Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch

Partnering for Profit

June 30, 2000

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The expanding nature of high-tech industries often means that it is impossible for every worker to learn all the skills they might need to complete a project. This is especially true if you are working as an independent high-tech consultant. Whether you are in a large company or working for yourself, partnering with other employees or consultants can allow you to develop projects that would be impossible on your own.

Everyone in their place

As much as I might bemoan the fact, the days of the high-tech generalist are waning. While I still believe that a wide body of knowledge can help you in your career, the complexity of the high-tech world forces us to concentrate our attention in those areas where we have the most interest and talent.

Over the years, I have moved more and more into the world of computer training. I can still troubleshoot systems, install and manage networks and PCs, but my knowledge in those areas becomes more obsolete every day. I have also discovered over the years that there is some work that doesn't interest me very much, even though I might have the necessary skills. The combination of all these factors has steadily narrowed the focus of my work.

What to do?

Despite the narrowing of my own work focus, I am often approached with projects that go far beyond my own skills and interests. I have several options when an opportunity such as this presents itself. I can turn down the opportunity entirely, though this means a loss of revenue. I can direct the client to another friend or associate who can develop the project, but again I am basically giving away any involvement or control in the project. Finally, I can take on the project and develop a project team that contains the skills necessary to complete the project. This allows me to use my unique skills, generate income and work on projects that I would normally have to decline.

Developing your project team

Of course, putting together a project team can sometimes be more difficult than handling a project on your own. There are issues regarding management of the project, the members of the team and how they will be paid. That said, if the project is managed well, everyone can benefit.

It is important that you don't wait until you are presented with a project to start developing your team. You don't want the added stress of bringing people together while facing a project deadline. More than likely you already have people with which you would like to work. As you meet new people you should try and maintain contact with those who have skills you could use on future projects. You might want to think of this as developing a virtual company. You may not work with these people everyday, but they will be there when you need them for a specific project.

One odd experience of developing a project team is that you might not always be the boss. Just as you will partner with others to develop projects you run, they should be encouraged to hire you for projects that they are developing. It can be difficult to be both manager and worker, depending on the project, but such arrangements help to keep everyone working.

Reach out to as many people as possible so that you have multiple options when a project presents itself. Since other members of the team will be developing their own projects they might not always be available when you need them. Finding 2 programmers or 2 web designers that you enjoy working with will allow you to continue working on new projects instead of waiting for a partner to become available.

Finally, take the time to learn about the people you bring in as partners. Not everyone can function in such an open environment. Working styles may clash. It is often best to partner for a small, short term project first to test out the partnership. You don't want to start a 6 month project only to find that your partner drives you crazy. Once you have established your compatibility you can move to longer and longer projects. If you go slowly at first you can often avoid major problems down the road

Being an independent high-tech consultant doesn't mean you are forced to work on your own all the time. By developing business relationships with friends and associates you can build a high-tech team that can develop projects much larger than any one person could manage on their own.

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