I mentioned working with an architect in my previous post; one of his fellow consultants taught me something in about three seconds that has stuck with me more than half a decade. To paraphrase, it was, “Our goal is to come in and kick some ass. While the internal employees are complaining about their desktop being too slow or their monitor being too small, we come in and get the work done.” I have been a consultant at a Big Four accounting firm and there was plenty I did not like, but this attitude is something we all need to take a good hard look at regardless of our job security or status.
To be an ass kicker you need to think like an ass kicker. There is a place for figuring out your 401k, complaining about unpaid overtime, etcetera. But when you decide it is “go time,” make it go time. Explode out of the gates, get the work done, and the dividends will stay with you for years. Enough Tony Robbins…what do I mean?
1. Learn the network in depth. Crazy, stupid depth. If you “own” a network, your goal should be to put your finger on a router inside your Visio diagram, any router, and give your audience a rolling narrative about what that box does, how it does it, and what will happen if it fails. At a certain size and complexity this becomes impractical or downright impossible. Find that point by stretching your subject matter expertise.
2. Learn the technologies in use as if you are going to have to bill a ridiculous hourly rate for working on it. A “1099″ consultant is considered a small business owner by the IRS. That means you are in the shark tank. There is no guaranteed paycheck next month, no benefits, and no severance if you lose a job. The flip side is you charge more. Much more. So much more that companies expect you to sweep in there like a heart breaker, a dream maker and a love taker. There is no room in a $200/hour invoice for your frantic studying. If I have to learn something for a 1099 client, I shave what I consider a fair amount of time off the bill.
3. Speaking of frantic studying, study frantically. If you are at a job that does not demand much from you, do not spend your time ogling old high school acquaintances on Facebook. Spend it like you plan on 1099ing in three months. Look around at your network. Chances are there is some technology in play that you can study frantically to good effect.
4. Learn the job to either side of yours. In my past, that meant learning data center operations responsibilities like power and cable management, and server concerns like NIC teaming and patching processes. I never learned enough to replace those co-workers, but I learned enough to plan for their needs without their intervention.
The obvious drawback to this attitude is that it is exhausting. That is no reason to duck it; it is just a reason to take a day, week or month away from it. Every time you open that Facebook page or doubleclick that Steam icon, remind yourself that you are damaging your career. And then sometimes do it anyway, because if you never relax, you are probably going to pop. But understand the cost of goofing off and the benefits of an aggressively positive attitude.