On the beat...
© Douglas E. Welch 1999
April 23, 1999
I recently returned, full-time, to the realm of the independent
computer consultant and I found the world to be a bit different
from when I took a hiatus a year ago. There has been a major change
in the people, equipment and connectivity that you face whenever
you go to someone's home or office. This week I will provide some
insight to those of you who might be considering computer consulting
as an opportunity to work for yourself.
The reason I took a leave from the consulting world is running
around my home office as I type. His name is Joseph and his arrival
last March gave me a new role to play, that of Mr. Mom. Since
I worked at home already it seemed silly to hire a nanny so I
decided to concentrate on my writing while I took care of him.
Now that Joseph is over a year old, I find I have more time and
my wife, Rosanne, has the ability to take him to work with her
on occasion. Recently, a friend who worked part time for a consulting
company needed to replace himself. The timing just seemed right
so when he recommended me, I accepted. I am only working several
days a week out of the house and it feels good to be connected
a little more closely to the computer industry again.
The first thing I was reminded of, on my very first call, was
to always expected the unexpected. In order to get to the client's
office I had to ford a stream, literally, with my car. The client
is located in a remote section of Malibu and had we been having
normal rainfall for the year I would have had to cross over a
footbridge and hiked a _ mile to the home office.
Once there I discovered a small network of Macintosh computers
and video editing bays. This is certainly not what I would have
expected from the old farm buildings that were used to house the
Always something new
I had been called to this location to integrate a new computer
into their existing network. I soon learned that this would be
a common task for me. Due to the inclusion of easy peer--to-peer
networking in Windows and the MacOS more and more people are connecting
their computers together. In this case, not only were they sharing
files but also sharing a FileMaker Pro database that served as
the central part of their business.
The new computer to be installed was an iMac. This presents another
common problem. How do you integrate this Ethernet-only computer
into an Appletalk environment. As computers grow in capabilities
more small companies are faced with stepping away from simpler,
free technologies and into faster and more robust networking systems.
I find that many of the clients are engaged in this right now.
It is up to you and I to lead them through the sometimes confusing
world of Cat 5 cabling and Ethernet hubs when all they had to
worry about before was cheap phone cabling that could be tossed
over a wall.
In some cases the previous consultant who installed the original
network is no longer available. This means you have to decipher
the network before you can even begin working on it. Unfortunately,
few consultants are rigorous about documenting the wiring of configuration
of a small network so we are often in the dark. You need to be
prepared to trace wires through ducts and ceilings and even between
Another major change over the last year has been the tremendous
increase in Internet connections in both small and medium-sized
offices. You will need exposure to not only the old connection
methods such as dialup to an online service or ISP but also high
speed connections for entire offices using ISDN, DSL or T-1 lines.
If you haven't had a need to learn about these technologies already,
I highly recommend you start doing your research today. DSL (Digital
Subscriber Line) is exploding in its availability and since it
provides higher bandwidth than ISDN at a lower price it is particularly
attractive to small offices.
Age old problems
Even with all the new hardware and software being developed you
will often run into an age-old problem for consultants: missing
or pirated software. In the past it was much easier to move software
between computers. Most software was self-contained and could
be moved merely by copying one directory. Today, though, most
software adds files and information to a host of other locations
on the computer, whether the Macintosh System Folder or the Windows
Users often fail to understand the legal or technical ramifications
of copying software in this method. They will often call with
questions about why certain functions no longer work. They will
also ask you to re-install software after a computer crash or
upgrade. Without the original installation disks, though, there
is not a lot that you can do. My only solution in some cases is
to gently remind the client that software must be purchased for
each machine and that software disks need to be stored in a safe,
yet accessible location.
Drop me a line and let me know the major concerns and questions
that you face on a daily basis, either as a freelance consultant
or as a computer staffer in a larger company.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at email@example.com