Small Talk Episode 3: Being a Consultant at Intertech

Our Intertech Small Talk series dishes out questions around a current software development topic to a group of our Developers and then hands them the mic to share their opinions, thoughts, or whatever else comes to mind. Have a topic you’d like them to tackle? Comment below and we’ll queue it up.

This episode will focus on the life of a consultant at Intertech. The topic is triggered from countless interviews where candidates are considering a switch from a team or company that has been working on the same technology or project for years to a job as a consultant that means variety but also the unknown. We had a few members of our team chime in to share their experiences. Considering a move to consulting? Hit us up with questions below.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of not being limited to working on one to a few products for a single company for the span of my career. I warmly welcome the variety of projects and their included challenges as a consultant. It keeps me learning at a consistent pace in order to stay marketable, and knowing that future projects vary so greatly prevents burnout.

My favorite part of consulting is the variety. Not just the variety in technology used (though that is also awesome) but the variety in problems being solved

I greatly value the opportunity to work with new problem domains while not being married to the corporate politics of my clients. I always strive to do what is best for my clients’ projects. However, being a consultant allows to me avoid much of the worry some employees feel about the long-term health of their employer, their fit in the organization and how to maintain career longevity without stagnating.

Easy, I really like the variety of the problems we have to solve. Technical challenges, team challenges, corporate challenges, process challenges — I like tackling them all. I also like having the opportunity to learn a bit about each new business domain.

Variety and challenge. In my time with Intertech I’ve been able to contribute to a variety of projects. The change in teams, technology, and area of focus keeps things fresh and interesting. We are often asked to take on challenging problems or designs. Helping a client take something like this on and being a part of the success is especially satisfying.

The unique challenge that every new contract provides. No client project has been the same. Sure the technology is consistent but the problem that I am solving with it is always something new. I love being able to take the technology that I know and love and help someone completely new solve their problem with it.

I really like creating quality software…especially when it improves and even saves lives. I also like refactoring existing code to use best practices. I get to do both of those things every day on my job. Not every day goes well but at the end of most days, I can look back and see what I created and have a lot of satisfaction in it.

Though I have taken on independent contracting gigs in the past, I am still in the first year of my professional consulting career and have only been on a single project so far. Although I don’t have much experience on a project this size to compare it to, I am proud to be able to say honestly that I have thoroughly enjoyed working on it. I have learned so much from my colleagues and have been able to hone my skills in more ways than I could have imagined from working with my team and my client. Thinking about my future in this line of work truly excites me and makes the work feel a lot less like actual work.

My favorite project so far was a visual editor for digital advertising. The team I was working with had a very clear vision for what they wanted and was very passionate about their product. This made working with them fun and rewarding.

One of my clients had me work on a team to build a natural-language-driven search engine for their data warehouse. What I enjoyed was the diversity of the tech stack. I was hired as a full-stack Java developer, which usually means a Spring webmvc server using JPA against a SQL database. But this project was just a boatload of other exciting technolgies crammed together. We stood up a customized instances of Apache Zeppelin, running Spark on AWS EMR Hadoop clusters, pulling data stored in Cassandra, Postgress, and S3 avro files into Hive, with Spark customizations implemented in Scala, input language processing in Python, and custom Angular-based Zepplin plugins for the front end, all tied together nicely with automated CI/CD pipelines.

Yes, there was a bunch of learning, but it was a great breath of fresh air.

This is a tough one, I have about 5 that really stand out for different reasons. At one gig I got to witness a moment fairly deep in an engagement when a very senior teammate embraced unit testing as opposed to doing it because the boss said so. On one engagement we were on the bleeding edge for most of our tech stack which was frustrating at times but really fun. On another I was consulting for a firm when they were acquired which made for some interesting business and technical challenges. Finally, on 2 occasions I had the chance to work with an unusually large number of Intertech FTEs. All those gigs were great for different reasons.

