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Learning the holy ways of consulting

You might've noticed another fall in the number of posts here lately, because yet again it is time for summer vacation. I've now been vacating for a week, and it feels like I've been away for a month. So, in order to keep my fingers warm, I'm semi-planning the arrangment for 9 new Java-developers we're receiving in the beginning of August.

The reason I dug into this job of training the newly recruited is obivously that I want to turn these new peeps into miniature versions of myself. They're (mostly) fresh out of university, are all smart and pleasant people (I met them on a couple of previous occasions), and seem like good potential mini-me's ;)

Jokes aside, I have a strong opinion on how new guys and gals should receive the most basic knowledge and in what order this should happen. Personally I was quite abrubtly launched onto a customer's site, but luckily I had a couple of years of experience in the right direction, so I already had basic stuff like agile practices, IDEs and Subversion-tools in my finger tips.

Now before I go on about how my job is best taught, I have to ref this blog-post by Scott Adams. Basically, he asks his readers to describe their job in one sentence. If I had to describe my kind of consulting, it would be:

Figuring stuff out.

We figure out how stuff works. Tools, frameworks, techonolgies, products and code. Then we teach this stuff to the client. A guy I know in uni recently stated "I would like a job where I get to test a bunch of different frameworks and try lotsa different stuff in a bunch of different ways..". Well welcome to the company, buddy, because that's exactly what consulting is about (well, my kind of consulting anyway. You have another kind of consulting which involves pushing crappy software onto clients, but in a way that's a good thing for us because there are lots of clients willing to hire us to clean up afterwards when these other kind of nasty consultants have made a total mess of things).

Some more advice to any new consultant starting out.

You're young and silly. This means you can get away with being completely honest. Yell out when things are going wrong. Just do it, and keep doing it for as long as you can. If you're lucky, the skill will stick and make you an even more valued consultant than.. well, what you would've been.

I like to think that I am still sincere and honest, but I'm afraid that after a while in the profession, we earn a chunk of respect and rumour around in our company, client-range, blogosphere, etc. and we want to maintain this amount of.. honour, in a way. We don't want to be admit our mistakes, because that lowers our value as developers.

The previous statement is wrong! Being able to admit your mistakes increases your value as a developer! Remember two things though:
  • Admit the mistakes before anyone else finds them.
  • Never bring along a problem (inclduding the ones you have created) without suggesting a solution.
I belive honesty is the most important value of agile development. But enough of that now, onwards with my advice to new consultants.

Learn the strokes! I saw some slides from a Dr. Heinz Kabutz talk (Productive Coder) in TSS Barcelona, and there was one slide where he advised: Spend hours learning your IDE: The keyboard shortcuts, the refactoring, the auto-completion. This will speed you up! There are only two commands in Eclipse I can not do without the mouse, and I hate it because the mouse is slow! Know your tools well, it will speed up your development, and also spread across the team as you keep giving them small hints and tricks that make their day easier. And it will make you look good/helpful, which are are important traits of a good consultant.

Be curious! If you want to get good at figuring stuff out, get going. Try to figure out stuff. Download this and that open source project and build it for yourself. Try the tools out. Set up a server, create an application, just do it. Try it. I know it is hard, most software seems pretty crappy after the 10-minute test, but there is a reason the software exists, and its probably you who haven't gotten round to find the correct solution (yes, it might be poorly documented). Keep trying, get on the mailing list, ask the community how it works, but first, read the f****** manual. I hate reading manuals (mostly I prefer tutorials), but that's where the answer will be.

Spread the knowledge! Brag about the stuff you do. Share code and write about the stuff you are doing in the company wiki. Write a blog! People will notice and respond to your engagement and activity and give you feedback when they found the stuff you wrote helpful or inspring (if you do not receive feedback, you're either doing a poor job of profiling yourself or working for the wrong company). This is also an important aspect of consulting. Inspire the people you work with.

Now, enough inspiration for one post. I will get about two days with the new guys which will be Java-development only (agile concepts included). We'll do some micro-sprints a couple of hours a piece and run through as many of the basics as we can. This post was actually going to be more about the concrete content of the sprints, but I think its long enough already. Back to summer-vacation :)

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