How to become a great consultant
I spent the last few weeks touring our HANA projects and in one of the customers, I offered to provide a 2 hour briefing on HANA. During this briefing, one particular person from the customer peppered me with questions, stretching my knowledge and coming up with some questions to which I didn’t know the answer. I’ll have to reach out to someone who knows more than me.
I have always been an advocate of deep learning; when I describe what I do sometimes, I say “I learn”
So I thought I would pen some thoughts on characteristics of great consultants. If you’re looking for some career advice, you could do worse than to read on.
Forget about formal education and certification
This might be easy for me to say, because my degree is in Computer Science, and if you’re reading this and considering a career in IT but you’ve not chosen a college degree, then go and complete a MSc in Computer Science or Engineering. If you don’t believe me then do some research based on this Forbes Article.
But some of the great consultants I know have degrees in Teaching, Physics, Philosophy or Classics. You don’t need a classical computing education to be a great consultant, though I would argue that most great developers are classically trained.
Similarly with Certification – Certification won’t guarantee you a job. If you work in the industry and you have the opportunity to become a certified consultant then sure, take it – I’m a SAP HANA Certified Professional. But please do not burn thousands of dollars of your own cash expecting to get a payout. The glory days of consulting careers based on a piece of paper are long gone.
Be obsessive about deep learning
When I visit a project, I first ask the project leads to tell me about the customer and I expect them to be able to tell me who the customer is, what their business is, what their business objectives are and how this project serves those objectives. This requires the “consultant” to do a Google search, read their home page, read their earnings and corporate objectives and research Wikipedia.
This is symptomatic of a trait that I call “restless curiosity”. If you’re doing something then find out why. If you want to learn a topic then as DJ says – go deep, go long. I’m a HANA Professional and I download all the manuals and read them cover to cover. I consume all the HANA content I can find. If you want to be a great consultant then do the same. The important part is that you need a wide overview knowledge and a deep expertise. Choose your area of expertise and consume everything and then…
If you’re serious about your career then invest here. Get a working sandpit up with your technology of choice running and start tinkering. Build prototypes – in HANA, for example, there are lots of publicly available Big Data sets. You can get an AWS instance which you can stop and start at will to keep the cost down. Build. Get stuck! Work late into the night! And when you’re stuck…
SCN is a wonderful place where you can ask questions. If you’re restlessly curious, then you have already read the manuals and you’re stuck, so feel free to ask questions from other community members. They will help, and your questions will help others later, especially if you curate your questions as you should and make sure they are answered. Answer them yourself, if needs be. And once you’ve learnt, practiced, asked questions and built your scenario…
Share your Knowledge
Here, the cycle is complete. Great consultants are great communicators and you need to learn how to write. Spend time on communicating your points carefully and practice here too. Even the best artists started by creating rubbish, and you will too. But as you practice your communications skills – in writing or spoken form – you will become a more effective communicator.
And if you are lucky, as I was last week, someone will hopefully push you hard and you will learn where your gaps are. Be humble here, and admit when you don’t know the answer. If you did a good job of the steps above you will know a (wo)man who does.
The cycle above is what I believe makes a great consultant and if you’ve got the perseverance to see this through then you will make a great consultant too. Just remember “because that’s how it works” isn’t an answer. Find out how it works, and why it works this way.