Pros and cons of working at a consulting company

It seems like we get lots of questions on the subreddit r/cscareerquestions about working at a consulting company. I worked at a small company that did a mix of staff augmentation, application development, devops, and agile process consulting. Here are some thoughts on the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Work on lots of projects and technologies 
  • Willingness to train you on the job
  • Teams rotate frequently – get to know lots of people 
  • Don’t have to worry about legacy code as much
  • No Oncall rotation 

Cons

  • Don’t run code in production 
  • Travel a lot
  • Don’t own your code or service 
  • Experience is shallow and short term

I worked at a software consulting company for about four years right after college. I had the choice between the consulting company that did work in the cloud or a company that made a medical software system, I went for the cloud. The company had around 100 employees with some shifts up and down. As far as work, we did the whole gamut from staff augmentation, agile training, ‘digital transformation’, migrated people to the cloud, built platforms as a service, and more. 

During my consulting days, I worked on a ton of projects for different companies, wrote code in different languages, and traveled a bit. For the first two years I worked on a variety of java projects for a cable company. We did around 90% of our business with that company at the time. Working with cable company employees is kind of a drag, they were focused more on ‘resting and vesting’ and frequently missed deadlines. 

My next project was with a new client in Boston and we started flying in. I was tapped for staff augmentation to help the client create a devops team. They ran their own datacenter and mainly had system administrators. I worked with this team on typical infrastructure automation as we set up a Platform as a service for the companies projects on AWS. I learned a lot at this client, managed to insult one of their directors and almost got fired, and that I didn’t particularly enjoy devops. 

Next I worked on a few Machine Learning proof of concept projects for a client and became a certified kubernetes administrator. My former employer invested heavily into Kubernetes and it paid off with press and connections. My last year I spent as a team lead running development of an internal project that we hoped to resell to clients. That project is what finally motivated me to find a new job.

I worked around 40 hours a week except when I was onsite with a client when it was more like 60 hours. Getting onsite with clients is actually pretty exciting, and I didn’t have to do it too often. I traveled around once a month for one of the years at this job. 

Pros

Work on lots of projects and technologies 

I worked at a consulting firm early in my career and getting experience with lots of technologies and experiencing different company cultures really helped. I have a much better idea of the industry after working with 10 companies in 4 years than if I had worked at one company for that time. 

Willingness to train you on the job

My employer was extremely willing to train people on the job. Part of our business model was billing out cheap junior developers with just enough supervision to get things done. The company paid for me to get certifications in Cassandra and Kubernetes. 

Teams rotate frequently – get to know lots of people 

My longest project lasted 9 months. In consulting once a project ends, the team disbands and you start up on a new project with a new team. Over time you get to work with almost everyone in the company directly. You will also work with lots of different clients and need to build rapport and a good working relationship quickly.

Don’t have to worry about legacy code as much

I didn’t work with a lot of legacy code as a consultant. We were mainly brought in to help launch new projects. A six month project really doesn’t generate that much legacy code. Then once times up, you move on to another project. 

No Oncall rotation 

As a consultant I never had an oncall rotation. We didn’t have any services of our own. 

Cons 

Don’t run code in production 

One of my greatest frustrations as a consultant was that I didn’t get any experience running code in production during that job. We wrote the code then handed everything off to our clients operations teams. I think this made it harder for me to find a new job. Since I started running my own code in production I have learned a ton.

Travel a lot

I didn’t have to travel that much as a consultant. My best year I did around 10k miles. Of course as you move up the ladder, you will end up traveling more. 

Don’t own your code or service 

As a consultant you are working for another company. Their teams will own the code. Their Product department makes the calls. You will often just get the requirements and be shaking your head at how wrong they are. Decisions will be made by the client that you don’t like. But the client will get what they want 99% of the time. 

Experience is shallow and short term

The flip side of working on such short projects an so many different technologies is that you never get to master any of them. One project is in react the next project is in Angular, the next project is devops, with totally different tooling to learn for each of them. Consulting is not great for building deep knowledge as a software engineer. 

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