Years ago, and I mean years, I was working as a developer at a really nice, mild mannered ecommerce shop. I had been there a couple years and quite enjoyed it. That was before I took the red pill and my eyes were opened – alas – that is a different story.
This moment in the tight market of technical talent calls for a certain kind of story. A warning. Not histrionics, not yet at least, but a guide post to help us recall what is really going on with tech hiring today.
Now, again, years ago at this position we (as in capital M management) were looking to augment our team because we needed more able bodies to get a few important projects done. This is nothing new and of no interest to our gentle reader. Being a corporation, management had contact with these other types of firms called hatchet shops, consultancies, recruiting agencies to get contractors hired for about 6 months at a time. I really don’t know what to call these firms – but you know them, it’s just that if you are reading this you’re probably not the type to actually call one up. More on that later.
Onward. After Management speaking with the “account manager” at the contracting firm, and sending over resumes, some candidates would be chosen to come in and interview. If you’ve interviewed contractors before you know that there is a huge difference in ability and presentation by these guys. Some are real experts who contract because they kick-butt. Other’s can’t find full time work. And yet others are interviewing for contracts, but really work for a consultancy, because there is no difference in software development between being a contractor and being a consultant. No one asks you them to do next anyway.
In come these folks. If we were lucky, 2 or 3 came in during one day as opposed to one a day for a few weeks. All in all, it was fun to meet a bunch of different people and feel smug. Developers love feeling smug. We would ask them our pet questions about .NET, stupid stuff about IIS thread pools, etc. Really, really, stupid stuff. One coworker would ask obnoxious open ended questions which I believe drove him mad because one day he announced he was going to quit in a few weeks but did not have a job. He never showed up again. Ever. And he wore polo’s so the assumption was that he would never do anything crazy. Guys at my gym where polo’s after they change out of their second skin Under-Armor and no one can see their love handles anymore. I find it sad that people dress nicer at the gym than away. But I can tell they prefer the gym. I actually go to a club. It costs more. In case you wondered. And also want to go, though, you can get Under-Armor for home too.
After a while, myself and my coworkers would really tire of this process and after a while really stop giving a crap and just want Management to hire the people. We were never going to touch their code anyway. That was a given.
And then, in came a real game changer. Juan Carlos.
You see, Juan Carlos was not just a regular contractor. He was a Consultant. Trained in the Exquisite Art of Consultancy. He was not an independent contractor being hired through one of the recruiter/contract firms. He was from a Consultancy, which will go nameless save with one hint. The named started with an M. No, not Microsoft.
Juan Carlos had bravado. Juan Carlos was on top of it. Juan Carlos would not only help us with this one project, he would “fix” our whole team. Damn, the whole company! He wore a blue polo with the Consultancy embroidered on the chest. His polo had stylish stripes around the arm holes to accentuate that this polo was not a Chinese Kmart brand but a Chinese Lands End branded shirt. Juan Carlos would fix that too, that being Kmart.
Juan Carlos: “I have lots of experience. What, you’re dot-net here right? Right?”
Me: “Yes, of course”. His consultancy does only .net.
Juan Carlos: “No problem. What kind of build do you run?”
Me: “For which product…we’re talking about a special component we’re trying to integarte with a …”.
JC: “No problem. We’ll fix that.”
JC: “Me and another ___ consultant. You’ll need us both.”
Me: “Really. Ok. So tell me, how would you approach…”
JC: cutting in… “Do you have noonit?”
JC: “Yeah. Noonit. To run unit tests. Noonit.”
JC: “Yeah, yeah.”
Me: “Kind of, well we are ..”
JC: “Don’t worry. You’ll get that too. We’ll bring that with.”
Me: “Bring what?”
JC: “Noonit. And CruiseControl-dot-net.”
Me: “We have a cruise control install.”
JC: “Yeah, don’t worry. We’ll fix that for you. With noonit.”
Me: “It’s not that simple. It’s an asp.net webform application with…”
JC: “Yeah, don’t worry. When you hire us, you’ll get noonit and cruisecontrol.”
JC: “Yeah, great”. He smiles. Widely. With teeth.
My coworker just stares at me. Our eyes meet and I know I should just throw a softball at Juan Carlos.
Me: “Well, do you still have time for some questions.”
JC: “Sure. Go ahead.”
JC: “I tell my son I’m so smart because I read all these books. Anything, IIS,dotnet, c#, Active Directory – I read them. I tell him to be smart, he just needs to read lots of books like me.”
Me: “OK. What is the difference between and interface and an abstract class.”
JC: “What is the difference between what?”
I repeat the question.
JC: “An interface. Like in code?”
Me: “Yes. Like in code.”
JC: “Well, we use them in noonit all the time.”
JC: “Let’s see. Hmm. Abstract class and an interface. Let’s see. Hmm.”
I think I see his skin start to shine right underneath his hairline. Like a hundred minuscule pore’s opening at once. With moisture.
JC: “I know this. I’m a trainer too and I teach this to my students all the time.”
JC: “Oh right, an interface can be dragged from the toolbox control onto a form.”
And there’s not much left to say. Except – always, always, always interview the consultants that are sent over, even if you already have a contract for say, 5 people. Don’t take each one unless they can pass your standard interview, otherwise, it’s like throwing away twice as much money on a regular basis. And what will happen? I’ll tell you.
1) Your staff will hate you for hiring consultants that are idiots. The purpose of hiring a consultancy is to bring in talent on the cutting edge of tech and practice. They are supposed to be getting trained all the time and doing gee-wizz projects. But they lie.
2) The only people making money of this will be: 1) the consultancy and 2) even worse, the account “executive” for said consultancy. He will make bank each time he places someone, not matter how dumb they are.
Again, this is not a treatise against consultancies, so many are full of the brightest minds and talent. This is about making sure if you hire an awesome consultancy they send over awesome people.