I Am An IT Consultant
No matter how long I’ve known someone, there always seems to be some confusion about what it is I do as an IT consultant. The top impressions people have are that I fix or sell computers and that is not inaccurate. I do fix computers, and I do sell computers. But this is misleading and it is the very least of what I do.
In old corporate structure, a Computer Technician (aka Computer Consultant) and a Systems Analyst are two very different people. The systems analyst could be compared to a General where the computer technician acts as a foot soldier in the trenches at the front lines of battle. The Analyst has a very high-level view of issues that a business may have with their technology, or they are sometimes given a set of guidelines or a road-map that a company may have for advancing their IT infrastructure.
For example, say a large-scale enterprise has several departments using Windows workstations and servers, but they intend to convert their design department to Apple workstations running OS X. In the old days (and in some larger companies, even now), the Systems Analyst would collect information such as a list of software requirements, research potential pitfalls or issues with compatibility between now heterogeneous systems, evaluate software, and a plethora of other prep work… before sending a Technician to do the real work based on the Analyst’s report or instructions.
The Systems Analyst will often also be the liaison between the client (or end users) and the technicians. It’s an unfortunate truth that many extremely talented technicians lack certain social skills.
Systems Analyst+Computer Technician+Project Manager=IT Consultant
In the modern model, the more valuable assets to a company are both Systems Analyst AND Computer Technician. This is exactly the role of the IT Consultant. Not just the high-level administrative tasks, but performing the actual work, and being able to interact with the client. But without the high-level view of a qualified Systems Analyst, many technicians will blindly muck about with computers and while successfully making them work, perhaps not considering the other systems involved or the benefits of doing things another way.
I’ve had a history in corporate, small business, and contracted IT, and in my journey I’ve developed a set of core work values, some of which I’ll list below.
- Working with an IT Consultant should feel collaborative. Your success is my success.
- Records and documentation are of primary importance. If it’s not documented, it doesn’t exist. If your “computer guy” (whether that be an employee or a consultant) is hit by a bus today, how much do you know about your own systems? However, proper documentation takes time to complete and should not be expected to be done for free.
- Research is part of the business. No single human can know everything all the time. Except for very rare cases (where it is established and agreed upon in advance), I do all work-related research on my time. I don’t believe you should have to pay me based on how fast or slow I learn how to perform a task.
- Use experts. Being aware of #3, I have a vast pool of experts who I can call on or refer to when dealing with a problem outside my competency. In this way, a good IT consultant is also like a general contractor, knowing when to bring in outside help.
- In cases where I am asked to fix a problem, if I am unable to fix it, I will not ask to be paid for my time (except in some cases a nominal diagnostics fee to determine whether it is fixable).
My reasoning for #4 is about ethics. I’ve seen some so-called professionals misrepresent themselves as experts in systems they have no business touching. If I take on a project, I am stating that I believe I have the qualifications for it. You should not be asked to pay for my hubris.
But I digress.
Defining specifically what I do is an impossible task, because it varies so greatly. 90% of the time, am I configuring someone’s email, repairing a computer, or installing a printer? Probably yes. But the other 10% is what I live for. Configuring an Active Directory domain for a new enterprise. Designing and implementing a network or offsite backup solution. Creating a Virtual Private Network for a multi-site office. Migrating a corporation’s email service to the “Cloud“. The question of what I do becomes more a matter of what I am capable of doing. For more information, please visit my previous post: “Why Hire An IT Consultant“.