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Well, Carl, Ed, and a bunch of others are asking about the consulting business. This stems from seeing a few people leave private consulting and head for jobs in big firms of late. I suppose its a valuable question, but I think concerns are overblown.
Certainly its true that three of my good friends in this business have opted to close consulting firms and take full time jobs with software companies. Two are moving to IBM, and one to another big firm. It would be wrong for me to speculate on their reasons, particularly since at least one of them has shared with me some of those reasons. Instead of speculation, I'd simply suggest you consider all the reasons you might want to be part of a larger company rather than your own shop.
Has the business changed? Yep. Its changed. Its changed every year since I've been involved with it. The thing about consulting is that you have to offer something people need, and needs change. If you made your mark offering unique ways around hard problems that were common in the community based on programming skills that exceeded the community in general, than you are in great shape until there are other ways around those problems or the market fills with other people who can solve them. If that happens, you need to find the next set of problems -- and don't bet on the wrong ones.
When I started consulting, I made my living producing quality applications at fixed cost and standing by them. A very traditional Lotus Notes community sell. Departmental managers had the spending authority and the Lotus Notes product filled the need so well that there was plenty of work. I don't do many of those any more. That work is being done -- if at all -- by in house developers. For a few years there was good business to be had fixing badly written applications as those in house developers got up to speed. Time and experience have made those programmers better, improved software and radically faster hardware have made the errors they make much less visible. Don't forget, of course, that budgets for outside work like this aren't what there were either. My business today doesn't look much like it did in 1993. In small business, its change or fail. If you try to run the same business that you ran 10 years ago, you'll fail.
Of course, since I choose to live in Maine, about a hundred miles from the nearest real hub of corporate I.T. work -- itself a saturated market as far as Lotus Notes expertise is concerned -- I have less choice in the matter. Having a wife who's tops in her field (computer security) who holds down a full time job with good health insurance also makes up for a great deal on those slow months. I'm lucky. That has given me the flexibility to build a business based on pure research.
What drives my business today, is whatever interests me. Something prompts me to ask the question "Why does it have to be that way?" and I start down a path of investigation, study, and experiment. About one in ten times, that leads to some new process or technique, and a few of those lead to products. Somewhere along the way I pick up new skills and unusual insights into what makes things tick. That itself leads to more of those great questions. In terms of revenue, I'm more and more focused on very high performance niche products like NCT Search and something else you'll be hearing about soon (I hope).
Firefighting has had a wonderful influence on my business as well. A large part of what I do is emergency response. Not fires this time, but I.T. environments. I get new customers who have never called before, but who have servers that are broken, mail that isn't routing, applications that are crashing or running too slow, and other problems. They call, and things get better. Its a kind of on-the-fly planning and application of a wide variety of skills that has more in common with firefighting than with programming.
So, is the "Traditional Lotus Notes Consulting" gig going away? Of course it is. The "traditional" everything is always going away. Asking, however, if that is why someone like Rocky would leave the business, assumes they are leaving because they have to. I think you'd be mistaken in that case. I know Rocky's business has been going just fine -- he's tossed work my way on occasion when he's been too busy handle it. Isn't it just possible, that going to work for IBM is, for some people, the promise of exposure to new technology, different customers, and smart colleagues?
Consider also, why IBM would want people like Rocky to be out front helping customers get started with their technologies. Who could do that job better? When Microsoft hired Gary in a similar role, wasn't the whole Lotus technology community pretty hard on our more accessible IBM friends about the lack of a similar role within that organization? I'm not saying that what Rocky is going to do at IBM is the same as what Gary is doing at Microsoft -- but I'm saying that the big software firms are seeing the value in celebrity developers. If those celebrities also happen to have the chops to get the job done, IBM and Microsoft are lucky to have them. Luckiest of all, will be those customers who get the best help money can buy at the time they need it most.
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