Software consulting is a heck of a fun gig. However, one of the downsides to this...well...lifestyle, really, is that the big money jobs almost always require a willingness to travel--a lot. There is good reason for this; consultants are expected to be deep experts on specific technologies or processes, and the market for each of those specifics is limited in any one city. However, nation-wide there is plenty of business in most mature markets.
I always loved the job of consulting, but the lifestyle beat me up pretty bad. Truth be told, I probably wouldn't be married with two lovely kids today if I had stayed on the road. I'm just not good at maintaining distance relationships, and I had to get off the road to meet and spend time with the perfect woman before she would agree to marry me. (OK, enough of that schmaltz.)
Something intriguing occurred to me while researching cloud vendors for Alfresco, however. What if the "network centric" nature of the cloud actually creates an opportunity to change the lifestyle of software consulting? What if consultants didn't have to travel for every billable hour, but could do a significant portion--if not all--of their work from a local office, or even from home?
First, think about the possibility. How should, for instance, vendor services be handled when the software is delivered in the cloud?
- If most of the work of the consultant is assisting in planning and reviews, does every engagement need to be face to face, even if neither the hardware nor the network is owned by the client?
- For longer term engagements, given the collaboration tools that are now (and will soon be showing up) on the Web, do teams really need to sit in the same building to be effective?
- If the cost of travel (air and lodging) can be eliminated from the overall cost of using vendor services, would clients be more likely to use the service or less?
I do know that there are certain services that will always be face-to-face; workshop facilitation, for instance; or certain kinds of project reviews. However, open source has taught us a lot about how "network organized" teams can work, and I think more and more consulting will look like open source contribution and less "on-site guru". Then, maybe..just maybe...I can be a big time consultant and still tuck my kids into bed every night...