Udi Dahan   Udi Dahan – The Software Simplist
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6 simple steps to becoming a top IT consultant

Thursday, July 19th, 2007.
The other day I met a consultant that I had recently befriended at a conference I was speaking at. After some chit-chat, he asked me how he could become a top consultant like me. I was a bit taken aback. I didn’t remember becoming a top consultant. I mean, I’m doing alright for myself, but there’s definitely room to grow. Anyway, he pressed me for an answer, and here’s what I came up with. Be aware that this is only based on my experience and the stories I’ve picked up from my betters over the years. I hope that this may be helpful for other consultants or people considering getting into consulting.
 
I started thinking what characterizes many of the top IT consultants, and I came up with these 4 main points.
 
1.       They are well known in their field/niche
2.       They are considered experts in their field/niche
3.       They speak at conferences
4.       They are published authors
 
There’s more but that’s enough to get us started.
 
So, it’s reasonable to assume that if I were to do these things as well, I’d be climbing my way up to being a top-tier consultant. But, like so many things in life, this is easier said than done. So here’s my 6 step process to becoming a top IT consultant.
  

1. Have a niche

 

Since IT is so broad, there is really no way anyone can master it all. This means we’re left to choose between being a “jack of all trades and master of none” or specializing. All the top consultants I know specialize. However, they still have a working knowledge of many fields and are able to move with the times. My niche is Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) on the Microsoft platform. This is backed by my consulting practice working on very-large-scale distributed systems with the most stringent throughput, latency, and security requirements.
 
Choosing a niche isn’t easy if you’re just starting out. I suggest looking for something new in an area already familiar to you. New doesn’t mean small. Mastering some insignificant niche that no one in the industry cares about isn’t going to do you much good. One way to know that a niche will have enough meat in it is that similar niches are gaining ground. In my case, I had been working on the Microsoft platform for a while and had a good handle on the technologies. Architecture was beginning to gain broad traction with the rise of the Patterns & Practices group and SOA was on its way up the hype curve on the Java platform. That was the moment I recognized my niche .
 

2. Get to be Well-Known in your niche

 

All the top consultants that I know are not loners. They know and socialize with many of the people in their niche. This includes conference organizers, speakers at conferences, journalists of trade magazines, user group leaders, and bloggers.
 
If you don’t know what bloggers write about topics in your niche, do a Google Blog Search on it. Check out Technorati. If you have a blog, start interacting with those other bloggers. Comment on their posts. Link to them. They’ll start doing the same to you.
 
Also, after attending a good presentation go up to the presenter, introduce yourself, and say how much you enjoyed the session. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind if you emailed them some questions about their presentation. As a presenter I can tell you there’s nothing I enjoy more at the end of a presentation. Once the conversation starts up, don’t be surprised if they point you at some books, articles, or even suggest you go see another presenter speak. Rinse and repeat.
 

3. Get Published

 

While many of the industry’s leading consultants have several books under their belt, this is not something that easy duplicate. Writing a book is hard work, let alone getting a publisher to back it. Luckily, there’s a simple on-ramp for getting published.
 
First of all, start blogging. This kind of self-publishing will both improve your writing and help you make connections. When reading other blogs, articles, and books pay attention to how your writing differs from theirs. After you have a number of high quality posts on your blog, contact an online magazine in your niche. Offer yourself as a writer. Showcase your skills by pointing out your blog’s high quality posts. Don’t stop writing in your blog though. Reach out to other magazines – both online and print.
 
If the conference presenters you’ve been talking to are writing a book, offer yourself as a technical reviewer. Once you have enough material to back it up, consider offering to write a chapter in the book. This is a lot of work, but well worth the effort. All of this leads up to the point where you’ll be able to write a book that a publisher will want.
 

4. Speak at conferences

 

For most of us in the IT industry, public speaking is as pleasurable as a visit to the dentist. However, there’s almost nothing that compares to it when it comes to being recognized as an expert. Like writing, getting to be good at public speaking takes practice. Although some conference presenters got there either by being an employee of the vendor sponsoring the conference or have released some wildly popular open-source library, that isn’t enough to maintain it over time. Practice makes perfect. Also similar to writing, there’s a low-risk on-ramp to conference speaking too.
 
