Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A consultant's perspective on working full-time for a corporation

I've been working as a software consultant at Binomial LLC (a company Stephanie Hurlburt and I just started) for just enough time now that my perspective has begun to shift from my former full-time mentality. I'm obviously no expert at this, but I'm learning as fast as possible, and I intend on sharing everything I learn.

Let's compare what it's like to work full-time somewhere from the viewpoint of a consultant's perspective. This is something I couldn't do before, and very few if any of my coworkers ever talked about stuff like this at all:

Note: Obviously, not all corporations are bad places to work. I'm very much generalizing here from multiple past experiences at medium (say >50 people) to large corporations. There are some very nice companies out there too.

- Corporations are Control Freaks

With full-timing, your "client" (your employer) is extremely controlling, even in open office and "no manager" type companies.

Your control fetish "client" probably requires you to commute every day, sit in an office somewhere in a noisy non-optimal environment, and bang out code like a machine every day of the week for weeks and months at a time.

Some clients actually encourage the other "consultants" (your coworkers) to use peer pressure on you so you work longer than is sustainable or healthy. Or, they just require you to overwork yourself.

Some clients record and monitor all of your network traffic (or your emails, instant message traffic etc.), monitor when you enter and leave the workplace, etc.

You know what? Working for ultra-controlling clients like this sounds terrifying from my new perspective.

Corporations and recruiters work together to suppress wages and opportunities

I know many programmers who are locked completely up within the corporate fill-timing paradigm. When they inevitably loose their jobs (due to layoffs, random purges, teams or companies failing, etc.) they are thrown to the full-timing wolves that orbit all the major tech companies.

Now you need to put yourself on the market, start talking with recruiters, and dust-off your elite whiteboarding skills - fast.

With consulting, a good goal is to build up a community of potential clients over time and keep this community as happy as possible. You're not dependent on any single client this way, and you gain access to more potential projects this way. Price fixing is unlikely if your client community is diverse.

- Corporations can harbor, even encourage Toxic Teams

A few years ago at one company, I got tossed onto a horribly abusive, brutal, and kinda nutty team right out of the starting gate. That was a super intense, Alice in Wonderland type experience that I will never repeat. (Why did I stay on this team for around a year, even though I should have left? Because I loved the company's products and this team was trying to build a new engine for future products. I eventually moved to another team that was actually shipping something real.)

With consulting, we can first sign a short-term contract (from days to a few months depending on the scope) to feel each other out. If it doesn't work out, no big deal, the damage (to both parties) is minimized. Working for a new company as a consultant isn't this stressful, life changing event like changing jobs is.

- Corporations Demand Intense and Extreme Loyalty

These "clients" want to basically own your life.

Working full-time at a corporation, you negotiate, then sign a contract. That's usually it. Truly renegotiating can be tough, because to have a real negotiation you must be willing to leave. This is a type of client that demands total absolute loyalty! Many corporations even claim ownership over all your work, even things you do on your own time at home.

As a consultant, you can potentially renegotiate in between every project. It's not that big of a deal.

- Corporations are Work-A-Holics

At a corp, if I want to take time off I must check to see if I'm allowed first. At many places you only get a handful of weeks off once every year. If you get sick, or have some life changing event you need to deal with, you're potentially screwed.

This seems analogous to a "toxic client" in consulting, one that is super jealous and extremely demanding of your time! 

- Corporations limit your freedom

At one of my previous companies, I could theoretically wheel my desk anywhere and pick and choose what team I worked with. In practice, office politics and super-cliquish teams massively constrained this freedom. At another company, I was stuck on the same team basically forever, because the org structure had ossified around us over many years.

As a consultant I can pick and choose who I want to work with. Obviously, I tend to choose nicer clients, because at the end of the day this is a social process and I personally like working with friendly and no-ego teams. My market of teams to work with is potentially massive now. I can wheel my little virtual desk anywhere in the world.

1 comment:

  1. Seen that peer pressure to work extra time, so sketchy. Didn't work on me cause I didn't care if they fired me.