HackCollege Interviews: A Software Consultant
A great way to find out if a job or industry is right for you is to talk to people you know that are familiar with it. This week I’ve done some of the work for you by meeting with Chris Rogers, an experienced software consultant, to ask him about the good and bad days in his industry. His responses might surprise you. The full interview is below.
What is your professional job title?
Currently, I am a Software Consultant.
How did you get into your industry and how long have you been in it?
I was fortunate to have access to a desktop computer at home while I was in high school. I taught myself BASIC and also learned PASCAL in school. I found that I rather liked to program, but I was not interested in doing it for a living at that point. I actually spent some years working in theater, building sets and running shows. Then I spent some time designing and building Audio/Video systems. Eventually, I found myself programming again. This time, I was writing software for automation. Basically, I worked on programmable remotes that could start video players, lower shades, dim lights, etc. I found that I really enjoyed it and decided that it was time to do it for a living.
The journey from that point to where I am now was not easy. I spent a couple of years doing technical support for Windows 98 and corporate help desk. I found opportunities at those companies to write simple programs with Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access. I leveraged those skills to find a better job at a new company and continued that pattern for a few years, each time taking on new and challenging projects and learning the skills needed to succeed at those projects along the way. This led to my first job as a consultant and full time programmer. I have been a full time consultant since 2000.
Can you tell me what your typical day is like?
All of my work is project based and varies from client to client. My day depends on what project I am working on and what stage of the project we are in. During the early stages of a project, I will go to the office and meet with other members of the team. These include business analysts, front end developers, user experience designers, and a project manager. These meetings help us plan what we are building, how we will build it, and how will report our progress back to the client. We have some standard procedures, of course, but much of how we approach a project will be adjusted and fine-tuned based on the personality of the client.
Once the planning has been completed, the build phase begins. During this phase, I typically work from my home office. This allows me to avoid traffic and the distractions involved in packing up my computer, driving, and getting settled at the office. We will generally do a 15 minute meeting first thing in the morning to discuss what we accomplished the previous day, what we are planning to work on that day, and any roadblocks we are facing. Then I put my head down and get programming.
Have you had a job in the same industry that you didn’t enjoy as much? Why?
Yes, absolutely. I was once worked for a company that decided to divorce itself from consulting and shift focus to their core business of installing network hardware. My entire team was given 30 days to find new jobs. While this was unnerving, it wasn’t a catastrophe.
Do you have advice for students looking to get into your industry? Do you have specific advice for women?
If you want to be successful as a software developer, you have to be curious, driven, and a bit of a risk taker. I mean, you can have a job as a software developer and just get by on a little bit of training now and then, but you will quickly find yourself becoming a commodity. So take chances and always stay learning.
For women, specifically, I would say that the glass ceiling is thoroughly shattered in this industry. Men are pretty comfortable with women developers on the team and I have worked with many women developers and executives. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of women being guided into STEM fields, though. The few very talented women I have worked with over the years have been self-taught like myself.
Which certifications and skills should beginners possess if they hope to work in your industry?
Certification is a challenging topic in this industry. Which ones you get really depends on what technology stack you are interested in. If you want to work with Microsoft SharePoint or Microsoft Azure, you should consider the MCSD route. If, however, you want to work with Sitecore, they have their own certification process. I went for most of my career not concerning myself with certifications, but they do tend to be valuable to the company you work for and thus are a useful tool for finding a job.
Skills work in a similar fashion as certification. The ones you focus on depend on what technology stack you are interested in working with. However, there are some skills that are universal to being a highly sought after developer. First is learning how to deduce and untangle mysteries. Whether it is debugging, reverse engineering, or interpreting customer requirements; the ability to think abstractly and unravel complex systems is a vital skill. Second is the ability to think quickly and adapt on the fly. When a client comes in at the eleventh hour with a vital business requirement change, being able to rapidly figure out an answer that is achievable will bring the clients back.
Finally, stress management is important to avoid burnout. The development cycle can be brutal and you will be spending long evenings staring at the computer wondering why the code just won’t work. Proper stress management can help still the mind and get you past the issue.
According to PayScale, Software consultants can expect to make anywhere from $50,123- $134,377 per year. Glassdoor estimates that Senior Software Consultants bring in nationally on average $100,762. Upon checking the Indeed website, as of June 2016, senior software consultants are listed as expected to make 102,000 on average.