Tech & Work

Career advice for contract IT pros

Have you ever smelled the foul stench of a freshly burned bridge? Jeff Davis tells the story of the new IT pro who made a big mistake.

The foul stench of a freshly burned bridge is wafting through the halls where I work. It wasn’t me who burned that bridge, however. It was a so-called “professional” person, someone hired through an IT contracting agency for a six-week assignment.

I’m going to tell you what that person did to burn the bridge with my company, and then I want your opinion. I’d like to hear from any and all TechRepublic members who can explain why anyone would jeopardize his or her career by pulling such an unprofessional stunt. My hope is that you newcomers to the industry will learn from this lesson and avoid making the same mistake.
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Your word is your honor, or is it?
Here’s what happened, folks. Recently, one of the managers in my company went through a local technical services agency to hire three contractors for a special project. The work involved dialing in to customer computers, determining problems, and installing fixes. We estimated that the project would last about six weeks. For contractors, it’s a gravy gig.

One of the contractors was doing such a good job, the manager in charge of the project made that person the project lead. Four weeks into the assignment, the project lead informed us that he had accepted an offer for a full-time position. Naturally, we were happy for him, but we hoped he would complete his assignment with us. (We had promised the powers-that-be that the contract work would be completed by a specific date, and it was too late in the game to bring a new contractor up to speed.)

“Don’t worry,” the contractor told the project manager, “I promise you, we’ll make that date.” He told us he had given the technical services agency three weeks’ notice and that his new employer was fine with his expected start date.

The next day, the contractor left at noon and never returned. The day after that, he called one of the other contractors and said he wouldn’t be in. (He didn’t even have the decency to contact the agency or the project manager in our office.) We haven’t heard a thing from him since.

The benefit of the doubt?
Some of you might be wondering about the contractor’s side of this story. Let’s take a moment to give him the benefit of the doubt. Suppose the guy was accepting a job with one of the agency’s other clients, and the agency was giving him a hard time about leaving. Maybe the guy had a lot of things to do to get ready for his new job. Perhaps he had personal problems.

To those “excuses,” I say, “Hogwash, hogwash, hogwash.” The contractor had a professional obligation to the agency and to its client. Some people believe that “all’s fair in love, war, and contract work,” but I don’t.

When this contractor didn’t show up and when he didn’t call, it hurt our project. It also damaged the credibility of the agency through which we obtained this contractor’s services. More importantly, it damaged the contractor’s reputation.

It’s a small, small IT world
Here’s the sad part. This guy was doing a great job as a contractor. In the future, we would have special-requested him from the technical-services agency again, or we might have hired him outright. But this person burned two bridges—one with my firm and one with the technical services agency. He’ll never again work for either company.

This person is fairly young and very bright and just landed himself a full-time position in an IT department. He’s on top of the world right now, so he doesn’t need to worry about what other people think of him, right?

Wrong. It’s a small IT community out there, folks. Instead of remembering what a good job he did, everyone who worked with this person in my shop will remember that he made a commitment he didn’t keep. We’ll remember him as a coward and a slacker who didn’t have the professional decency to call in and at least say, “Folks, I’m blowing off the rest of this assignment.”

Smart, self-respecting, professional people honor their commitments and keep their promises. If you can’t keep your word once you’ve given it, you don’t belong in IT.
Have you been burned by a contractor who didn’t show up? To comment on this column or to share your experiences dealing with contract help, please post a note below or follow this link to write to Jeff.

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