it pays the bills” response, while some will strongly warn you against being a part of it and how it was a depressing dead-end career choice for them.
None of them are wrong from their point-of-view.
There are various factors that determine which of the above experiences you will have in consulting as a recent college graduate, but if you situate yourself in an ideal spot by aligning your personal interests, strengths, what you value in a job, and future goals — it can be a super rewarding experience with virtually no flip sides.
And hopefully, I can shed some light into the how in rest of this article.
Photo by Diggity Marketing on UnsplashDisclaimerThe opinions in this article are my own, not endorsed or influenced by my current or previous employers and clients.
The views are based on my own first-hand personal experiences and that of all the professionals I have encountered during my time in this industry.
My history with consultingI consider myself fortunate enough to have experienced the American consulting industry from multiple viewpoints — both as a stakeholder and as a member, small-sized and at scale.
As an engineer at a global logistics company, I closely worked with externally staffed consultants observing the famous love-hate relationships that employers and employees have with consultants.
As a tech consultant at a small data intelligence firm, I participated in management and technology consulting projects within a niche market — wearing multiple hats, designing and delivering technical solutions for both top-of-the-chain and relatively obscure companies.
Then when we got acquired by one of the consulting giants, I have now been able to observe how the same things are done at scale.
Needless to say, there are pros and cons of being in each of such positions, and hopefully, I can use my personal observations to help you make the best out of what this industry has to offer.
What does a tech consultant do anyway?This depends on the branch of consulting you are in and your skillsets.
For recent CS Majors, the two relevant types of consulting would be Technology Consulting and Management Consulting.
Technology ConsultingPhoto by You X Ventures on UnsplashThis is probably where you would start off — in roles like Software Engineer or Data Analyst.
As you might have guessed, you will be designing and developing technical solutions to facilitate strategic use of technology to solve various business problems for your clients.
The Awesome Part: A role in this branch can be very rewarding when you are a part of a team brought in to analyze a business problem, suggest recommendations, design and build or enhance technical solutions to address the issue.
Projects can go anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.
Eventually when you transition to roles like a technical architect, or project manager, it is quite normal for you to be working on two or more projects simultaneously.
The 360 degree view that such projects offer in areas of business analysis, solution architecture and product development can be quite invaluable.
Example Project: An e-commerce company sees a surge of customers abandoning the checkout process halfway.
They bring in a team of 4 external consultants (comprised of a Project Manager, Data Scientist, Data Engineer, UX Designer) for six weeks to help mitigate this business issue and get their revenue back in track.
The Caveat: Tech consultants are also regularly hired by a lot of client companies to “staff” temporary openings within their internal long-term projects.
Don’t get me wrong – you can still learn a lot in such projects but the term ‘consulting’ can seem misleading when your client is not seeking for your expert input and recommendations but rather expecting you to perform day-to-day tasks.
Your routine as a consultant is almost indistinguishable from the rest of the engineers in your client’s team — the only difference being your biweekly paychecks come from your consulting employer.
Example Project: A healthcare company has an in-house insurance claims management application which is maintained by their internal workforce of 200 engineers split into development, testing and dev-ops teams.
You are brought in as a temp within a development team for six months to handle the brief spike in workload for the next release.
Management ConsultingPhoto by Campaign Creators on UnsplashFor someone with a technical role, Management Consulting can seem pretty much the same as Technology Consulting, but this branch would be (you guessed it) geared towards helping make informed and data-driven management decisions.
This is usually where someone like a Data Scientist or Data/System/Cloud Architect shines.
It is also quite normal for a management consulting project to have a technology development component within it where the engineers come in.
The Awesome Part: Pretty much the same pros as technology consulting.
In addition, you have the ability to play a crucial role in helping an organization decide its next foot forward.
Understanding management pain points and designing solutions to resolve their dilemmas shapes up your thought process for managerial roles and comes in handy if you have plans for personal ventures.
This is something I realized as I began to work on my own startups.
Example Project: A furniture retail giant wants to examine if they should invest more on new delivery trucks, or is there an alternative to better leverage their existing fleet by optimizing delivery routes and schedules?.A team of data scientists and data engineers would be essential for all the analytics work on a project like this.
The Caveat: It can sometimes feel a little too business-y with all the powerpoint presentations, meetings and touch-points with folks who don’t share a technical background.
As a Data Scientist, all you want is for someone to ask you about your superfine hyper parameter tuning job that boosted the F1 score by 3%, but everyone in the room is too busy commenting on how the lines in your graph don’t match company colors for an executive readout.
The Unbeatable ProsPeriodically changing projects and continuous learning opportunitiesAll expenses paid weekly travels/relocation to work from client siteProfessional network built while working for various client companiesRemote working arrangements — saving those long commute hoursDesigning solutions to solve strategic and management business problems prepares your thought process for any personal venturesDevelops your communications and people skills which is often seen lacking among technical professionalsCareer TracksDepth FocusedPhoto by Alex Perez on UnsplashIf you have already found your calling, and know what you want to specialize in, this would be the ideal path for you.
Let’s say you are already determined to be an avid backend developer — then maybe you only want to hop on projects that will continue sharpening your backend development skills.
If your current project had you build Java Springboot API servers, you could aim your next project in Node Microservices, and so forth.
You get the gist.
Breadth FocusedPhoto by Sergei Akulich on UnsplashThis is the track that I personally follow and if you are a recent graduate, I would highly recommend it.
I graduated college with a fairly confident mentality of specializing in backend development, but I decided to give consulting a shot during which I experimented with a variety of roles — Big Data Engineer, Frontend Developer, Cloud Architect, Technical Lead, Dev-ops Engineer, Backend Developer and Data Scientist.
Granted, breadth comes at the expense of depth.
