*Note: This is a guest article by Rick Seeger for the Spotlight on MACH series.  The writing is entirely his own.  No edits, other than formatting, have been made.

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The one time he opted to travel by turtle instead of plane; this didn’t sit well with the client.

I spent 147 nights in hotels last year.  I flew 186,419 BIS (butt-in-seat) miles.  I spend nearly 40 days a year in an airport or up in the air.  I have Delta Diamond, Marriott Platinum, Hilton Diamond, Avis First, and Starwood Platinum Statuses.

Hi, my name’s George Clooney Rick (hi Rick).  I’m a compulsive promotion hunter consultant.  No, this is not some kind of anonymous meeting – this is my career.  I’m a MACH (Microsoft Academy of College Hires) Associate Consultant.  I live in California but commute weekly to Washington, D.C.  I often get asked what exactly a college hire consultant does, and the answer is simple – exactly what a “normal” consultant does.  Microsoft has a phrase that we like to throw around entirely too much --- “drinking from the fire hose.”  It’s absolutely cliché, but as my role is concerned it’s absolutely true.  I’m a SharePoint consultant who specializes in custom SharePoint 2010 development and deployments.  Before coming to Microsoft, I had never used SharePoint.  Now I sit in meetings with CIOs and CTOs weekly.  They don’t see me as an “associate”consultant.  They see me as someone whose services they are paying a pretty penny for and as such, there is a certain level of competence that is to be expected.  There’s another joke we make in consulting – “stay one page ahead.”  This is the type of joke where it’s funny, because it’s true.  As a consultant, I’m often no more knowledgeable than the customer, but I prepare myself for any question a customer might have, as well as, the work at-hand.  Simply put, the customer and I are often reading from the “same book” – I just happen to be reading it a bit quicker – and in essence that’s exactly what a consultant does.  A consultant is always a step (or hopefully, two) ahead.  We prepare ourselves to be technically strong, but more importantly, socially strong.

Consulting is a game won and lost in the trenches.  I have to be able to vocalize and visualize my thoughts to a customer, while knowing when to push back and when to give in.  A customer often doesn’t care what you know.  A customer only cares about whether or not you know what they want. My job is equal parts requirements gatherer as it is code junkie; and to be honest, I love my job.  There is truthfully no other job where I can fly basically wherever I want (on the weekends), eat wherever I want (during the week), and be technically deep (across a breadth and depth of technologies) all while gaining the necessary communication skills to interact with a customer (and potentially a C*O) daily.

If I were to say there was one thing a consultant (of any level) had to be, I could say it in exactly two words – Problem Solver.  A consultant solves the impossible technical challenges with the even more difficult social challenges each and every day.  So revisiting the question of what exactly does an associate consultant do?  An associate consultant solves problems.  How does an associate consultant differ from any other type of consultant you ask?  We haven’t been solving problems for as long.  It truly is that simple.  The problem I’m currently trying to solve?  Planning my next vacation.