User groups have been the launch pad of many a successful speaker. With more user groups with more meetings than available speakers, user group leaders are always on the lookout for someone who can come speak to their group. If you’re already a member of their group (as mentioned in the getting known section) they’re all the more likely to give you a chance. After one successful user group presentation, don’t be surprised if you get invited to a couple more from other user groups. Even after you’ve moved up the food chain and are speaking at international events, keep a connection to your local user groups. I’ve found them to be a great place to try out new content and other speakers say the same. Don’t forget where you came from.
 
When you hear about a larger conference that will be taking place in your area, contact the presenters you’ve been emailing questions back-and-forth to. Ask them if they can put you in contact with the conference organizer. Refer that organizer to the user group leaders and the successful presentations you gave there. From there, onwards and upwards.
 

5. Get your expertise recognized

 

If I hadn’t mentioned it up to this point, it bears stating. You have to be good, if not great, at what you do. Reading about new techniques and technologies and trying them out. Deepening your knowledge of your current tool set. Running performance tests and benchmarks against products and solutions. You’ve got to have the meat. The last thing you want is to employ all the above techniques to shine a bright spotlight on barely any substance.
 
If you do have the substance though, all that writing, speaking, and networking will have done it all for you. This will, of course, create a positive feedback loop. You’ll get invited to speak at more conferences. You’ll get paid to write articles for leading magazines. With more people who know of you, book sales will increase. And on, and on.
 

6. Make it billable

 

At the end of the day, we consultants measure ourselves primarily by our hourly/daily/weekly rate. It’s clear that in terms of just filling up hours, clients would prefer to take a published, well-known, expert consultant that speaks at conferences all over the world over a “plain-old” consultant. This increase in demand quite simply leads to an increase in price. Also, you’ll find that you get quite a lot more clients and leads coming your way and clients who come to you invariably pay more than those you have to run after.
 
 

Simple, but not easy

 

I know that everything I’ve just outlined sounds simple, and it is. There’s no complicated formula that will promise success I know of. So you don’t have to worry if you forget. But let me tell you that the road is neither quick nor easy. This is a multi-year long journey that requires discipline. It’s a whole lot more work than “just” being a consultant.
 
Just to spice it up, keep in mind that you’re not the only one doing this. There are already established experts out there. Others have already been on this path for a year or two. Any good sized niche will already have some incumbents in there. In that respect, I was lucky jumping on my niche when I did but that made it a much smaller niche when I was just starting out. You have to think about how you differentiate yourself, both as a speaker and as a consultant. And try to keep that consistent across the board. Most consultants on the Microsoft platform are technology and products focused. I came in waving the technology-agnostic architecture flag. Look for something that sets you apart. Also, be aware of the shifts occurring in the industry so that you don’t find your differentiating factor’s importance disappearing out from under you.
 

And in closing…

 

Take this for what it’s worth. I’ve walked this path myself and have seen that it works for me. I’ve seen others walking this path and have seen it work for them. It also fits quite well with the stories I’ve heard from the top IT consultants I’ve talked to. I’m no top IT consultant. I’m just a guy, like you, trying to get there. But I’m having a great time while I’m at it. So should you.
 
You might also want to check out TopITconsultant.com for more tips.

  
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13 Comments

  1. Paul Lockwood Says:

    Keep up the blog and podcasts, I normally really enjoy them – saying that I must disagree with this post. This post suggests ‘if you don’t have a blog or do public speaking then how can you know anything?’. It is amazing how many bloggers I meet with this attitude.

    There are several brilliant IT consultants I can immediately think of that do not have blogs and are little known outside of where they have worked. Frankly they are much better at their jobs than many big names I know.

    Maybe the title should have been ‘How to Appear a Top IT Consultant’?


  2. thesoftwaresimplist Says:

    Paul,

    Glad you like the stuff I put out enough to list me under the “superstar” category of your blog. I’m honoured.

