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”. 🙂
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”.
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.
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?