Alik Levin's

Clarity, Technology, and Solving Problems | PracticeThis.com

Who Wants To Be A Consultant?

Who Wants To Be A Consultant?

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Alik Levin     I Consultant. As part of my personal growth quest I constantly challenge myself wether consulting is my career path. These are the questions I ask myself:

  • Do you like solving engineering problems in the field?
  • Do you like meeting lots of different people?
  • Do you like to be exposed to tons of technologies?
  • Hate cubicles?
  • Do you possess some sort of expertise?
  • Are you a go-to-person for the expertise?
  • Do you like sharing your practices and insights with the world?
  • Do you hate  9 to 5 thing?

As long as the answer to the question is Yes I feel comfortable being a consultant even though I am approaching midlife crisis age (I am turning 37 this year).

There are both upsides and downsides of being a Consultant though. I call it challenges and try turning it into upsides.

The Challenge – Career Growth

Common wisdom tells me that career growth is about climbing the management ladder. I definitely face a serious personal challenge here as I am individual contributor, not a manager. Many of my classmates and friends are VP's and other seniors at their workplace. Am I a loser? I tend to think of myself as of a doctor:

  • Reputation. The more practice a doctor has the more reputation she has.
  • Focus area. Doctors usually have very focused area of expertise.
  • Word of mouth. Good doctors are known through the word of mouth and not by their titles.

Said that, I am focusing on specific critical technical areas - security and performance engineering throughout the development lifecycle. I am building the expertise of guiding dev teams to plan, design, code, test, and deploy secure and fast applications.

The more people come to me - in person or through emails or the blog - for advice on security and performance the more I am growing.

The Challenge – Excelling Work

Working at Microsoft is a great experience. Seth, I am excited to work for Microsoft and I passionate about Vista (I admit, it took me some time to realize it, but now I am really crazy about it). Why it is so exciting about working at Microsoft? Among all other great things there are way too many smart people here.

Said that, here is the challenge: how can you excel when you surrounded by top guns? My answer is focus.

  • Focus on objectives. Microsoft is known for its results. Setting objectives for anything you do is critical. My favorite question is "Why". When I am asked to do something I ask "Why". If it doesn't not serve either my team's or/and my personal objectives it probably will go to [not important/not urgent] quadrant (according to Steve Covey's quadrants techniques for prioritization) unless it is really urgent and important relative to the objectives.
  • Context. Microsoft is huge organization with numerous teams. Sometimes it is hard to draw a clear lines to understand the relations among these teams. Nevertheless, it is critical to sense the context that you operate in. As a consultant I know it is critical to know overall vision of the company, sales department objectives, services organization vision and objective, industry trends, product strengths and weaknesses. Being sensitive to internal trends is important as well. These help you focus on technical skills that are relevant which in turn helps you build trust with the teams.
  • Reflect on yourself. Reflecting and self assessment is a part of the culture. My advice is building a personal practice on self assessment - daily, weekly, monthly. This helps to stay on track with the objectives and hit targets in predictable way. Hit target and get praised. Exceed expectations and become a hero.
  • Time. This one is hard to overestimate. Time is most precious resources I have. As a consultant I am measured for several things. Time is one of major metrics. To manage my time I apply the following practice: Time Is Not Money. Time Is Budget. I plan and execute my time annually, monthly, weekly, and daily. It helps me hit my targets while leaving plenty room for self development.

How do I know I overcome the challenge? Simple. If I hit my goals [and beyond] without burning myself while having fun at the same time I feel I am on track.

The Challenge – Spending Time With The Family

It is a great pleasure of being in the field, working with the customers, being mobile. On other hand the lines between the work and life get blur, especially when you are part of the global team. It all depends on you how you separate work and life (WLB - work/life balance as we call it). There are two simple rules I follow to achieve healthy WLB:

  • Work at work. I work at work, no phone calls, no leisure stuff, no useless Internet surfing or socializing. Focus on the objective - doing work. Reduce administration and other non productive time. Stay lean and reduce friction. Work smart - do not work hard. Doing != Accomplishment (!= means "not equal" ).
  • Do not work when not at work. This one is really simple. When at home my laptop is only open for socializing, blogging, research, and training. And that is not on expense of the time allocated [budgeted] to be with beloved ones.

How do I know I overcome the challenge? If I am able to spend time with kids not only when they go to bed, if I have meaningful conversations with my precious wife [vs transactional communications], if I am able to free time to meet my friends, if am able to publish on 5 blogs, if I am able to train myself in new areas, if I have time to develop my mind, soul, and body I feel I am on track.

The Challenge – Being Successful

What is success? Is it title, is it big bucks? May be. Respect and financial solid ground are super important, but there is more to success. Here are the definitions for success I liked the most:

"Success is When the Response Meets the Challenge" - JD Meier's blog.

"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable"  - John Wooden.

I overcome my challenges with proper response, but most important my mind is peaceful and I breath with full chest. Am I successful?

Question

  • What you love the most about being consultant?
  • What you hate the most about being consultant?
  • What's your definition of success?

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  •    *  What you love the most about being consultant?

    I like being the go to guy. I do web consulting for small business. When I show someone what I can do, they think I'm a genius!

       * What you hate the most about being consultant?

    When I am working on a personal project and have to stop to do something for a client.

       * What's your definition of success?

    Doing what I want when I want.

    <a href="http://www.pleazz.com/About_Us.php">Bill Edwards</a>

  • Bill, thanks for sharing your view on consulting.

  • I laughed when I read your rhetorical question about being a loser--HA!  Not only are you not a loser, but you're a BIG WINNER.  For example, you've found good work at a company at which Individual Contributors are valued.  Also & perhaps most importantly, you've managed in ways which truly inspire to establish the discipline of the ever elusive work/life balance.

  • Jimmy,

    Thanks for the kind words! Hearing it from you gives me a lot of confidence. I've read your speech

    http://blogs.msdn.com/jimmymay/archive/2008/09/21/commencement-keynote-itt-technical-institute-indianapolis-9-20-2008.aspx

    and it just has left me absolutely speechless. What an inspiring talk!

  • לפי פרמידה של מסלו ישנם 4 שלבים למימוש עצמי. בתרגום חופשי זה נראה כך: שלב של צרים פיזיאולוגיים שלב של

  • Alik, you inspire me! There is a time in one's career that he must choose either the business side or the tech side. Having said that, I think there is a time for both. As long as you feel good and you answer "Yes" on all your QAs, you can never be wrong, however there will be time where a shift may require.

    Regarding your questions:

    The thing I mostly hate about consulting is the fact that you do not have your space and many of the time you feel as outsider.

    The thing I love about it is the variety and being the one who needs to supply answers to challenging issues.

    Success is a state of mind, it is something you feel...

  • Guy, great feedback!

    Here is the flip side of the part you hate most - when you are outsider you have less obligations and you free to chose when to leave.

    Freedom is the best part about consulting. You just need to learn to appreciate it and use it ;)

    BTW, when i joined MS i was amazed to discover that management and deep tech skills can be combined. MS is huge org, you just need to find you best match, the opprtunitites are all there.

  • Great post.

    I found myself attached to the topics you wrote especially to the spending time with the family topic.

  • Gil, great to hear it resonated w/you and thanks for kind words!

    I truly believe in working smart vs working hard. Time is the most sensitive resource i have that matters the most. Here is how i manage it:

    http://practicethis.com/2008/09/06/time-is-not-money-time-is-budget/

    Managing time this way helps me spend more time w/my family while hitting my objectives @work.

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