Going It Alone Versus Working With Others

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Consultants and contractors in the IT industry go the independent route for several reasons. Obviously, it allows them to set their own agenda, but this desire is hardly limited to IT. One sometimes-overlooked motive is that rather than limiting them, this professional status affords them a wide range of opportunities in terms of the clients and, perhaps more importantly, the technologies they get to work with.

“People who are in technology always need to stay abreast of the latest and greatest technologies that are out there,” said Melissa Maffettone, branch manager of Robert Half Technology’s (RHT) Ft. Lauderdale office. RHT deploys IT professionals on a contract, contract-to-hire or full-time basis to various organizations that need technical expertise. “Technology guys love to play with technology. They want to the cool toys, if you will. (With independents), it’s six months, nine months, whatever it is, and then they move on. It’s usually a considerable kind of project that’s going to keep them interested and on their toes. Consulting allows them to do that. If they get into a company and do an upgrade or implementation or something like that, it may be a very long time before they are introduced to any newer technologies.”

Along with flexibility and exposure to the latest tools and techniques, another advantage to declaring professional independence is its splendid isolation. A great deal of its appeal is the absence of constant frustration due to clueless end users, dense bosses and tortuous bureaucracy. However, if you think your days of working with others are over, you’re in for a surprise. You may end up communicating, connecting, cooperating and collaborating as much as before, but in different ways and for different purposes.

Professional Networks

Contractors and consultants can and should get involved with professional networks to expand their work opportunities, Maffettone said. “I think the power of having access to a professional network is extremely important. Quite frankly, that goes for everybody, but that may be slightly more important for consultants, because they need to be tied into a network that’s going to allow them to find their next opportunity beyond their current one. Birds of a feather flock together, and good consultants associate with good consultants. They’re relying on their networking sources or staffing companies to really give them that access to continue to grow their professional network. They build relationships and a year later, an (associate) will say, ‘Well, I used to work with this person.’ It’s a very referral-driven business.”

There are all kinds of professional networks to choose from: Some might be official organizations, while others may be loose associations as simple as a guy who knows a guy. Some might cater to their niche, while others deal with their demographic status. “Obviously, it depends on the market and on how good the organization is within the market,” Maffettone said. “Some people spend more time building within their market than others. For example, for anything within the Microsoft realm, there’s always a user group available. There are help-desk user groups available. There are .NET user groups, Java user groups, Linux/UNIX user groups and whatnot. There are also women’s IT user groups, CIO user groups—there’s a pretty broad range of professional networking opportunities.”

Independents should evaluate their options carefully, using online resources as well as face-to-face meetings to determine which ones are best suited for them, she said. “In terms of getting involved, you could probably do a Google search on what user groups are in your area as a starting point. Better yet, ask people. Ask other consultants and IT professionals about what organizations they belong to. Get an indication of which ones have the most value and the ones that are driving more learning opportunities.” Another option that will offer more focused results than Google is going to www.certmag.com and using the CertScope search engine. Just enter your specialty or skill set, and the results from other sites will show a variety of professional associations.

Ask the Experts

An added advantage of the professional network is the mindshare capability it offers. Members can consult one another on the latest techniques and technologies, whether it’s through an online forum or a conference hosted by an organization. This informal training can be quite valuable, as it’s frequently very quick and offers advice and analysis from individuals who really understand the field and the challenges their colleagues face.

“Most of these (professional networks) are focused on performing specific tasks or using specific functions of products,” Maffettone said. “IT professionals not only read about it, but also see it firsthand. It also allows them to build a network of peers and gurus that they can rely on when they do have questions. When they’re on a project and something comes up that they can’t solve, they have a buddy system in place.”

Team Up!

Beyond professional networks around certain skill sets and specialties are the umbrella organizations that bring together techies with disparate talents. “If you’re a consultant with a particular skill set and you are able to pair up with another consultant with a complementary skill set, you have a more substantial offering to provide to a client,” Maffettone said. “You could go in with a greater-scale offering. That could be a developer and a DBA (database administrator) or whatever the case may be.”

These companies of consultants and contractors will be further explored in a future Independents community article. Stay tuned!

Brian Summerfield, brians@certmag.com

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