Consulting Careers: a Guide for Data Engineers and Data Scientists
So, you've been thinking about going into consulting? If so, I wanted to provide some information to understand how consultants operate, the different directions you can take when going into the field, and other answers to FAQ's.
WHY HIRE A CONSULTANT?
Before we can dive into the various aspects of consulting we first must understand why a company would choose to hire consultants in the first place. There can be many reasons but to name the top few we'll discuss the following:
Strategy and Advisory
With any engagement, the very first step to take is an open discussion to understand and align with the business, technology aside. However, technologies are playing more of a key role in the war room than ever before( Transform or Die: 30% of Fortune 500 Will Not Exist in 10 Years).
Implementations more often than not are outcomes of envisioning. It may be a cost savings or digital transformation project that aims to gain a competitive advantage in a new market. Other's may be to implement an entire MDM and Data Governance program as a new business function. This could include identifying the business attributes to the roles that are required to fulfill the various functions. A consulting engagement would not only design the program but also identify milestones and deliverable to get the company up and running with the latest technology before ultimately handing the solution over to the client.
This can result from either a direct request to fill talent gaps within a company or to support the transition during a change strategy while the client works on filling FTE roles.
At times consultants can be brought in to help solve a difficult problem. This can range from identifying how valuable a business unit is to something more finite and technical such as identifying how to reduce operational costs through automation. In practice this can look like a variety of strategic problem solving sessions or a mix of design thinking sessions. Either of which often pull in various individuals from the business to get multiple perspectives and lots of input.
To support various motions at a potential client, it can be of value to get an outside perspective on a problem. Firms can be brought in at times to answer the question are we going down the right path? Or, is there a better path to go down? Or, should we even be going down a path. Bringing in an outside perspective can help shape the best course of action for a company.
Through these various scenarios you see that consulting is not just about mature technical skills but also about how to navigate difficult business problems and support strategic objectives.
The engagement describes the entire process from envisioning, implementation, and exit. A consultant's engagement methodology is of upmost importance through the duration of a project as it will carve a path to the strategic objective, and define a plan to meet critical milestones to ensure projects are delivered on time and within budget. The actual engagement plan will vary by client project but will always(depending on firm) be driven by a proven framework that has been matured through past experience.
An example engagement broken down into phases:
Phase 1: Discover - Includes initial discussions with executives\directors to understand the problem at hand. Between phase 1 and phase 2, a great deal of research will be conducted. This is where large firms can really excel with their vast network of global consultants and tool belt of endless assets. Conversations naturally begin at the top of the organization at this part of the journey.
Phase 2: Envision - Envisioning takes Phase 1 to the next level by coming into the client and conducting interviews from the bottom up. Working alongside architects, managers, and analyst to gather as much information as possible for this phase. Common approaches here include conducting strategic problem solving exercises, doing design thinking sessions, or a customized approach to better suite that client's needs. This step is all about identifying the right problem and how the consulting team can help.
Phase 3: Plan - After envisioning comes program and project planning. Depending on the type of project, the project manager will determine what type of methodology to use such as waterfall or agile. This will ensure the project stays within scope, does not exceed budget, and work streams are appropriately tracked. This phase is all about how we will get from point A to Z over the next X number of months or years.
Phase 4: Implement - Implementation is taking the project plan and making it a reality. This is when the larger team will come in, often the technical team. Depending on the engagement type team members could be flying in from all over the country to provide a unique skill set for the client.
Phase 5: Support - After the deliverable is complete, there is often some sort of exit strategy, which can be a slow exit to continue to support the deliverable until the client team is fully up to speed with it's functionality.
TYPES of CONSULTING
These are the large firms out there providing a large array of services to multiple markets. They include firms such as Accenture\Avanade, Boston Consulting Group(BCG),Capgemeni, Deloitte, KPMG, McKinsey & Company, etc. They have a large pool of resources and internal assets\IP in which they can charge a premium for. These projects often require weekly or bi-weekly travel domestically and sometimes internationally.
Niche firms are usually within region serving a niche market with a highly specialized skill-set. They are very engaged and have deep connections within the local community. A niche firm can be a great place to start out at or even have a career, especially if domestic travel does not suite your lifestyle. Interestingly enough the competition can sometimes be felt at a greater deal than at a larger Global Firm. Projects will often be at a smaller scale than one conducted by a global firm.
The current state of staffing agencies is trending towards their attempt to become more of a service provider which would in turn put them in the niche firm field. They will sometimes market themselves as a consulting firm to new prospects when in reality they are staffing them directly to a company. In some cases you would still work for the staffing agency itself or you may be placed as an FTE at the client, which makes that firm a glorified recruiter and can often be very confusing for an individual wanting to make their way into a consulting firm and not yet knowing the landscape.
Independent contractors service a unique skill-set and the compensation can be high but requires the individual to put time into the sells, marketing, and administration overhead while still billing 40 hours a week. These individuals often(but not always) are veterans of the niche and global consulting firms and their roles can be highly lucrative.
Some firms will specialize in a single industry vertical while other may focus on technology across any vertical. A vertical example is related to an industry such as healthcare, government, or manufacturing. The firms who specialize in a vertical such as healthcare will dedicate resources and assets to expanding out their reach within that market and focus solely on healthcare problems. They may be better equipped to implement an Electronic Health Record(EHR) system because of their deep knowledge of medical operating models within a health system. Larger global firms often have a play within every major vertical and can establish teams whom fit both the industry and technical requirements.
It's no secret that consulting will often require travel depending on the firm you choose to join. Regional niche firms have less travel within the state or cross-state lines where you may just rent a car to get to your destination. Larger firms with larger projects may require you to be on-site weekly or biweekly depending on specific project requirements. Regardless of the type, one thing is for sure is that you will want to maintain a healthy lifestyle when on the road, sign up for all the travel perks to save money(both for yourself and the client project) and enjoy the extra benefits to make your stay more relaxing and comfortable.
In order to make travel as convenient and comfortable as possible it's important to identify your preferred airline and\or car rental company so that you rack up the most points to receive the benefits those companies can offer you. Some tips:
Choose preferred airline and stick with it
Sign-up for TSA Pre-check
Sign-up for lounge access if you ever anticipate long layovers
You're going to be spending a lot of time at hotels and they're essentially going to become your second home, you want to be able to come "home" and relax. Choose your preferred hotel brand from day 1 depending on your destinations. Most popular brands are Marriott and Hilton. Tips:
Sign up for the rewards program, rewards can range from free nights at hotels, free room upgrades, concierge room access, to personal concierge assistance.
Often, your engagement manager will establish which hotel you stay at depending on budget and safety, but if it falls on your plate be sure to do your research.
Always ask for a room away from an elevator
Health & Fitness
You will be working very hard and sometimes potentially long hours. You want to be sure to put health as a priority in your new lifestyle. Some quick tips:
Setup a workout routine, either in the hotel gym or map a run out on mapmyrun.com in the local area, this is a great way to also explore the local area. Be sure to know your surroundings first and be sure you're staying in a safe area.
Get a fitness watch to track activity and meet your goals
Limit carbs and sugar intake
Limit or exclude alcohol
Call your family and meet new people!
Enjoy the ride and the opportunities to serve your clients!
I hope this has helped you!