Part 2 of 6 – 5 Keys To Becoming a Successful Consultant as a Software Developer

Part 2, Key 1.

Your Skill and Experience

This article was also published at simpleprogrammer.com

If you would like to read the transcript for this video, click here.

This is part 2 of a 6 part series:

Obvious, right? We present ourselves to potential clients based on the merits of our skill and experience. I want you to have at least five years of work history in your technologies of choice before trying to sell those skills to potential customers. 

Experience is the one thing that can’t be taught or rushed. Time takes time and it is the day-to-day, mile-after-mile, step-by-step work that earns you that experience. There is no substitute for putting in the time. 

Companies that engage your services are counting on you to complete time-sensitive projects with efficiency. I know from years on the buying side of many contracts that people with at least five years of solid experience in their disciplines tend to come with robust knowledge of their chosen languages, frameworks, and technologies. They are able to resolve complex problems, work independently or on a team, and can learn new disciplines quickly.

Companies will hire you based on your experience (and your ability to sell and represent that experience), but they will also expect you to consume and apply new information very quickly.

Maybe they work in a business that is different from where you came from. Trucking instead of health care, for example, so you will need to apply your technology skills in a business setting that is new to you. You need to be mentally limber, eager to learn what is new, and quick to apply what you know.

Not only that, with all of the Java, PHP, Python, and JavaScript frameworks—not to mention the many other languages, design patterns, and the sheer number of people using them—you will definitely encounter techniques and solutions to common problems that are different than what you are used to. Fast assimilation of new things is part of the fun and also part of the challenge.

That said, there is always the temptation to wander way off course and learn something completely new and sexy. You may want to learn it because it’s getting a lot of press, because it’s the hot new thing, the technology du jour.

Pause! Stop!

Don’t do that. Wait until buying customers are engaging with that technology before you burn countless hours of your life to learn something that may not take off and therefore will not get you paid.

Remember, you are in business now. You need to make smart business choices with your talent and time. Be sensible with where you spend it; make choices based on what is going to get you paid. Period.

As for further sharpening your existing tools, it’s wise to spend at least 30 minutes every single workday pushing your skills ahead—learning a new framework, for example (maybe new to you, but tried-and-true in the marketplace), within one of your main languages. This is important and is a good investment.

I am a fan of going deeper with the skill set that is already getting you paid. For example, if you’re working in web development today, learning another popular JavaScript framework is a good idea.

Choose wisely, and if you decide to dig into something totally new, and I know some of you will, just be sure it’s a worthy investment of your time and talent. Remember: You are a business.

Skill and experience will get you paid, but time is your greatest asset. Treat it like money.

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About the Author Scott Salisbury

Scott is the creator of Motivated Code Pro and the Managing Partner of Pinch Hitter Solutions, Inc. Motivated Code Pro is devoted to helping developers build better software careers. Pinch Hitter Solutions (phs4j.com) is a consultancy focused on mobile app development and enterprise web work. Scott works primarily in Java and JavaScript and focuses on Spring and Ext JS.

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