Decisions, decisions.

I have come to an important crossroads in my career. A decision has been thrust upon me, and not by my choosing. Recently, my company entered into a long term agreement with HP to outsource application development and infrastructure operations to them. As a result of this, many of my colleagues will become HP employees. For now, they will work doing the exact same thing, but as a full fledged HP employee. Down the road, who is to say.

There are plenty of opportunities within HP to move to another client, or work within one of the many divisions focused on selling hardware and software. I have been given an opportunity to move over to HP as well. I would become a full time HP employee and support my existing company in almost the exact same role. I know that there would be changes after a year or so, but in the short term, the only thing that would change would be the name of the company on my paycheck.

That leads me into the dilemma I face. Well, I suppose dilemma might not be the best word to use. I have to choose whether or not I want to work for a vendor. If the company I was being “traded” to didn’t sell hardware or software, it wouldn’t be a big deal. However, I like being independent when it comes to the technology choices I get to make. Working for a vendor means that I am locked in to their solutions. That’s not to say that I think HP makes bad products. Like Cisco, they have some great products, but they also have some products that I am not too crazy about. I’ve always enjoyed having options.

The other side of the argument is that I can get exposed to all sorts of things by going to work for HP. I have quite a few acquaintances in the partner space and although they get better access to vendor product architecture and design, I don’t think it is too much more than what I can get as an end user. Working for a vendor, I can learn about all sorts of things that the general public will never see. The kinds of things that “we can’t really talk about that” covers when uttered by a vendor during one of their presentations. Imagine being able to go beyond the NDA! These are things I would never see on the partner side, and definitely not on the end user side either.

In all of this “work for a vendor” or “don’t work for a vendor” talk, the other issue comes up. That issue being, do I really want to continue to be an end user or do I want to dive in to the world of consulting? A few jobs ago, I worked for a reseller. I imagined when I took the job that I would be doing a bunch of cool networking jobs at a billion different companies. I ended up in the SMB space and did more “break/fix” type work. It wasn’t a particularly hard job but it was a company filled with good people. It just wasn’t what I wanted, so I jumped at an opportunity to work for a very large hospital ownership company and never looked back.

Here I am several years later and I am pondering jumping back into consulting, but this time I am interested in enterprise level consulting. The SMB market was too much of a financial battleground for me. People wanted their network to run like a Corvette, but only wanted to fund a Chevette. Although I know that money is tight in the enterprise space as well, I think they tend to be a bit more realistic when it comes to total cost.

In light of that, I have come up with a short list of Pro’s and Con’s of corporate IT versus consulting:

Corporate IT Pro’s

1. You work on the same network day in and day out. – You know where every 1 and 0 will route to.

2. Stable work hours. Stable maintenance windows.

3. Wider scope of duties. – With the exception of very large corporations, you get to touch all aspects of networking(routing, switching, wireless, WAN optimization and circuits, load balancing, VPN’s, firewalls, IPS, SAN’s, network management, etc). In some cases, this won’t be 100% true.

4. If your network is a decent size, every vendor out there wants to talk to you. – More often than not, they come to you without any prodding on your part.

 

Corporate IT Con’s

1. Same network means same hardware/software for years. – Upgrades are not as common as in consulting which means you may be limping along on old hardware while all your consulting buddies are playing with the cutting edge gear.

2. Fighting with the business side for each dollar spent. – IT is a black hole when it comes to money. If your finance department is smart, they make you justify every expense to make sure it is really needed. You just wish they did the same for the group that blows all the company money on ugly sculptures and advertising for bring your pet to work day or whatever crazy idea someone came up with. You know. Stuff that doesn’t make the company any money.

3. Dealing with low staffing issues. – IT people are expensive. The fewer of you the better in the eyes of the people who are in charge of cost cutting. Sometimes people think buying fancy management systems means that less people are needed. While that might be the case in a few situations, most of the time it just eases the strain on an already overworked IT department.

4. Office politics. – Since you work with these people day in and day out for a couple of years or more, you have to deal with their weirdness. Face it. IT people are strange. Whether it is the plethora of Star Trek references, bad hygiene, or general disdain for authority, we all have idiosyncratic qualities that you have to deal with. That’s on top of the hidden agendas and personality clashes you have to deal with.

5. Dead weight can hide out easier in corporations. – When there are larger numbers of the IT persuasion around, it is easier for the “Wallys” to hang out and just collect a paycheck. You probably know of one or two if your corporate environment has a dozen or so IT people on staff. Maybe you are “Wally”. 🙂

 

Consulting Pro’s

1. Different networks with different problems to solve. – There’s something to be said for variety. It keeps things interesting. If you like traveling, some of the larger consulting companies out there will send you out of town on a regular basis. Once you get status with airlines, hotel chains, and rental car companies, you can travel like George Clooney.

