Employee or Consultant?

  • This is inspired by another thread asking why so many companies take the word of a Consultant over an employee. However, I'm asking which one YOU would rather be.

    I'm a consultant - that's actually the reason I got into IT. To my mind and in my country (UK), there's no sense in being an employee during economically good times - because you work harder, get less respect and of course, get a LOT less money than as a Consultant. Management bring us in (rightly or wrongly, I don't care which as long as I'm paid), we complete the project, we leave.

    That's not to say I don't respect employees technical skills, in fact most of them are more skilled than myself, many times one of them has completed a thorny piece of code I myself struggled with. I also have befriended many staff across the sites I've been on.

    What thoroughly baffles me, and I do mean that literally, is why such technically talented people sit in jobs they don't like, with staff they often have disputes with, bosses they despise, workplaces that are awkward commutes, and sit in cubicles during the summer months when I'm sitting at a pavement cafe' quaffing a nice Malbec with my girlfriend, all for usually half or less money I myself make. Even then, I intend to leave IT soon for pastures even greener. I look around at them, and sometimes think I'm in an episode of the Twilight Zone. What's stopping them from leaving?

  • Speaking for myself, it was stability that kept me in one place for a long time. I didn't love the company, but it was fundamentally fair and treated me fine. I had conflicts with my co-workers sometimes, but they were good human beings just trying to get through the day, same as I was. Sometimes the work was exceedingly stupid, but I had the opportunities to set up a lot of monitoring and automation in order to make it less stupid. Plus, I got to learn about long term maintenance, not just short term build & tune cycles. But most of all, I wasn't looking for work. It was right there. The paycheck came in every month. I knew I was going to see the kids grow and not be on the road. Overall, it was a great experience and I learned a lot.

    Now, currently, I'm an employee again and not a consultant. But this time it's about commitment. I LOVE Red Gate, the company and the products. But, if I'm going to effectively paint myself red for them and do what I can to become the face & voice of Red Gate within the data sphere, I figured it was worth a commitment on their part to make me an employee as well as the same on my end. I did receive an offer from another organization that wanted me to do the same for them, but only on a contract basis. That just didn't work for me. If I'm going to commit myself to your products, I'd expect a commitment to me.

    I do a little consulting on the side (very little) and I suspect someday I'll just go to that full time. But if you want stability, being an employee is nice.

    ----------------------------------------------------
    The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood...
    Theodore Roosevelt

    The Scary DBA
    Author of: SQL Server 2017 Query Performance Tuning, 5th Edition and SQL Server Execution Plans, 3rd Edition
    Product Evangelist for Red Gate Software

  • Personally, I'd love to be a consultant someday! The idea of having a job market that's wide open and full of interesting systems and problems to solve is definitely appealing.

    Currently, though, I'm an employee that pretty much meets your description above; I'm miserable, the management here is... Lacking, and I really have nothing to do at all these days. Ironically, both the business and I would have been much better served if I had worked for them as a consultant, as their needs were really not as drastic as their (entirely non-technical) management team had thought.

    Still, I've got some prospective jobs lined up, and one of them is VERY interesting currently, so I'm hoping to move to greener pastures. Stability is nice, yes, and in the area I'm in, SQL Server jobs are extremely rare. I don't yet have the resources I need to simply pull up roots and move to a better location, but it's something I'm working toward doing. Maybe then consulting could be a reality for me! 😀

    - 😀

  • Perhaps I am blessed, but I am making more as an employee now than I did as a consultant and am doing things I fundamentally enjoy. It's not to say that I don't get frustrated at times, but then again - the "stupid work" has to get done regardless so I don't mind doing my part of it. I now get to focus on doing value added things rather than having to also focus on finding other gigs and new projects/positions every few months.

    I do think you need to find somewhere to be that doesn't only make you angry or miserable all of the time, but I don't think that is purely in consulting, especially not in today's meaning of the word. Working for a glorified temp agency doing staff augmentation seems to be MORE likely to end you up with drudgery and pain where I work.

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Your lack of planning does not constitute an emergency on my part...unless you're my manager...or a director and above...or a really loud-spoken end-user..All right - what was my emergency again?

  • I enjoy some of the best of both worlds.

    As an FTE, I work with a great team that includes everyone from the owners, through the C-Level, local managers, right down to the folks in the proverbial trenches. It's so close to home that I could ride a unicycle to work without getting chaff marks and the pay is pretty darned good. It IS my dream job (other than hitting the lottery, of course) and there are interesting problems every day. The interaction with everyone makes it great. It's true that I'm not sipping my favorite beer at lunch with my sweetie or generally doing fun non-work stuff every day, but that would get old for me. I rather like what I do for my job.

    I also consult on the side. Of course, the hourly rate is better but some of the people are absolute jerks. Apparently some of them think they own consultants. Of course, I don't normally repeat any business with such folks. And, of course, not everyone is like that. Some folks really "get it".

    There was a time when I wasn't so happy with my full time job (I've had a couple) or saw an opportunity that I just couldn't pass up. I wasn't one to take it on the chin for too long. I have, however, "passed up" several recent opportunities for 10 to 20K more per year because I saw the writing on the wall (I do my homework on potential employers) and didn't want to fall back into the category of hating my job or the people I had to work with.

