it that hey are so generalized that if a really difficult issue arises they are unable to fix it. I believe for any IT shop to be succesful it helps to have a good mjxture of both.

katherine.champion
katherine.champion

You have hit the nailon the head J. Ja. It is definitely about big IT department versus small. I used to do EVERYTHING in a small IT department but am expected to be more of a specialist in an IT fucntion that now serves 33,000 employees. I can still do all of the things I used to but am not as "adept" as I used to be .... very much a "jack of all trades" and "master of none" today.

george-barna
george-barna

This guy sounds like a hairdresser. Nobody can cut hair like he can :-)

nick.ferrar
nick.ferrar

I lead a team for an IT consultancy but the team also looks after the consultancy's internal IT (for that region) so I see things from both sides. I think a lot of consultants actually have weaker IT skills due to the jack of all trades syndrome, to me you're better off specialising in a couple of complex areas and then relying on Google/colleagues for the rest. Virtually all of the things on Erik's list of things IT staff struggle with are a couple of mouse-clicks away on Google. Why fill your head up with routine stuff like that when you can focus more on supporting and understanding technology that provides real value to the business? As for the work ethic thing - what a load of BS, I've not seen a consultant work crazy hours without also getting crazy pay. I'm also not aware of any internal IT departments where the staff work on a 9-5 basis, fact is any decent IT person (staff or consultant) will work the hours they need to get the job done (within reason ofc), the difference being the IT staffer won't be getting paid for all their hours.

betty
betty

I am the senior systems administrator (specialist DBA) at a furniture manufacturing company - and the owner of an IT Consultancy. It is a struggle to find qualified help in both arenas. Your statement that smaller companies have generalists and larger companies have specialists is it exactly. While it is a wonderful thing to have a "jack of all trades" on staff, it is also a detriment to the business. Although ours is a small consultancy, I prefer the specialist model and prefer to have 2-3 specialists working part-time than to have one generalist working full-time - although I would take the generalist as a senior technician.

OSF-BayArea
OSF-BayArea

As a business owner I look at the money, plain and simple. Employees have to do their jobs or they will eventually get fired. Their security is tied to performance as is the companies success. Consultants only have get someone to sign a good contract then they start getting paid at least 4x the rate of the IT department rate. Their motivation is 100% profit, personal or professional. Can consultants be worth the extra cost? Absolutely. Is it most efficient way of getting work done? Almost never. The interface problems, culture clashes and general "I'm only here to do X and when I'm done, I'm gone" is not what I look for in an IT solution. Add in the need to support work done by a person or group of people no where to be found is something that SHOULD keep an owner up at night. Then again, there are so few managers or even owners who care about if their companies exist tomorrow, it is easy to understand why consultants are so lauded. Many 'contracts' are little more than seedy back room deals done fueled personal gain and nepotism. Sorry, no on my watch.

Bogdan Peste
Bogdan Peste

A very, very experienced consultant once told me: "The key to being a consultant is convincing people that you know more than they do, even when sometimes this isn't the case". Like it or not, it's the truth. I don't believe there is a consultant out there that hasn't, at least once in his career, bitten off more than he can chew. You can't always stay in your comfort zone, sometimes you just "wing it". Now, I work as internal IT, a "jack of all trades" if you will, and sometimes I have to wing it, because that's just how it is. That guy's article , in my opinion, is nothing but a marketing strategy...

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

Both have their place. Got 5 workstations and a server? Use a consultant. Got 500 workstations and 12 servers in 4 locations? An internal department may be the way to go. Both have their issues. A surly internal IT weenie can put the brakes on productivity just as fast as a consultant breaking their SLA. Both need monitoring and some stick/carrot adjustment now and again. Simply put, if your consultant camps out more than 8 hours per week and/or has their own desk, you may need your own guy. One thing is for sure, you don't have the right plan with the consultant. One of you is going broke.

jpmyers15
jpmyers15

I have worked in both situations, and I am currently a consultant. Comparing my positions is like apples to oranges. My internal IT job was with an IT department with only 10 staff members, for an organization consisting for 400 people. My current job as a consultant is with an IT department whose help desk alone is 25-30 people, and the organization consists of nearly 5000 people. I can tell you I work my butt off as a consultant, but once again this company is much larger. The guy who wrote that article is close-minded and ignorant.