2. Always integrating new systems from multiple vendors. – If you have a good number of clients, you can get your hands on a variety of different platforms from different vendors. Even if you aren’t too fond of the solution, you can learn something from every vendor out there that can make you stronger technically.

3. Don’t have to deal with office politics. – Your engagement with the client can sometimes be very brief. Even it is a recurring visit to the client, you are there to do a specific task. Other than dealing with their possible bad hygiene and occasional Star Trek reference, you are free from all the garbage that goes along with people working together in groups. This is assuming that the solution you presented has been approved.

4. Hours can be a bit more flexible as well as the ability to work from home. – Some consultants are able to sit at home and watch all their favorite soap operas while cranking out design documents for solutions they have done so many times their kids can take over once they learn how to use Microsoft Visio. I think I may know a few consultants that dread going into the office because it means they have to put pants on. Although some corporate IT people are able to work from home, most lead lives spent in cubicles working 8am-5pm. Hours might vary in other countries.

5. In the good consulting outfits, you are typically working with a larger number of technology friendly people. – Consultants are supposed to be on the upper end of experience and ability. That means they are somewhat nerdier on a per person basis than their corporate counterparts. I’m not going to go as far as this guy did and outright insult people. The consultants that I know(and maybe that explains my theory here) tend to have their act together for their particular field. I can’t say the same for all the corporate IT people I know. Yes, yes. I know all the consultant jokes and horror stories about having to clean up the mess that some consultants made on a network. That’s why I said…errrrr wrote “good consulting outfits”.

Consulting Con’s

1.Erratic hours driven by the needs of the client. – You get paid by rendering a service to the company that hired you as a consultant. That means you do things on their schedule. Quite often that means weekends or late nights. Of course, if you are a consultant with minimal pairs of pants, you probably don’t even get out of bed until noon so this isn’t a huge problem for you.

2. Feast or famine when it comes to work. – Guess what gets cut when profits are down? You guessed it. The consultant. Guess who also has no job if your sales people are spending all their time at “customer” lunches at Hooters instead of bringing in more work? I think you get the idea.

3. Constantly having to work on equipment you might not be familiar with. – At some point, every company employs a technical or purchasing person who just couldn’t pass up that great deal on eBay and bought a piece of network equipment that has been end-of-lifed and no longer has vendor support. Guess who gets called to fix it with a voodoo priest, 2 chickens, and a Ouija board? You guessed it. You!

4. Spending a lot of time creating proposals that may not get selected. – I spent a few months shy of a decade working for the federal government, so I know a lot about doing work that doesn’t do anything beneficial for the employer(You are welcome tax payers of the USA!). The problem is that in the private sector “time is money”, so every minute spent developing a proposal is time your employer is paying you for. When you lose big deals, a lot of work went into the solution and nobody got paid for it. I realize that you won’t win every deal, but you should at least be winning some if you want to stay in business.

I am sure I missed some. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Final Thoughts

One of the things I have tried to focus on in the past year or two is becoming familiar with as many vendor solutions as I can. My dealings with vendors are probably a bit different as a potential end user as opposed to being in the sales channel and actually selling product. I wonder how much my interaction with vendors will change. I’m sure some increase in the amount of information I have access to will come if I am associated with a partner. I’m not sure it will be too much more than I already have. There’s a lot of things I won’t actually know unless I go and work for a reseller. However, there are also companies that deal direct with potential end users and others that only deal with a limited number of companies in a given area. I may find myself getting cut off from dealing with certain vendors if I work for a reseller that isn’t a partner of theirs.

Some people might think relations with vendors aren’t a big deal. For me they are. If I were partial to only one company in networking, it might not be that big of a deal. Since no one company has the best products in every segment of networking, that’s not a realistic viewpoint for me. I guess to sum it all up, my decision to work for a vendor, corporation, or reseller in large part comes down to what the effect is on my interactions with networking vendors. Weird huh?

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9 Responses to Decisions, decisions.

  1. Jason W says:

    Better study up on HP-UX! 😉

  2. Ethan Banks says:

    Gotta say that the only reason I’m not back into consulting at this point is the family. I would love to be back in the thick of interesting problems, designing, and solutions implementation. I’m not willing to go to the unpredictable schedule and/or long-distance travel required by most of the gigs I’ve been hit up with in the last couple of years. I need flexibility for the kids, and they need me to be home most of the time. My current job is perfect for that, while still being more or less interesting and paying reasonably well. I do feel my knowledge is suffering, though. It’s hard to keep up with new technology and gear when your company doesn’t happen to need whatever it is that’s new and cool.

    As far as working for a vendor…sigh. I have the same misgivings. There’s a couple I would consider, one of whom has approached me a couple of times now. Just too much travel, and that whole “don’t wanna be locked into a single solution” deal.

