I am wearing my Equal Experts hoodie. Often I’ll be found on conference calls with my
EE t-shirts, and I even have some socks. So the irony of writing an article about “leaving the badge on the door” is
not lost on me. So what do I mean?
I am a contractor. I have been for the best part of 20 years. I’ve worked in a variety of sectors (telecomms, finance,
government) in a variety of roles (development, architecture, security) using a variety of methodologies (waterfall - eurgh,
faux agile - double eurgh - and lowercase agile). I jokingly refer to myself as contracting scum because of
the image that contractors often have in our industry. Coming in with their expensive rates, working from home when
all your employees have been sent back to the office, mercenary attitudes and
leaving software behind that falls apart under the weight of its own technical debt as soon as we’ve moved on to
Not the C-word!
And it gets worse. These days I am not only a contractor but also a consultant. So to continue threshing preconceived
imagery, I’ll not only charge you multiple times the rate as employees, I also tell you why you’re getting it wrong, why
your legacy tech stack is shite and how only the latest fad can lead you to enlightenment. Of course, as soon as the contract
finishes, you’ll discover that the tool I’ve sold to you overpromises and underdelivers and anyway I’ve taken all the
knowledge needed to run the system effectively with me, so you have to come back for more.
I am of course joking. Good contractors and consultancies live by their reputation and want to leave their clients
better off. Good contractors transfer the knowledge gained from working on different engagements across different
sectors to their clients. Good consultancies will share success stories and try to find improvements. Doing what
is best for the client.
Leave the badge at the door
The idea of leaving the badge at the door is that as a contractor and consultant, I identify as the client. I try
to do what’s best for them, not for the consultancy or my company.
Now, it is important to state that there’s several things that this does NOT mean:
- I am not an employee of the client (that’s important for tax reasons too) so this isn’t about just following orders.
- I am not trying to make myself irreplaceable. I hate it when the bus factor gets high. I should be able to leave
(or be run over by a bus) and the skills that I bring to the client shouldn’t suddenly be lost. This means sharing
knowledge as often as possible, communicating what I’m trying to achieve and lots of documentation! Ideally, I
would leave lots of automated tooling rather than tons of manual process.
- I am not trying to impose my ideas. This is about a pragmatic approach, that works with in the context of
what works for the client. If this means working with legacy code, then I’m not just going to bring in the latest
shiny or upsell rewriting everything afresh. Good thing I love legacy ;-)
- Worth stating here that if the best thing for a client is not to continue with the engagement, then I’ll actively
try to make sure that any work is handed over properly and I’ll be sure to give new suppliers a leg up.
- It is also not about cargo-culting. Now, I believe there are good reasons for developing software in
an agile way, doing DevOps
and doing it securely but that does not mean having to follow prescribed
processes or chasing the latest trends. Context is really important, and any improvements have to fit in with
the client and has to come from the inside rather than being imposed from the outside.
What does it mean?
I think the most important thing about consulting is to listen and be transparent. The worst outcome for a client
is if a team of outside consultants go off and discuss everything on their own Slack instance or
team days that are only for consultants and then come back with a strategy. Openness and transparency goes a long
way! It avoids misunderstandings and can catch problems at an early stage.
It goes both ways
On thing that must not be overlooked is that the openness and transparency goes both ways. If strategy is decided
without input from contractors or consultants, what’s the point of paying them lots of money? The ultimate decision
maker is always going to be the client, but if you don’t give your freelancers, contractors or consultants a seat
at the table, if you lock yourself away in employee-only strategy meetings, don’t be surprised if the outcome
My wife often tells me not to look at the world with rose-tinted glasses. Of course I know that there are plenty
of consultancies out there that have the snazzy sales pitch and smooth-talking presales guys that promise the earth
and then send in graduates. I’ve also worked with contractors whose primary skill is being good at interviews that then
flit from 3-month contract to 3-month contract and have nothing to bring to an organisation other than negative
contributions and expenses.
But! There are plenty of good contractors, extremely talented people that bring a wealth of experience and
consultancies that bring perspective and (importantly) value! If they leave the badge at the door, chances are
that they’re some of the good ones.
If you ask me who I work for, I’d often say HMRC. But they’re just a client of the consultancy I work for. So I often
say that I work for Equal Experts. But that’s not true either. I’m a contractor with my own limited company, but I
leave my badge at the door of both…
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