    --Jeff Moden


    RBAR is pronounced "ree-bar" and is a "Modenism" for Row-By-Agonizing-Row.
    First step towards the paradigm shift of writing Set Based code:
    ________Stop thinking about what you want to do to a ROW... think, instead, of what you want to do to a COLUMN.
    "Change is inevitable... change for the better is not".

    Helpful Links:
    How to post code problems
    How to Post Performance Problems
    Create a Tally Function (fnTally)
    Intro to Tally Tables and Functions

  • I think for most people who stay employees (myself included) is the "guaranteed income", along with the paid benefits (health coverage, etc).

    Consulting can be great, but until you are 'known', your jobs might not be steady. You would have to have another form of income to support you between consulting jobs. Also, health-care can be expensive to pay on your own.

    I knew a DBA who left a steady job for consulting work. His wife was going to be the main 'bread earner' while he got his consulting business up and running. She also had excellent health care from her employer and he was covered through her. He said, without her support and what she was providing, there was no way he would have been able to get into consulting.

    -SQLBill

  • Mostly I have been an employee. The little time I was a consultant, I was working though an agency. However, I was always worried about what next. So for me the stability of being an employee is better. If you have a way of managing to stay busy, I can see the benefits of being a consultant, but it is just not for me.

  • Andrew Kernodle (1/5/2015)


    Personally, I'd love to be a consultant someday! The idea of having a job market that's wide open and full of interesting systems and problems to solve is definitely appealing.

    Currently, though, I'm an employee that pretty much meets your description above; I'm miserable, the management here is... Lacking, and I really have nothing to do at all these days. Ironically, both the business and I would have been much better served if I had worked for them as a consultant, as their needs were really not as drastic as their (entirely non-technical) management team had thought.

    Still, I've got some prospective jobs lined up, and one of them is VERY interesting currently, so I'm hoping to move to greener pastures. Stability is nice, yes, and in the area I'm in, SQL Server jobs are extremely rare. I don't yet have the resources I need to simply pull up roots and move to a better location, but it's something I'm working toward doing. Maybe then consulting could be a reality for me! 😀

    I lived in London my whole life but recently moved just outside the smoke to where I have a dream commute, and my advice to you would be to do the same (to or just outside the nearest tech-heavy city). Now, if we could all tele-commute, or if that was ever going to work entirely, all our jobs/contracts would likely have been offshored - there's a reason they haven't, but the flipside is that you have to be close to where the action is, and, sadly, that may mean upping sticks.

    Also, it's a mindset thing - I'm a firm believer that familiarity mixed with a few other conditions breeds contempt, I have always felt desperately unhappy in most places where I was stuck more than 6 months, seeing the same miserable damn faces all the time, I had been in my last Emp_ID job 15 months, and when made redundant as 2nd last man standing out of a dozen or so who were pretty much all from varying depths of the dregs of the IT world. I almost broke into a run when I finished my last day onsite. In hindsight though, being made redundant from that job was one of the best things that happened to me, second only to me getting it while the recession raged.

    Some people CAN sit there year after year, and petrifyingly over decades, I don't understand how/why, but it happens. I don't think that life is for you, so, be ready to take some brave steps.

  • From my point of view, it's not a big difference between employee and consultant, I've been working in both cases, even I had a combo - contract-to-hire.

    In many cases it's even difficult to distinguish who of your co-workers are employees of the company and who are consultants. The work is the same regardless of that. What I think it's just a different types of employment or, if you want, different methods of payment (W-2 vs. C2C).

    Yes, consultants receive more, but that's just to cover 2nd half of payroll tax, corp. taxes, insurances, benefits, etc. Plus, consultants (depending of types of incorporation) can deduct more from tax, like computers, books, software, trips to Florida for SQL conferences, dinners in restaurants, and things like that.

    That's also another types of consultants, which receive W-2 from agencies/consulting companies. They are something in between the above two types.

  • I've been contracting but have been FTE at various companies. The upside to contracting is that you get your hands on lots of different tools and exposure to different ways of doing things, though this can be frustrating (see my recent questions in the SSIS forum). I didn't really like full-on consulting, they wanted me to wear button-up shirts and look the part, it was almost more important than the work itself. Just not my thing. The upside to being FTE is the paid time off, whenever I have time off as a contractor it usually means i'm out of work so home hunting for the next job.

  • I have been both. I am preparing for "retirement" from being an employee. Although I intend to slow down, I will likely return to consulting.

    For me, it's about variety. I usually don't stick around as either FTE or 1099 for more than 3-5 years. I have been working at one place for 7 years and my feet are getting itchy.

    Tom

  • Great post (and replies)! Something I have given an awful lot of thought too.

    Currently and always have been an employee; I've worked for some bad companies and some good ones. The current one is fantastic so its a very easy choice for me; it satisfies all my needs where employment is concerned. I would still suggest that a permy role does offer a little more stability - OK nothing is guaranteed but I do know one or two consultants who have moved back to being a permy for that reason.

    One other point, I do know quite a few consultants that have perhaps lost a permanent role and taken the consultant route out of necessity and have never looked back!

    Now I have worked very closely with consultants throughout my career and they all have one thing in common. They don't do it for the money, its the time element. Most of the people who I know in that role don't like the ties to a firm, they like to move around spending limited time here and there, different companies, different roles etc etc. That was a surprise to me.

    For me, career management is a massive deal so whilst the employee role is perfect now, in time that will change so will definitely be going down the contractor route.

    'Only he who wanders finds new paths'

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