For the past 20 years readers have heard me talk about consulting and the joys and challenges therein. Those blog posts aren’t wrong but for the past nine months I’ve had a full time job and my perspective has changed. Here are some things I’ve learned.
I’ve told friends that I have a ‘real job’ now. In reality, it’s way easier than consulting. While I was consulting I was always worried about where the next consulting project was going to come from. I didn’t realize how much pressure and anxiety that introduced. As my youngest child (now a junior in college) will tell you we talked about work (i.e. consulting) ALL the time because it was an all-consuming thing. We either talked about the current jobs, the jobs we were bidding on, or whatever hassles we were dealing with in regards to employees, insurance, cash-flow, etc.
With a full time job I don’t have to worry about the next gig. Now I just worry about the next project my bosses give me. Well, it’s not worry, really, since we have an awesome team of developers but it’s more intrigue and wondering how deep of a rabbit hole I’m going to go down since we deal with some pretty arcane stuff. Not worrying about the future is a huge relief (as much as anyone can feel safe during a global pandemic).
Along with the full time job I have all the benefits that is tough with your own business. A steady income is an incredibly good thing since as a consultant you’re either rolling in dough (figuratively) or have none. Having a 401k is a big relief as I go into the later part of my career. Paid time off is another huge benefit since as a consultant you don’t make any money if you’re not working. I don’t have to worry about health insurance now either and as a small business you get totally screwed over when it comes to health insurance in the United States. As a business it was our number one expense after payroll and it was a nightmare to deal with since practically every year there was a 20% (or more) increase in premiums unless you switch plans which is a huge pain in the ass since you worry about is the new plan the same or worse than the old one and how will it affect you and your employees.
I’ve always been thankful that Carol was wiling and able to do the HR, payroll, accounting, and contract side of the business as well as being an awesome project manager and data goddess (DBA) on top of all that. Without that help there’s no way I would have lasted 20 years. Me as a developer will always tell the client that ‘sure we can do that’ but it’s helpful to have the project manager say, ‘yeah, and this is how much extra it will cost.’ Someone has to be the bad guy with the client and it’s nice when it’s not you.
Consulting is very much a ‘drinking from the firehose’ type business. You either have too much work or not enough. There is no such thing as the perfect amount of business. As a solo developer there’s only so many hours you can work so then you start thinking of having employees. We were extremely lucky to have found the employees we had since most lasted five or more years and were exceptionally productive. But dealing with employees is hard when it comes to hiring and firing (we had a handful that didn’t last 90 days for one reason or another). They all had their strengths and weaknesses and some you can put in front of a client and others are less than ideal. Some are great at debugging and others are not. Some are great a developing new code and others are not.
I always felt that our employees were an asset to us. I always tried to hire people that were smarter than I am (some would say this is a very low bar, I know) and some competitors were aghast that I would ‘train my future competitors’. Having a good consulting employee is not the same as creating a future competitor. If they were going to have their own business they’d have had one already. I guess that’s always been one of my beefs is that people think that having a business is the same as having a job and they are far from the same (see all the arguments above).
Do I have as much time flexibility in my job as I did consulting? It’s really hard to say during a pandemic since all of the robotics programs I’ve been a part of are on (hopefully) temporary hiatus, the music festivals we usually go to were cancelled, and we aren’t meeting in-person with the groups we usually do, and travel was restricted for most of 2020. The company I’m with has people scattered across four timezones so there is a lot of flexibility in when people start and end work and we’re all remote anyway. As long as the work gets done no one minds much when you start and stop or if you work weekends (I have quite a few coworkers that are being their kids teacher at this point and keeping them going via Zoom with their school teachers – honestly I have no idea how they do it). But honestly, as a consultant I worked most weekends and did a fair amount of work at night too so I think I’m working a more reasonable and balanced workload now than when I was a consultant.
Consulting was fun and rewarding. It has perks that are amazing if you have a good accountant and follow the rules and have multiple people that can help split the work load and responsibilities and you’re willing to put in the work (like writing blogs and developing products!). The pain of consulting is oftentimes not worth the hassle. Before you leave your full time job for consulting think long and hard about doing it and maybe think about all the negatives. Maybe give me a shout to try and talk you out of it.