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Friday Philosophy – Friends who Know Stuff August 29, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Uncategorized.
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Being a consultant/contractor can be hard work. You are expected to turn up on-site and become useful before the second cup of coffee has been drunk. Then, if you manage that, there is an expectation that you will continue to pull IT Rabbits out of computer Hats for as long as you are there. Which is actually reasonable, we are after all usually paid well for being consultants/contractors.

This need to always have an answer can become quite hard, especially as those of us who chose not to be permanent staff have a bit of a disadvantage, one which those who have normal jobs may not appreciate.

Permies have a group around them called “the team” who they can call upon and talk about issues. Permies tend to stay in an organisation for many years and build up strong contacts with people, who they can call upon years after they have moved on. For us nomads, it can be far harder to make strong links to people you can call upon. That is not to say most teams are unfriendly when you go on site, it is just that by the nature of starting off as a temporary member of the group and moving on after a year, 6 months, even a week or two, developing strong ties to people so that you feel able to badger them 2 years later is less likely to happen.

Don’t under estimate the benefit of being able to call on old friends to get a second opinion (or of being called yourself to help assist some old friend who has got to get to grips with some section of IT knowledge that you had to deal with for 2 years). It really helps.

Some of you are probably thinking “well, you Consultant types just ask each other, the other experts that you all know”. Well, sometimes, but we tend not to work with each other much. Contractors rarely get to work with each other repeatedly on different projects unless you find yourself in a position where the client needs someone with X skills and you have a friend with X skills who is looking for a new position.

This is something I have become very aware of, having gone from Contractor for half a decade, to Permy for 6 years and back again to contractor/consultant. I miss having a stable team of collegues to discuss things with.

So, Friends with Skills are important. And it is a two-way thing, if you expect to be able to call on some old collegues for help, then you need to be helpful when they call on you.

Is this a case of “who you know not what you know”? Yes and no. It is not about contacts getting you a leg up. It’s about developing and keeping a group of work-related friends where you all help each other when there is a need. Proper friendship is about sharing, not using.

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