    I think that the basis for our disagreement hinges on the definition of what a top IT consultant really is. For me, it’s quite simply the hourly/daily rate one commands. From your comment, I understand that your definition of “top” equates to knowledge.

    If my post suggested that one’s knowledge is dependent on one’s ability to blog and speak in public, that was not my intent, nor do I believe that it is true.

    Just as a parting thought: this post was based on a broad empirical and experiential perspective of who is perceived to be a top consultant by a broad cross-section of the industry.

    I’m always glad to receive feedback and thank you for your comment. I hope that my response clears things up.


  3. Gil Zilberfeld Says:

    Udi,

    Thanks for the post. It came at a good time, as I am contemplating my current position, where I want to go and how I get there. I think consultancy has a better chance of succeeding once you are visible and accessible enough.

    You still have to be good at what you do. But getting customers to come looking for you, takes exposure.

    Keep posting (I’m trying to keep up with the tech)

    Gil


  4. Guy Kolbis Says:

    First let me just note that this is a great post. Now let me introduce myself, I am a consultant at SRL and I attended several of your presentations on several user groups. I have to agree upon each and every sentence you wrote. It has been hard getting into consulting although I previously I was a CTO and had experience in management and so forth. Only after a year and a half I found my niche and started lecturing at Microsoft event and user groups. Still there is quite a few work left to be done in order to be a well known and well excepted expert (like you ). Keep up the good work!


  5. thesoftwaresimplist Says:

    Gil: Glad you liked it. I know so many people who are GREAT at what they do, but fall short in publicizing it. Consultants need both.

    Guy: Thanks for the compliment, and I wish you the best of luck in conquering your niche.


  6. Yoni Goldberg Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this one. I’m spending a lot of
    time and effort to advance my career, while reading this post
    i realized and understood some basic mistakes that i’m doing.
    I believe, today, any professional in any field must understand
    marketing in order to succeed. Even as employee for some company: marketing your self inside the company is almost important as doing good job.


  7. Must Read Today - New Links (27 July 2007) « Ali Writes Here! Says:

    […] 6 simple steps to becoming a top IT consultant […]


  8. The 1001 list of Quality Reads -- you may want to read before you die Says:

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  9. Anup Says:

    Dear Sir
    I came to know about your blog while googling for more information about IT Consultant, i am a Technical Engineer working in IT industry since 5 years and very much intrested to know more about IT Consultant, Need your suggestion/guidance and expert advice regarding books, white papers, courses etc… as a beginner to start with this career. As i am from india want to know what is the scope for IT Consultant in india ?
    your response on this will be highly appreciated

    Thanks & regards
    Anup


  10. udidahan Says:

    Anup,

    For books, I would suggest “Flawless Consulting” and a lot of Gerald Weinberg’s writing. I’m afraid I don’t know much about the indpendent consulting circuit in India but do wish you the best.


  11. Nizar Noorani Says:

    Great post! Really enjoyed reading it. I’ve been working as a .NET consultant for well over 10 years now. Your article has helped me figure out where I want in next coming 10 years.

    Thanks!


  12. vinodh Says:

    Hi,
    I am a java developer from india for past 15 years.
    I find this writeup informative as I am trying to become independent consultant. I agree with both you and paul lockwood. If we write blog regularly then its easy to get clients and be well known . On the other hand many consultants dont publish any article but get consultant gigs still .
    In my opinion clients dont hire us just because of our technical knowledge. but they are willing to do business with us to solve a business problem.
    regards
    vinodh


  13. vinodh Says:

    I agree with simple but not easy.
    I mean making it billable.


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Scott C. Reynolds Scott C. Reynolds, Director of Software Engineering at CBLPath
“Udi is consistently advancing the state of thought in software architecture, service orientation, and domain modeling.
His mastery of the technologies and techniques is second to none, but he pairs that with a singular ability to listen and communicate effectively with all parties, technical and non, to help people arrive at context-appropriate solutions. Every time I have worked with Udi, or attended a talk of his, or just had a conversation with him I have come away from it enriched with new understanding about the ideas discussed.”

