Searching for Warmth in a Label

I’m having a tough time at my current job. The project itself is going well, though, and the code I’m writing is cool and fun. I’m a consultant working with a small team on a large software project. My 2 failings are being ineffective in communication with the client and not giving accurate time estimations on tasks. There are a plethora of other minor frustrations, but the reason, to me, they are a big deal is that it has all caused me burnout in a 2 month time frame. I typically go in 6 to 8 month intervals. The bipolar reaction from manic to reserved state is easy to see in retrospect. I was subscribed to over 40 email lists, most of which I read and responded to regularly. Reading the blogs was a 6 times a day routine. Nightly I’d dive into something code or technology related.

Now, I’m not subscribed to any email lists, hit the blogs twice a day, and generally don’t even respond to personal emails. I’ve nearly exhausted my supply of games, and am ever searching for additional outlets, physical preferably at this point. I awake early and skip lunch to ensure I am not interrupted when her majesty arrives since I work from home and get easily distracted when not alone. This allows me to “clock out” earlier than normal. Daily, I pull from emotional reserves, almost scraping my deep set beliefs, all in an effort to conjure up a positive attitude to wear for the day. I refuse to mope around like some pathetic survivor. I’m in this game to win or die trying.

Two separate, non-related events happened recently that really negatively directed my opinion towards my current career course. I immediately started to recognize the difference between Contracting and Consulting. At least, they were perceived that way to me. I started to write a blog entry in my head… and figured I’d go do some reading before I made up my mind. Even before that, I figured I’d give it some time… a lot of time. A few days to churn on my thoughts, and finally some spare time to read. Contracting vs Consulting on Google pulls up a lot of results. The first 10 provided a lot of good reading on just one instance of this comparison in the blogsphere. Even cooler was the comparisons between the UK and US which I can somewhat corroborate from talking to friends in the UK.

My goal was to get a real sense of the word, Consulting. The comparison to Contracting helped, but so did the wide array of opinions. I had assumed that if you were in consulting, you were a consultant. However, it seems a lot of people are seeking identity through the term, and this offends others who view said terms as mere unimportant formalities that have very little substance. I found common ground on a lot of the writings and it’s nice to read something out of my Flash / Flex / CF comfort zone. It’s also nice to know the majority of the definitions revolve around perception. While its’ natural for software engineers to loathe a loosely defined term (how could something so good, OOP, lead to soo many passionate flame wars for example?), one clear theme is that the definitions of the words contracting and consulting are in the eyes of those procuring their services, and are hence re-enforced after the fact to those who fit the client’s mold of what the word meant to them. So, while at first glance Consulting may mean someone who advises, and a Contractor may mean hired code muscle, both definitions quickly crumble under scrutiny.

I was hoping to affirm, deny, and challenge my assumptions, and I feel this is a really good first pass. When things start to suck, I tend to do a lot of quick justifications for my situation. I dare say I do my best to ensure 100% are NOT delusions constructed to deny the inevitable and/or obvious, but rather silver linings, and hopefully better perspectives. For example, in all the times in my career where I hated my current situation, I could always find some redeeming factor. Not necessarily redeeming of the forces that contributed to my suffering, but rather some positive and endearing that arose, and continues to do so while I am still there. While it’s sad I need to get into such dire straits to really appreciate and even recognize some, it’s not always that way. I’m pretty quick to recognize good learning and growing opportunities, whether good or ill, regardless of the weather. It’s just easier on the willpower if you give it some reason(s) to buttress it up.

Case in point, 5 years ago I was at the studio at my former job furiously clicking away at 11:30pm at night, alone on a Friday night, my 3rd one in a row. I was building a website for my boss to sell his house. Rather, I was making changes that my boss wanted via email communication. What did I learn? Don’t use Fireworks to build a website. I use Fireworks to this day for mockups, image editing and compression as well as it being at the hub of my production art workflow. You don’t, however, see 37signals spouting, “Yes, we use Fireworks-created image maps for every page of our site.” And, those tortuous 6 weeks got me extremely good with Fireworks.

Small potatoes in the grand scheme of things, but valid for me nonetheless.

Either way, some hour and a half’s gallivant on Google to challenge assumptions has confirmed some, denied others, and learnt me on some new concepts. The jury’s still out, but two things are certainly clear. First, I have no intention of consulting the rest of my life. I had a lot more enjoyment in contracting, and labeling myself under either of the definitions is not what I want to do longterm. Secondly, I have a ton more to learn about consulting.

