In any field, you want to be the best. The question, however, is how you become that. If you’re in sports, it may be that running those extra five miles a day gives you a competitive advantage. But what about technical consulting? How do you become a competitive contractor, someone who is one of the best, someone who everyone fights to have in their shop? The answer to this question comes in today’s blog post …
5 Steps to Becoming a Competitive Technical Consultant
1. Know current technology and emerging trends
When a client company brings on a technical consultant, they do so because the consultant has the technical knowledge that their company’s internal team lacks. In order to be a competitive contractor then, you have to have knowledge that other people don’t, a knowledge that is most often of technology’s emerging trends.
But how do you get this knowledge? Simple. Read technical blogs and websites, a process that will allow you to learn about technologies and trends as they emerge. Know about big data, and cloud base resources. Have a willingness to never stop learning, to always stay up with current technology. Be hip, be with it. The information you learn from doing this will give a greater knowledge base, put you ahead of other consultants, and make you a sought-after resource.
While knowing and speaking intelligently about trends like AJAX, big data and cloud computing is important, this isn’t enough. You have to learn how to apply the emerging technologies if you’re going to be of any use. If your day job doesn’t afford you the opportunity to work with them, you’ll have to study, read, and write code on your own time if you’re going to get familiar with the newest technologies.
Your willingness to work on new technologies after hours gives you an advantage in the search for your next contract. Not only will you have an advanced understanding of emerging technologies, you’ll also have exemplified your fire, or your passion for and commitment to technology. Client companies love to see people with passion, someone who will go above and beyond, and seek them out.
3. Know the Why
When a child consistently asks you “why,” it’s because it’s part of their learning and development process. This likewise applies to technology. The best, and most competitive of contractors, always ask why. They want to know why something is done the way it is, why that architectural choice was made internally or how an API works behind the scenes. They take that extra time to understand why a choice was made, and never accept that it’s done a certain way “just because.”
This questioning allows competitive technical contractors a greater understanding of applied technology. They ask why and apply this knowledge base and reasoning to other projects, allowing them to ultimately develop innovative programs.
4. Financial Discipline
With contract work, there’s the possibility of downtime between contracts. The most competitive contractors understand this, and have financial foresight and discipline to make these periods of uncertainty a little less stressful. They plan on supporting themselves without working twice as long as they think that they might be out of work.
This financial planning is important if you’re going to remain as competitive as you can. If you’re a poor financial planner, it may be hard for you to remain emotionally calm during the contract search. Without a level head, you’re more likely to make an emotional decision to take the wrong gig because you need the money. However, the wrong gig is only detrimental to your career. If it doesn’t push you, you may fall behind on your skills and likewise on your reputation as a competitive contractor.
5. Willingness to travel
If you’re going to be a competitive contractor, someone who gets the best roles, you may need to be willing to travel. Of course, this is geography dependent. If you’re already in Boston, you’re likely to find interesting work in Boston. If you’re in Vermont though, you might have to travel to Maine, New Hampshire or Massachusetts to find this sort of work.
With a willingness to travel or relocate, your chances of getting an interesting project increase. Interesting projects are the ones that you’re passionate about, the ones that you’ll research, the ones that get you excited. These are the projects that will make you better and more competitive as a contractor down the line.
As a technical consultant, you want to be the best of the best. You want to be the one that technical recruiters and client companies go to first. In order to gain this status and maintain it, however, you have to be up on the latest technologies – both in theory and in practice. When you combine this technical know-how with financial discipline, a willingness to travel, and a desire to know why, you’ll be in good shape. You’ll be on that short list of competitive consultants.
What do you do to stay sharp as a technical consultant? Let us know in the comments section, or join the conversation on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn.
Thanks to Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com and 401(K)2013 for the use of their respective photographs.