Wow! What a crazy year this has been so far. Hartford, Los Angeles, Springfield, and Brooklyn…some of the many places my mind and body have traveled to mentally and/or physically, in search of the all mighty consulting dollar. Yes, I am part of that growing breed that makes their dollar the old fashion way … not as an employee, but as a contract worker. We go by the glorified name of consultants, simply put, slaves for the dollar.
I stumbled into the world of independent IT consulting two years ago. When my son was admitted into a very expensive private school that my salary as a full time employee could not accommodate, I came to the conclusion that the only way to deal with $40,000 tuition was to take a chance and become a hired gun, a contract worker, a technology prostitute…sold to the highest bidder . Besides, after more than twenty five years in Yankee land contributing to Western Union profits by sending money on demand to countless relatives back on the continent, how could I not send my first son to the University of his choice?
So, I left the relative safety of a fulltime job at a blue chip IT consulting company and accepted a contract role at a financial services firm in New York City. My pimp (IT Consulting slang for job agent) told me it was a one year engagement. The contract I signed with him bound me to him for one year at $110 an hour. When I got to the client’s site, I discovered that the engagement was actually a six month engagement. Pimps will say anything to get their charges (the IT slang for a consultant in a dependency relationship is actually the same word that got shock jock Don Imus in trouble) to accept a role. The typical line is that the engagement will be long term. This line is necessary to lull the consultant into accepting a lower rate. The premise is that a consultant is more likely to take a rate of $110 an hour for one year engagement as it is much more attractive than a rate of $125 an hour for a 3 month engagement.
Even though, I got a 3 month extension, I succumbed to the temptation of fools’ gold. Getting contract engagements is all about building and maintaining relationships with literally every one you meet. All the experiences and people you have met in the past are potential assets for your next gig. A former colleague enticed me to Hartford for an engagement that required a resource that had a rare skill as well as someone he knew who would watch his back. Besides the money being better, he also promised that the engagement would in all likelihood turn out to be a long term engagement. I was bound to believe him; after all, he was my friend. Anyway, six months later, the project turned sour. Deep seethed politics in addition to the impracticality of trying to impose new reference architecture at the enterprise level without funding from the business was the death knell.
Any good consultant worth his or her salt has a sixth sense about their viability and relevance on the project they are working on. They know when a project is going to hell or they know when it’s time to move on. When you are no longer being copied on every single email thread and you find out a week later that recommendations you made are being ignored, it is time to start looking. When other consultants start avoiding eye contact with you in the hallways, you know it’s time to update your resume. As thanksgiving approached, I put my updated my resume on all the job sites … dice, monster, hotjobs. I also put the word out in my network that I would be available in early January.
There are some who live in fear of their current employer or pimp seeing their resume out on a job site. I do not subscribe to such fear. A good consultant must always have a somewhat recent resume out there. Yes, you will get constant calls from recruiters about irrelevant jobs! Yes, you will get emails from a thousand and one placement recruiters and automated search engines that troll job sites looking for candidates that have certain key words in their profiles! However, if you are not circulating, you are not percolating! If you are not circulating, you do not know what skills are hot. You always need to have one leg in the water.
When the word came down in January that my engagement would terminate, I had two solid offers. One of them was in tantalizing Los Angeles, while the other was in the middle of nowhere in Springfield, Missouri. Both engagements were contracts that paid $125 an hour and also took care of my travel and hotel expenses, including a daily per diem...beautiful. For an African in America these offers where not looking too bad.
Naturally I chose the Los Angeles engagement. Who could resist Hollywood! Moreover, I would be working in an enterprise architectural role. I called my Los Angeles pimps and said yes. I followed up with a call to my Missouri pimps to decline the opportunity. I picked up a plane ticket to Los Angeles and picked up some new clothes and a new travel bag. I was ready for the hustle and bustle of the traveling consultant.
Next blog: Why I chose Los Angeles, but ended up in Springfield, Missouri