Yes, I’m aware the statements contradict themselves, but the latter receives precedence. While I’m frustrated I have no tact with clients, and I refuse to give up when Flex won’t take my 32bit transparency thus taking more hours than approved, I recognize I have a lot more to learn, and should withhold any long term judgments. I’ve learned a lot already, those lessons are valuable, and the influx of them hasn’t slowed down.

…still, f’me this is frustrating. Flex? You my bitch. Consulting? :: WHAP! :: Thank you… can I have another?

Some good links I found on just the first page of a Google search. I’m sure if I read some books, periodicals, and talked to others I’d get some more context. Still, this was great for just a 1 hour investment.

Great Overview of the definitions

One take on how you are sought after

10 things to ensure you don’t do with your client

Consulting vs. Contracting


Original Article

.NET’rz rebuttal



Best Response

7 Replies to “Searching for Warmth in a Label”

  1. It’s truly hard to estimate the time it will take on a project, especially when someone else started it and you have no idea what you’ll run into when you get into it. I ran into this issue just last week. I had added a certain feature to a few parts of this site and it took me forever – weeks. Just full of strange problems and inserting new functionality into frankenstein code. When I was asked estimate the time to insert the same functionality into some new sections of the site I estimated 5 days. Talks with the higher ups brought that down to 3 days. I came in Saturday to start on it and it took only 4 hours! That being said, I’d rather over estimate and look like a fool, than under estimate and look like a fool. But of course testing has not begun. So who knows what will happen.

    In general everything takes twice as long as you think it will. Don’t be afraid to state that. Sometimes you’re wrong but….


  2. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Thank the gods that give you this struggle – it is putting you further yet ahead of your peers.

    ‘Good judgement is the result of much experience. Experience is the result of much poor judgement.’

  3. The definitions from the ‘Great Overview of the definitions’ link above makes sense. Wouldn’t a contractor be a combined consultant and freelancer?

    I always assumed so ….. oh no….. have I been wrong this whole time…… Is the world really round?……. Is my life a bunch of lies………did the Gulf War really happen?……….Is the Davinci Code real?!……..

    F’ it, does ‘House’ come on tonight?

    My point: Make your own label, stick with it. Might change at various times, but let others feed from your definition (if they choose). It’s very likely that you are many things to many people already. (Hopefully in a positive sense) :)

    You can always say ‘I am’ a Flex/Flash Guru or whatever, and ‘operate as’ contractor, consultant, employee, blah blah. But you’ll always be Flex/Flash Guru or even more so, J ‘Jester’ W.

  4. Season finale I think.

    Yeah, after reading just those 7 blog entries, I pretty much concluded I in no way, shape, or form want to adopt those monikers. I don’t mind being perceived as a contractor, but in the future, ‘capable team’ inside a ‘good company’ is more to my liking.

  5. Jesse,

    Yah need to talk to old school corp types for defintions. I remember a consultant for my dad’s company in the late ’80s. Yes he was doing the programming, but and its a big but, he was advising on how the application he was writing fit into the overall business strategy and goals.

    Contractors though they may advise to some extent, they really don’t have say in the overall strategy. Consultants do. That is a big difference.

    That said, there is nothing wrong with working on a great team with a good company. I’ve done all three and it can be nice when you can relinquish those consultant duties and focus on coding.

    I do suggest that don’t veer too far from the consultant aspects, because one day when you are much older those skills will become useful.

    Oh, if your out of games to play , you could always have kids, LOL! They’ll teach you a whole slew of new things :)

  6. Jesse,
    Sounds like you need to start getting outside away from the digital domain and exercise a little or just do some walking. It will do your mind some good, more so than you think. I find that when I get over-digitalized because I’ve been at the computer I have to get out and go do some exercise or physical activity (like racquetball) so I can burn off a lot of that steam. One of the things I notice about people who work on computers so much is that they are mainly sedentary and just don’t get out. Try taking up some kind of exercise like Kettlebells, Clubbells, body-weight exercises, gymnastics, paintball, or something. You would be surprised at how quickly your mood changes.

    Oh yeah, why don’t you rule your schedule and not let it rule you. Sounds like you are getting beat up by the schedule. The good thing about work is that it will always be there the next morning anyway. And if you complete it, I guarantee you will be on to something else.

    Basically, stop and relax a little your body is telling you that you need it.

  7. I used to work out 3 times a week, but it’s been tough to do so this deep in country; gyms aren’t that close by. Of course, that is an excuse, I’ve been debating either transferring her majesty and I to one of the 2 northern gyms or Tai Kwon Do.

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