You might have to spend a considerable number of weekends going through medium, tutorials and videos regularly starting at ground zeros.
You might find yourself defining a Java class with python variable conventions and Typescript function declarations.
But if you are someone who is dazzled by all the wonders the tech world has to offer, the breadth will only help you connect various dots and crave for more.
There might occasionally be roles you realize aren’t for you, but there will also be roles which open up your perspectives despite your initial reservations (Frontend, I’m lookin atchu).
After all, better experiment now than seven years into your career, right?Working at Consulting Giants vs Small FirmsProject selection: Big consulting companies often have their own employee accessible job banks where you can surf through all available client roles and be in more control of your choices.
They also have a wide variety of roles since they are engaged in every tech sector.
Small firms often lack such variations, which might leave you with less options to pick from.
But if you decide to work for a small firm focused in a niche market, those limited options might still be of high quality.
Travel: Big consulting companies have widely spread out client base throughout the US and abroad.
Small firms often serve a regional client base, but there are exceptions.
Role vs The Job: Working for a small firm might in some ways feel like working for a startup.
You might easily be wearing multiple hats on a client project which I personally found quite splendid for my breadth-focused learning.
On the contrary, big consulting giants often only take multimillion dollar projects and send in large structured teams to deliver such solutions.
As a result, you might have less legroom and less need to do anything other than what you were originally sent for.
Visibility of contributions: This is a subjective factor that varies based on what an individual values.
In a 200 person company where project teams are usually between 2–10 individuals, you can directly see the impact of your contributions.
If your two-member team successfully delivers a $150k project, you and the execs are aware of what role you played in it.
However, in a consulting company with half a million employees where project teams are between 50–400 individuals, your contributions can quickly get blurred when you imagine the bigger picture.
Bureaucracy: We all know this — the bigger the company, the bigger the corporate bureaucracy.
No one is at fault here — bigger companies just have more legal responsibilities and complex arrangements than smaller ones.
Hence, more paperworks and compliance assessments to complete before you start a project, especially in the healthcare and pharma space.
Also, if you are in an immigrant visa, consulting giants usually have a more complicated process and slightly longer processing timelines before you can begin on a client project.
Flexibility in tech stack: Like you guessed, smaller firms are also much more receptive to letting their engineers decide the best tech stack for a project, as long as the client is okay with it.
On the contrary, in bigger firms, such decisions usually come from the higher up, from folks that might not necessarily be the ones coding alongside you.
Compensation ModelsDepending on the company you are working for, there are two dominant compensation models.
Consulting Companies: Flat yearly salaries + performance based bonuses.
Refer to Glassdoor for company-specific numbers.
Your company bills the client for your work — whatever that agreed rate is, it has no impact on your salary.
This model is great because of the steadiness of income — brief non-billable weeks (also known as being on bench) are still paid for until you get placed on another client project.
Staffing Companies: Commission based compensation.
Staffing companies are normally geared towards filling up individual vacancies at a client, rather than sending teams to solve a business problem like consulting companies do.
You get paid 70%-90% of your hourly rate and your staffing company keeps the rest.
The hourly rates range between $60-$200 per hour in the Tri-state area depending on your skillsets and experience.
It can be much more lucrative than the flat yearly salary model, but on the flip side, your paycheck stops if you are not billable.
Avoiding the PitfallsPhoto by Erwan Hesry on UnsplashExtended weekly travels or relocation can be really inconvenient for people with family or other local commitments.
Even without such commitments, spending considerable time in flights and hotel beds alone with your belongings consolidated in a hand-carry luggage can feel a little alienating at times.
Keep this in mind before being dazzled and accepting a year long project in a glamorous location like San Diego or Miami.
Large-scale projects can take forever to end and can go on for years.
At such points, you can be with the same client for a few years performing the same role, making it virtually indistinguishable from any other regular job.
Understand the full scope of a project before you commit to it.
And document your work well throughout the project, so you can hand it over to someone if you manage to hop on to a different role.
Geographically dispersed teams are quite common in consulting projects, so if you are someone who likes to work with a team where everyone assembles in the same office room for meetings, it might not always be possible.
Inquire about this with the project managers beforehand if it is important to you.
Sometimes you might unintentionally develop a specialty in an area you did not intend to — after performing that role on a project for a while.
And rather than taking a step in a direction of your interest from ground zero, you might be inclined to continue with existing specialty, saving the efforts required to learn new skills.
This is how a lot of people end up with dead-end careers in consulting specializing in a role they did not intend to.
Take charge to stay aligned with your professional goals and do not be lazy to learn new skills.
And the holy grail of all — Do not attempt to trick a client with fake experiences and skillsets to get on a role, which you are well aware is not a fit for you.
This is the reason for all the negative stereotypes prevalent against tech consultants.
If you haven’t worked with the tech stack in question before but you are confident you can pick it up drawing similarities from other stacks you know — let the client know.
If building a machine learning model with 85% accuracy is not possible given their sparse datasets — let the client know.
Set realistic expectations.
Remember this mantra — Always underpromise and overdeliver.
TLDR;Consulting is potentially the best career choice for a recent graduate who is looking to be constantly challenged with new assignments and prefers an environment of continuous learning.
But please make sure you carefully navigate through some of the caveats like I talked about.
Please let me know your thoughts on this article and what kinds of topics you would like me to write more on.
Thanks for the read.
EJ is one of the co-founders of the tech startups Qarece & Ngineerx.
He has also worked in the consulting industry for multiple American Fortune 500 companies wearing the hats of technical lead, full stack engineer and data scientist on projects ranging from application development to big data analytics and machine learning.
Other articles from EJ you might likeAWS Architecture For Your Machine Learning SolutionsPrefacetowardsdatascience.