Evgeny-Hen Osipow, Head of R&D at PCLine
“Udi has helped PCLine on projects by implementing architectural blueprints demonstrating the value of simple design and code.”

Rhys Campbell Rhys Campbell, Owner at Artemis West
“For many years I have been following the works of Udi. His explanation of often complex design and architectural concepts are so cleanly broken down that even the most junior of architects can begin to understand these concepts. These concepts however tend to typify the "real world" problems we face daily so even the most experienced software expert will find himself in an "Aha!" moment when following Udi teachings.
It was a pleasure to finally meet Udi in Seattle Alt.Net OpenSpaces 2008, where I was pleasantly surprised at how down-to-earth and approachable he was. His depth and breadth of software knowledge also became apparent when discussion with his peers quickly dove deep in to the problems we current face. If given the opportunity to work with or recommend Udi I would quickly take that chance. When I think .Net Architecture, I think Udi.”

Sverre Hundeide Sverre Hundeide, Senior Consultant at Objectware
“Udi had been hired to present the third LEAP master class in Oslo. He is an well known international expert on enterprise software architecture and design, and is the author of the open source messaging framework nServiceBus. The entire class was based on discussion and interaction with the audience, and the only Power Point slide used was the one showing the agenda.
He started out with sketching a naive traditional n-tier application (big ball of mud), and based on suggestions from the audience we explored different solutions which might improve the solution. Whatever suggestions we threw at him, he always had a thoroughly considered answer describing pros and cons with the suggested solution. He obviously has a lot of experience with real world enterprise SOA applications.”

Raphaël Wouters Raphaël Wouters, Owner/Managing Partner at Medinternals
“I attended Udi's excellent course 'Advanced Distributed System Design with SOA and DDD' at Skillsmatter. Few people can truly claim such a high skill and expertise level, present it using a pragmatic, concrete no-nonsense approach and still stay reachable.”

Nimrod Peleg Nimrod Peleg, Lab Engineer at Technion IIT
“One of the best programmers and software engineer I've ever met, creative, knows how to design and implemet, very collaborative and finally - the applications he designed implemeted work for many years without any problems!

Jose Manuel Beas
“When I attended Udi's SOA Workshop, then it suddenly changed my view of what Service Oriented Architectures were all about. Udi explained complex concepts very clearly and created a very productive discussion environment where all the attendees could learn a lot. I strongly recommend hiring Udi.”

Daniel Jin Daniel Jin, Senior Lead Developer at PJM Interconnection
“Udi is one of the top SOA guru in the .NET space. He is always eager to help others by sharing his knowledge and experiences. His blog articles often offer deep insights and is a invaluable resource. I highly recommend him.”

Pasi Taive Pasi Taive, Chief Architect at Tieto
“I attended both of Udi's "UI Composition Key to SOA Success" and "DDD in Enterprise Apps" sessions and they were exceptionally good. I will definitely participate in his sessions again. Udi is a great presenter and has the ability to explain complex issues in a manner that everyone understands.”

Eran Sagi, Software Architect at HP
“So far, I heard about Service Oriented architecture all over. Everyone mentions it – the big buzz word. But, when I actually asked someone for what does it really mean, no one managed to give me a complete satisfied answer. Finally in his excellent course “Advanced Distributed Systems”, I got the answers I was looking for. Udi went over the different motivations (principles) of Services Oriented, explained them well one by one, and showed how each one could be technically addressed using NService bus. In his course, Udi also explain the way of thinking when coming to design a Service Oriented system. What are the questions you need to ask yourself in order to shape your system, place the logic in the right places for best Service Oriented system.

I would recommend this course for any architect or developer who deals with distributed system, but not only. In my work we do not have a real distributed system, but one PC which host both the UI application and the different services inside, all communicating via WCF. I found that many of the architecture principles and motivations of SOA apply for our system as well. Enough that you have SW partitioned into components and most of the principles becomes relevant to you as well. Bottom line – an excellent course recommended to any SW Architect, or any developer dealing with distributed system.”

Consult with Udi

Guest Authored Books
Chapter: Introduction to SOA    Article: The Enterprise Service Bus and Your SOA

97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know



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