Exploding Consulting Myths: Work

  • July 22, 2022
  • Taylor Kearns
  • 6 min read

Ask someone at The Gnar for their impression of a consulting job before and after they joined the team, and you will likely hear two different stories. At The Gnar we put a premium on our team and our culture. In order to do this, we actively resist many of the stereotypical characteristics of a consulting organization. A great software developer isn't going to enjoy their work day unless they are comfortable, engaged, and shipping quality work. Here are some myths about the job of a software consultant that we happily defy at The Gnar.

Myth: The Work is Entirely Sales-Driven

Some companies will do just about anything to get a sale, including making promises that come at a high cost to their team. At The Gnar we love new business! Don't get us wrong. But we aren't going to take on a project at the expense of our people. We work hard, and we like what we do, but that does not mean we work our fingers to the bone in order to achieve an unrealistic sales goal. A significant amount of our business is repeat business, and we would not have so many clients choose to re-engage if we were to misrepresent our capabilities. Additionally, it is not worth compromising a teammate by asking them to over-work themself for an irrational goal.

The Gnar takes a practical approach to client engagements. From the outset, each potential project is assessed to determine a) what the best technical solution is, and b) if we are the right team to build that solution. We do not take on every engagement that comes across our desk. But if it's a good fit and it's in our technical wheelhouse, bring it on. Our founders are software developers, not salespeople. Nick and Mike have been (and continue to be) in the trenches. They care about developer happiness because they are developers. And they have the final say about what we work on.

Myth: The Work is Entirely Deadline-Driven

Our clients' time is very important to us. We do not take lightly the outlay of time and money involved in hiring a software team. We want nothing more than to deliver a great product within a desired time frame. But this does not mean that we will promise to hit a deadline no matter what. Making promises like that can lead to disappointed clients, exhausted developers, and frustration all around.

The way we define value at The Gnar depends on the client and their needs. But at the core, value for us means more than just speed. Velocity is a critical aspect of a consulting engagement, but so is quality. Value is found at the nexus of speed and quality. Will we build a feature as efficiently as possible? You bet. Will we hold off on writing tests in order to get it out the door faster? Sorry, no. Will we skip code review? Nope. There are some standards of quality that we do not feel comfortable compromising on. And frankly, neither should our clients. (Not to mention that neglecting tests and code review, though it may feel like it saves time in the short-term, will almost certainly cost a company significant time and effort in the long run, when things start to break and they don't know why.) If a potential client wants something built as fast as possible without regard to standards such as test coverage, maintainability, and readability, that client is not for The Gnar. We recently read an article that resonates with us because it speaks to a core tenant of The Gnar: we care a lot.

So how do we manage workload and deadlines? We partner with our clients to come up with the most reasonable, attainable solution given the time constraint and the technical lift. We help our clients develop their deadlines rather than saying “yes” and crossing our fingers. We lean on conventions such as sprint planning, story pointing, and retrospectives in order to continually hone our collective ability to estimate timelines throughout the engagement. We believe that high-fidelity communication is key. The waterfall days of "report back to us when it's done" are no longer. A successful software endeavor involves all parties working together to achieve as much quality as can be packed into the time allotted.

Myth: I Will Be Jumping Between Several Projects

Context shifting has consequences farther reaching than the time on paper would suggest. Ask any developer. At The Gnar we fully dedicate developers to one project at a time. When a team member works for you, they work for only you. It's the best way to immerse the team and firm up the workflow. A dedicated tech team benefits not only the developers, but the client as well.

Myth: I'm Going to Burn Out

One of the more common concerns we hear from candidates: Does working in consulting mean that I'm going to get slammed at the end of every engagement in order to tie everything up and ship? And the implied follow up: Is that going to take a toll on me? Will I be driven to my wit's end and rage quit one day? We sure hope not. As we have demonstrated, team health is a crucial aspect of business success. We simply can't afford to burn out our developers by crushing them at the end of engagements - or at any time. At The Gnar we work 40 hour weeks. That's it. We could ask a team to work 50 or 60 hours at the end of a project, but at what cost? How many such cycles is a good dev willing to go through before they talk with their feet?

Keeping an engagement steady from start to finish is not easy. Engagements will go through waves, particularly at the beginning and end. This is pretty hard to avoid. Ramping up and handing off are pace changes that we must adjust to. So how do we mitigate stress during the waves? We believe that the way to prevent the end-of-engagement pressure is by keeping ahead of trouble from the very start. Every team conducts regular "health checks" during their engagement in order to assess velocity, technical risk, personnel issues, and dependency hangups. The goal is to prevent surprises, remove ambiguity, and address potential hazards as soon as they begin to manifest. And of course we keep a strong line of communication with our client so that we are all aware of where we stand and where we are headed. Eliminating roadblocks today means mitigating surprises - and headaches - tomorrow.

Myth: I Won't Have Job Security

There are companies that will hire and fire team members depending on the waxing or waning client list. The Gnar is not one of those companies. We want to hire folks for the long term. We want every employee to stay here as long as they like. We are deliberate about hiring, which means we only hire for the work that we have planned. We bring on one, two, or three team members at a time, and we don't skimp on our hiring process in order to bring people on faster. We are proud to say that we've never had to lay off anyone from our team due to work slowdowns. If you want a steady, long-term job in software, you should feel comfortable talking to us. We'd love to hear from you.

Coming Up

What is the support structure like for a developer at The Gnar? We'll challenge the "lone wolf" myth of consulting and explain how we support each team member, not only from a technical perspective, but from a personal one as well.