I worked on a small team that developed a hybrid mobile app that controlled a piece of electrical hardware via Bluetooth. We built the application using Cordova, JavaScript, and Angular. Not only did we get to build the user interface but we built a communications stack for talking to a micro controller. It was the first chance that I had as a software developer to use my college background in electrical engineering. It was really fun for me to build binary messages bit by bit. I suppose that would be tedious to some but I thought it was a blast.

Recently I have been able to help a client combine real world hardware with the power of a mobile application. I love it when my projects interact with the physical world to help somebody solve a tangible problem. In this case I was using Bluetooth Smart to get digital readings off of a scale to help the client optimize their work, saving them money and providing valuable data on what they were measuring.

Definitely creating software that police use to create DWI’s much quicker than before. It used to take them 4 hours to fill out the paperwork. Now they can do it in half an hour using software that I helped create. This is helping the police get back on the street so they can catch more DWI offenders in a given night. It was also fun working with so many Intertech developers — I learned a lot.

When starting a new project, I always find the most satisfaction in discussions with the client(s) where we outline the scope of the project, talk about what I can do for them, and make sure they get the most out of the rates they pay for consulting expertise. Though not every client interaction will be silky smooth, the preliminary conversations covering the direction of the project always gets me amped to start producing a product they can be excited about.

My favorite bits of a new project are meeting new people and learning new things.

I’ve always liked learning how things work. I’ve been known to take stuff apart unnecessarily (most of it got put back together okay). And I’ve always like TV shows such as How It’s Made and Unwrapped, although they never go into enough depth. Consulting has allowed me glimpses into the inner workings of many more industries than I’d likely get as a longer-term employee.

If it is a greenfield project, I love starting from scratch. If it is not, I love seeing how the client built the existing system.

There’s a particular nervous energy that I feel when I start a new project. For me I guess it’s a little like stage fright for a performer. Even after having done it quite a few times I still feel it.

There are the obvious technical challenges of entering a new project like coming up to speed quickly on a framework or tool set. As a consultant there is also the interpersonal aspect. We get to meet new team members and stakeholders on almost every project.

I find the experience pretty invigorating. It really gets me excited to jump in and see what I can do next.

I love learning about the new industry. As I mentioned above it is great that I can take technology I know and love and help someone in a completely new space solve a specific problem. I’ve learned over the years that no matter what space you work in, be it finance, industrial, logistics, agriculture, education or basket weaving, a lot of the challenges are the same with a slightly different spin. Learning the industry specific spin is very interesting and allows me to expand my problem solving skills to apply them to future clients.

I like getting to know the people on the new project. Also, it’s fun to start something new. I’ve been on contracts that lasted 7 years, 4 years, 2 years. So when those finish up, I’m ready for the new technology, people and places that a new contract brings.

I could easily write an entire separate blog just about this question, but I’ll do my best to keep it brief. Personally, it would be more appropriate to say the music chooses me rather than I choose it. For example, it’s a beautiful day today, and I woke up energized and excited to work. A friend sent me an hour long mix of dubstep, and thus the choice was made. Other days, it’ll range from stuff like Lo-Fi instrumental hip hop, metal, feel-good electronica, classic rock, video game soundtracks; you name it.

Usually I’m listening to podcasts not music, but if it’s music it really depends on the mood of the day.

Usually, some form of contemporary prog metal/rock. Occasionally, I reminisce to 80’s hair metal and arena rock.

Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani…my guitar mix. I favor instrumentals, music too heavy on vocals becomes distracting.

My choices are pretty eclectic. I use quite a few of the Spotify categories. Depending on my mood it may be Blues, Rock, World, Folk, or EDM. If I really need to focus it’s usually some form of EDM like House or Trance. I turn it up, tune out the rest of the room, dance ridiculously, and generally embarrass myself before I realize what I’m doing.

Just looking at my music player now: The National, CHVRCHΞS, Local Natives, David Bowie, Beck, EELS, Har Mar Superstar.

That’s a wrap for this episode! Stay tuned for more Small Talk coming soon. Have opinions on this topic? Join the discussion below. We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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