IT Chica
IT Chica

As someone who works in I.T. and relies somewhat on consultants, I wholeheartedly agree with Justin on this one. I was rubbed the wrong way when I read Erik's article but didn't comment. Erik is entitled to his opinion and feelings about the corporate I.T. personnel he has encountered, even if I respectfully disagree. I work in an uber-small I.T. department (there are two of us). I specialize in implementation and support of fairly sophisticated financial software which is something our consultants know nothing about and admittedly couldn't support it if they tried. That said, these same consultants have top-notch Cisco skills that we don't have and we rely on them for this. They have even gone so far as to train us on using the various Cisco interfaces and have never made us feel inferior. In the end all I can say is the consulting company we use is humble and effective, who on more than one occasion has commented on learning something from us. How refreshing! This is the type of company I like working with. We also terminated the relationship with a consultant who was an arrogant know-it-all.

LouisvilleSteve
LouisvilleSteve

When I was in college my professor use to say ???An expert is someone with the same knowledge as your team but they are located on the other side of the country???

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

I learned a long time ago to never say never and to never say always. Eric's article was just to generalized. Sweeping generalizations without regard to a company's size, industry, etc and/or without regard to people's age, personalities, experience, etc is just short sighted. I've seen plenty of consultants and internal workers live up to his generalizations and I've seen plenty of consultants and internal workers not live up to his generalizations.

RechTepublic
RechTepublic

...please continue with this completely academic effort!

pgit
pgit

"I even had one guy spend 4 hours working on an issue (while on the phone) only to leave without a single ounce of progress being made." Been there, fortunately only a few times. I did go with the "on the job training," though. I used it a leverage to get a far more favorable contract for my client. Part of the deal was whenever their consulting with a third party they're off the clock. This prompted one fellow to rapidly become quite the expert on one system on his own time, in short order. He was smart enough to see the position promised long term stability. Motivation can be just as valuable as a skill set, so long as the individual is capable of obtaining the needed skills in timely fashion. Sort of "the right [personality] for the job" over simply having the skills. Granted there aren't too many situations where this works. I just happen to have bumped into a few of them...

pgit
pgit

Some times being a "jack of all trades" isnt' a lot of fun either; especially when you are trying to come up to speed on the particular whizz-bang that the client is focused on." That is the source of many problems, not the least of which being you can come off looking like a moron if you have a hard time figuring out how to get a given task running on the latest gizmo. Ever been on a job you're well qualified for and someone walks up with their new toy and starts asking questions? People seem to think I'm an expert on everything to do with 3G/4G devices. Far from it, I don't even own a cell phone, let alone a "smart" one. (alas soon to change, though)

apotheon
apotheon

Generalist consultants are valuable when employed correctly, too. For instance, in the planning stage you may want the help of someone with much broader experience than anyone on staff to sort out the various options available by their benefits and detriments to your current circumstances, thus getting outside help establishing the best plan possible to tackle new problems. Unfortunately, the people who should be hiring generalist consultants for such purposes are often idiots who try to make decisions based on incomplete, erroneous impressions gleaned from full-page ads in BusinessWeek and, only when they've settled on what will surely turn out to be the worst choice for their needs, they go looking for consultants with depth in the technologies they've selected. There's also the simple case of a company small enough that it doesn't make sense to have full-time IT staff on the payroll, so they call in consultants when something requiring more technical expertise than the "office computer guy" can claim comes up. Often, however, depth is definitely what's needed.

dennis
dennis

Besides being humble, listening skills are the most important trait of a good consultant. If a Consultant cannot listen, then how is that Consultant going to understand all of the problems or the project to be implemented. With that being said equally important is the role of questioner. But questioning is an art. You have to be able to question without showing emotion, concern, or even if something is different than the way you do it that there is anything wrong. I can't tell you how many times I am asked on a daily basis, do you think we did it correctly. My answer is always I'm not sure, that is why I am asking questions. In otherwords I need to see the whole picture, not just the what is to be done. With so many ways to accomplish tasks understanding the whole picture is important. Then and only then can you come up with a solution. I've been on both sides of the coin as both a Manager and Consultant and the mistakes made on both sides is amazing. The Consultant is only as good as the information given. On the other side, the Consultant will only be as good as the questions he asks. The project is only successful if all of the variables are understood. A good consultant will know his/her limitations. A bad consultant will think he/she knows everything. And don't start talking to me about certifications. I can't tell you how many IT people think that certifications mean you know something. I will take experience over any certification. Don't get me wrong, certifications have their place. It tells you that the person has studied a particular skill and took a test to show that they have understood the material. It does not tell me if they have ever implemented the product in a real environment. Two different things.. Enough of that though.. You get the point.

