Top 8 Reasons to be a Software Consultant

June 16, 2008

After experiencing my first year in the workforce, one of the things that I really want to address is helping other (soon to be) college graduates, particularly software engineers, find out what they want to do with their degree once they are in the real world. From my experience, my employment director’s job consisted of emailing list after list of companies who were looking to hire a typical entry-level programmer. The problem is, that I never knew what those positions offered or what the expectations were. Details about the job and the employee’s responsibilities were very vague. On the other side of the fence, from the recruiting calls that I was involved in last year, it seemed that most students didn’t know kinds of developer opportunities were available to them once they graduate. One of the big topics that I tossed around, was the concept of becoming an in-house developer versus a consultant. That said, I’m going to list the Top 8 Reasons to be a Software Consultant below and hopefully that will provide students with some ideas for what to do with their college degree.

  1. Expertise – Let’s face it, the fact that the client didn’t use any of their own developers to run this project, or still needed your help, just goes to show how much your opinion is respected. Most consultants focus on particular products or industries, so when you are brought in to help, you’re expected to know what it takes for the project to succeed. As you focus more on one particular industry, you can apply experience learned from a previous client to the next one.
  2. Variety – Most of the projects that consultants work on (I said most!) tend to last a few weeks to a few months. Some of them take up to a year. Depending on how many projects you are involved in with the client, or what industry you are in, you could be at a client for more than a year. Chances are however, that you continually work on different projects. As an in-house developer, you will most likely continue to maintain existing applications or develop the same set of technology.
  3. Networking – You will, without a doubt, always work with different people. The exposure that you get will help you gain valuable contacts and develop many relationships. Working with so many different professionals will allow you to get exposure to many different opinions which will help you form your own.
  4. Broadened Horizons – Whether or not you consistently work in the same industry, it is inevitable that some of the clients will want to do something leading-edge and use never before seen technology sets. The advantage here, is that you will develop many different skill sets in a short amount of time, at the client’s expense. Where else can you work and be told that tomorrow you will begin working with mobile text-messaging or writing with the new Microsoft MVC Framework before it is even released?
  5. Improved Communication and Presentation Skills – When you work long-term within your own project team, you really work yourself into a comfort zone. Consulting takes you out of that zone and places you in front of people you don’t know. The next client you present to could be the big break that you need. You will continually fine-tune your communication and presentational skills so that you are able to effectively sell a service or prepare a proposal for a potential client. As a software consultant you’re not just a code monkey while others make decisions. You are brought in front of a client and asked your opinion. Each opportunity will improve your skills and as time progresses you will have no problem presenting to large audiences.
  6. Sense of Accomplishment – For me each project that I work on and complete is another “notch on my belt” and another accomplishment. As a consultant you will get exposed to so many opportunities that you’ll run out of space on that belt and begin forgetting about all of the different projects that you worked on. Another aspect is that being exposed to many different technologies helps you evaluate previous experiences and decide what you could have done better for the next project.
  7. Challenge – One of the big challenges about consulting is that you will spend most of your time working or integrating with systems that you didn’t previously build. In some cases the amount of hoops that you have to jump through to get existing systems to integrate with your new product can be nauseating, however once you get all of those systems in place together you can really relish in the sense of accomplishment as you roll your latest project into production.
  8. Relief (between clients) – This doesn’t apply to all consultants, but one of the best things about working for a client is the roll-off period when you get to go back to the home office (or your home for that matter) and work on honing up new skills while you wait for the next project to roll in. Until that client comes in, your focus could switch and you might begin directing your efforts internally or research a new technology that you’ve wanted to learn.