    Will be interested to know what you decide. You could do far worse than HP the way I see it.

  3. Fernando says:

    Your post is thoughtful and accurate. Let me add a few comments based on, among other things, my 10 years of experience at HP doing consulting/professional services similar (but not exactly the same) to what you are looking into:
    – First, HP is a nice place to work overall. Ethan is right: you could do a lot worse.
    – Based on your description, I assume you’d be moving to the outsourcing groups (not sure what they’re called now, I left HP early last year). Indeed there is opportunity to work on other projects and technologies. Frankly, when I saw outsourcing folks “break out” from their existing customers, it was usually based on leveraging the same technology skillset for other customers (if you do Cisco R&S for customer A, you start doing Cisco R&S for customers B, C and D as well), so the chance to work on different vendor technologies is not that great IMHO. You may, of course, pick up additional skills in each customer.
    – On the technology front, you may not have an option of what to work with in a given customer. The influence that an outsourcing group has on a new deal pursuit is not that great. If the “powers that be” determine ‘thou shalt not use anything except HP Networking’, there’s little you can do to change that.
    – One big caveat against consulting in general, specially in large organizations, is that you’re a resource, pure and simple. In many cases, you’re expected to deliver on your projects (measured by billable hours in many cases) and that’s it: limited opportunities to change/improve on the business itself. You think that the process used by another group to manage firewalls is sub-optimal? Good luck getting that changed…
    – My point is that a position in outsourcing within a large vendor is not as an “insider” position as it may appear from the outside. Going beyond an NDA? Not unless you’re in the middle of a large pursuit or have some inside track with Product Management groups (which are often far away, both organizationally and geographically).
    – Along the same lines, getting visibility and promotions in large consulting organizations is a skill in itself, demanding a high degree of political maneuvering. Some people excel at it, others not so much.

    Ultimately, it may be a GREAT thing or a big letdown. I suggest you consider both short term needs and long term aspirations you have for your career. Do you have small kids? Ethan is right again, IMHO, on choosing to be around for them now. Looking for the excitement of new projects, new customers? Maybe consider a position not in outsourcing, but in professional services/consulting outright. Looking for a gradual change compared to your existing situation? Then this might be a good fit.

    Think of the W.E.Deming quote – “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

    Best of luck.

    Fernando

  4. Thanks so much for the responses. Definitely some good things to consider.

  5. Matthew,
    I spoke to a bunch of HP employees at HP Discover this week and it does seem like a good place to work. There is a good culture and those that are working remotely have some good flexibility in keeping a work/life balance. As a blogger, there is a bit of an oversight being at a big company (I’m not sure how they handle allowing employees to blog on separate sites, there is some oversight on blogs posted on corporate sites and as I’m sure you heard, they have a policy on Twitter names using HP). You are a great independent voice, but I do believe that it is possible to maintain credibility and some level of independence, even working for a large vendor. Good luck with the decision and please keep writing.
    Cheers,
    Stu

  6. Andy Bryant says:

    Good comments from @stu there… Yes – just take a look at Calvin Zito @HPstorageguy if you want to see what you can get up to whilst blogging at HP – although a slightly different example – Calvin is in the storage group – so his main task is spreading the message about HP storage products. Also @HPsisyphus is an ‘acquired’ blogger in the storage division. I’m @AndyAtHP, although don’t get to spend as much time doing social as I’d like to, due to day-job commitments (I drive the AllianceONE program for HP Networking).

    To some degree our services colleagues have a lot of latitude to use HP or non-HP kit as needed to get the job done. Obviously you’ll need to think HP first for campus or data-center networking – but customers with an installed base of another vendor can continue to use that other vendor; and for functions we don’t address – we have an array of Alliance Partners, along with skilled folks inside HP to manage that kit. (There are more than are listed on the AllianceONE page above… )

    Personally, I think HP needs more honest, open, technology-savvy bloggers who can tell our story in buzz-free, down-to-earth, real-world blog posts, to help connect with real customers in the trenches.

    Flexibility & work/life balance through home-working can be good (although this obviously depends on local manager/customer needs of course). One more example of big-company value is we’re all empowered to spend 4 hours/month of company time volunteering for a socially-beneficial project – if that’s your thing…

    Andy (who works for HP, but who’s opinions are his own…)

  7. CJ Infantino says:

    Great article, I go back and forth between wanting to consult and wanting to stay in the corp gig.

    It is a curious thing, especially because there is so much variety out there. It is tough to say how any job may ultimately end up.

  8. DanielG says:

    One thing I would say about the corp side, sometimes you have no choice but to be Wally because the corp isn’t really doing anything with networking at that moment. I’ve changed to a much larger corp recently (probably 20x bigger or more), but a lot of the infrastructure is set and not much is changing right now. Mostly keeping the ship straight.

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