jshuron
jshuron

I too have been on both sides of the fence, currently running IT single handed for a 25 location, 200 person company. But I must disagree with your "But limited to that domain..." comment which in my opinion is untrue. As a consultant I specialized in information security and networking, but also woked on servers, PC, etc as needed. In the past 4 years with this one company I've accomplished many things, including: - Moved the administrative office 4 months after I started (doing all IT, including the cabling, and a new phone system) in a single weekend - with NO problems Monday morning. - Rolled out VoIP. - Virtualized all the servers - Learned Exchange and SharePoint Oh, and I'm responsible for the long term planning as well. So this whole idea of consultants having to learn FAR more and having so much to do is a complete load of garbage. Each side has their good and bad points. I've enjoyed dong both, as each brought it's own special set of challenges. Neither, however is better than the other. We're all IT PROS!

pgit
pgit

Good point, I've heard/seen the "someone to blame" factor numerous times. If you go blowing your horn and something doesn't work out you come away far worse off than if you'd been humble and unassuming, and the same problem arises. In the latter scheme there was no expectation that this problem would not be a problem. I had a sales director once that used a fake southern country bumpkin accent and acted like he wasn't very well educated starting his sales pitch. (for aviation training) He told me making the customers feel like they were taking advantage of him always landed the deal most beneficially to the company. The people got the same package they would under any circumstance, but by putting on this act he said the people felt they were superior and had negotiated a price well to their favor. He went on to be global sales director (a vice president) for a huge, well known corporation. The guy was 'out there,' he'd been sigint in Viet Nam from '69 to beyond the end in '74. (he was there when the last helicopter lifted off the roof of the embassy... and he wasn't a passenger on it)

wade.grimm
wade.grimm

mehherc, you beat me to it, but IMHO the only difference is pay. I recently left a company where I was the IT dept. I handled 200 vms, on 8 hosts, 50 physical servers spread across 3 provinces and 3 states... Since leaving I have been replaced with 3 FTE consultants (Full Time Equivalents) and a half time Project Manager... Based on that math the company was getting a huge deal from me... I think Erik is an unmitigated ass for publishing his article, and even more so for not having the fortitude to apologize to those he offended. Thanks for the article J Ja.

apotheon
apotheon

Let's say a consultant shows up and works with you on a problem your business is having. Let's say you and the consultant learn from each other -- equal amounts. The reason the consultant gets paid is that it's your network the two of you are working together to fix -- not the consultant's network. It's not an even trade.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

The expert is a guy from out of town. He also used to jokingly describe a consultant as a gelding in a field of stallions.

Justin James
Justin James

Something my father told me a long time ago (second generation IT guy...): "Hiring a consultant to do your work is like hiring an arsonist to be on your fire department." There are many consultants who luckily aren't like that, and there are a good number who are. J.Ja

dennis
dennis

An IBM tech was sent in to work on an old Universe machine. He spent three days trying to figure out how to get the data off the drive. I come in with a Zip drive "telling my age here" and get the data off, get a bootable partition and whiz bang boom, they are back in business bringing data off the tape. What amazed me was the fact that the Tech (Who was charging $350/hr) had a hardware for dummies book and was reading it when I got there.. OJT is great for newbie, but knowing what to do is what gets the job done.

pgit
pgit

He had that view universally toward consultants? Is this a matter of a consultant being motivated to throw wrenches in the gears for job security?

lastchip
lastchip

I always understood, an expert was - a drip under pressure!

pgit
pgit

No doubt there's a very limited time and place for heavy OJT. For example a fellow wrote a one-off app to run a doctor's ultrasound machines, and he made it clear he wasn't going to support it, just write it, set it up and they're on their own. Rather than hire someone that had coding experience with the language the fellow used, we found a young tech who quickly proved he could learn the code. What made him the best candidate was he was close, eagerly availaqble at the drop of a hat and didn't have a lot of needs, this task fit nicely with the other work he was doing and the amount of work (and resulting pay) was perfectly acceptable to him. The experienced coders we talked to saw this as another potential client to squeeze into the already crowded schedule, not to mention that around these parts someone has to travel upwards of 100 miles to have enough work to sustain one's self. I could see the technician being on a job 3 hours away at best, and I would thoroughly expect they'd stay on that job and finish it first, after having traveled so far. We couldn't guarantee 'same day' service with anyone who had experience writing code. We have covered it perfectly with someone who had to learn the code the hard way. Nevertheless, the right man for the job. Very limited scenario, I imagine any such situation would likewise be quite unique. 9 times out of 10 experience is the deciding factor, as in your example. I can't imagine finding someone who's been hired, especially at that rate (!) reading a "for dummys" book. You'd think he'd have the smarts to cover the book with a Hustler magazine or something so people wouldn't catch on they're paying for OJT.

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