Switching from Employee to IT Consultant

Employees often wonder about going out on their own. Part of this desire comes from the grass is greener on the other side of the fence syndrome, but part of it also comes from a true desire to be independent. Not to long ago I read about a business analyst that wanted to become a consultant. He was bright and he carefully considered his approach before making any moves. Here's his story as I remember it. Note that this isn't intended to be a guide for becoming an IT consultant, but rather an example of the kind of thinking you should do.

This person been working as a business analyst for over 6 years on a variety of platforms i.e. mainframe, as/400 and client server in the telecommunications industry. He's decided to move from a full-time employee to a contractor/consultant later in the year. He's noticed that many of the contracts as a business analyst require experience with the latest technology. While he does have a strong resume as a business analyst and also a degree in computer science, he feels he is lacking experience with the latest technologies and that is reflected in his resume.

He's trying to sell himself based on his BA skills first but wants to increase his technical skills to open doors for more contract opportunities. One approach he is thinking about is getting certified in new technologies, but was wondering if the time and money is worth the effort.

  • What is the best way of getting certified? (books, courses etc..)
  • Will getting certified with a technology open the door to new contracts even without experience with that technology?
  • What are the programming languages that are worth getting certified in?

As mentioned before, his resume is strong with a specialty in telecommunications and billing systems. He's worked with 4 different billing systems and has acquired strong domain knowledge of the telecommunications industry. There seem to be a lot of opportunities as a BA – mainly in other industries and has had a few interviews for contract positions in the last 2 months. Companies do seem to be attracted to his resume. But all of these interviews were with new technologies and none have turned into offers.

His vision is to sell himself using his core BA skills (i.e requirements gathering, design, documentation, testing etc..) but at the same time show that he's up to date with the latest technology and have the technical skills as well. He's definitely not a programmer or software developer but from experience he feels that to be an effective BA you need to speak and understand the technology that is being used especially if you are designing.

He'd like to leverage his existing skills to branch off into other industries such as health care and utilities. He's also like to continue in telecommunications billing as his primary industry but slowly expand into other industries so that he can have more variety and security in case one industry has a sudden downturn. The challenge at the moment is trying to figure out how to break into these industries. Obviously he's at a significant disadvantage if he's competing against other contractors that have that particular domain knowledge and experience.

Two additional items he'd explored before making the shift included finding out:

  • How much priority do clients place on having industry experience?
  • Is it a reasonable expectation to obtain a contract and learn enough about the industry to be during the first couple of months of the contract?

No one said career changes would be easy, but they're almost always worth the effort!

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  1. In addition to the technical considerations, there is another set of softer skills one must have to successfully make the move from employee to consultant. Whether independent or with a firm, a consultant must have the skills to develop a relationship with their client(s). They need to act a step above in areas of professionalism and communication. They should think long-term and work to identify additional opportunities to help the client solve problems to continue getting billable work.

  2. Thanks for posting this story! I work with computer consultants trying to start their own businesses, and I know making the decision to take that leap into full-time consulting (working for yourself rather than for someone else!) is one of the biggest challenges IT professionals have to overcome. I think one thing the SMALL business computer consultants with whom I work don’t understand is that anyone can start a computer consulting business successfully, no matter how many years he/she has been in the technical field and actually without being in the technical field at all. Many computer consultants have degrees in non-"technical" fields like English, psychology or a variety of other arts and social science areas. Also, certifications don’t have to be the focus at the beginning (or often ever!) in small business computer consulting because of the non-technical nature of many of the clients you will meet that don't understand the meaning of certifications. Especially in the 10-20 systems space, certifications can sometimes even be a detriment because small business owners will perceive a consultant that is too seasoned as being too expensive and also over-qualified to handle their needs. Starting your own business can be a great experience. Thanks again for this valuable information!

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