The recent Dilbert strips have got me thinking abut the concept of consulting. I think it’s a pretty recent thing, probably since the 90’s? At least in the tech industry, I think it is. Maybe it’s always been around for other fields.
Consulting, as the comic depicts, is a lifestyle. It’s at odds with holding a regular job and has different benefits and drawbacks to working in that capacity. Personally, I see many more drawbacks, and not just for the consultant. The consultant’s issues are pretty easy to identify. I’m just concerned that some things have been allowed to become “the standard” because they’ve been going on so long.
In the first place, businesses have become accepting that they don’t need to retain the talent to have the most advanced “stuff”. (Stuff is an ambiguous term for anything: a process, a piece of hardware or software, a design methodology.) They think that the most advanced stuff just handles itself. You just need to set it up. So you can “rent” the expertise instead of “buying” it. That’s not how stuff works, and it’s painfully obvious when shit goes wrong. But this is the way it’s done now.
Because of that point, you can make a summary statement that “consultants don’t make solutions, consultants fix problems.” Database running slow? Bring in a consultant. Need to solve a technical hurdle? Consultant. Need to adopt an entire new accounting system? Consultants! But consultants leave, and when they do, it’s back on you. Yeah, it’s great to be on vacation, but you need to come back to work eventually. So, what if the problem happens again?
And what makes a consultant so amazing, so important? Because they’ve helped dozens of other companies with the same problem? That’s a great breadth of knowledge. Does it mean the same as a great depth of knowledge? No. Can a consultant get a great depth of knowledge? Not likely, because they are constantly jumping from one flower to the next, pollenating fixes here and there.
Yeah, I’m sure there are good consultants out there. Ones who will teach and share knowledge while they work; ones that will dig deeper and solve the root cause instead of addressing the symptoms. But that also depends on what the business is willing to pay for.
I guess it comes back to my first point. The fact that business (and life as a whole) is so sped up, there is no time (and money) to do things the right way and no time to learn something in its entirety before it is obsolete. This, along with the idea that there is always something better, which is probably true, but that it is incompatible with older versions, which is simply bad, is leading us into a state of perpetual rebuilding, so that there is never time to actually measure the success we have attained.