code prole

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coding for the proletariat since 1977

Billable Hours

Except for 15 months in 1999 and 2000 my employment model has been as a consultant. There is a duality present in this form of engagement that isn’t found in a typical work arrangement. You are an employee of the consulting firm, but not an employee of the client. In some cases you maybe working strictly for yourself and then you aren’t really an employee of anyone.

Some clients treat their consultants as regular people, others as if you were a red-haired, ugly stepchild. I’ve been fortunate that most of my engagements have treated me with dignity and respect. I’ve actually had more issues with the intermediaries; it seems odd to say but most of the clients I’ve worked for trust me far more than the companies that have placed me in my engagements. Familiarity really does breed contempt.

My present situation has multiple layers of intermediaries. I work for a small local consulting firm who in turn has a contract with a national job placement service. The national job service has an agreement with a major international services company who holds the contract with the client. In the past 14 months I have only seen my employer (the small local firm) twice since hiring on: once the first day and once for a group lunch. I have no contact at all with the national job service, they are only in the picture as the international firm doesn’t want to stoop so low as to work with local talent. I have daily contact with the contract holder, a three-letter firm associated with the color blue.

While there is the formal arrangement described above the daily working model, the informal structure, consists of me interacting independently with the client and other members of the team. The team is about 30% blue and 70% sub-contractor, with ultimate control resting in the 30% faction. There is no real distinction made between the two groups by either on-site consulting management or client management. We are all just "consultants" or "contractors."

With so little contact between me and my actual employer I feel like an independent working on contract. At times this mode of thinking causes problems. For example, this engagement has a strict 40 hour per week billing cap. I can bill 40 hours per week and no more without written prior approval. This is actually a benefit as I get home at a reasonable hour everyday. And since I am prone to arriving at work early in the morning (6:30 am typically) I usually work 9 hours a day Monday through Thursday leaving a mere 4 hours of billable time for Friday. This makes for nice long weekends. As an independent consultant I feel this is a perfectly acceptable work schedule. However, big blu…, er brother, thinks I should be present during normal business hours.

So now I have to alter my established schedule to have more billable hours on Friday by working less hours the rest of the week. Since I carpool two days of the week and have no control over arrival or departure times the only way to bill less is to take a longer lunch. This has two negative results from my perspective. (1) It is more time away from home every day that I am not getting paid for, and (2) it means the time I’ll spend away from home for work will increase each week without me getting anything in return. I hate feeling like I am being micro-managed and this is micro-management at its worst. Still, I am not in charge here, and as I am fond of saying, work is not a democracy.

So I’ll quietly start taking longer lunches – and refusing to deal with work issues during that time frame, so I can be here more "normal business hours" and please the powers that be here.

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Filed under: Consulting

CLI vs. GUI

Since 1997 or so I’ve been working on Unix of one flavor or another. When I say working on Unix I mean that my employment engagement at the time included Unix servers, and I had to interact with them on a daily or weekly basis in order to complete some part of my assigned tasks. For the most part I enjoy Unix; there is a certain elegance in the arcane set of commands one uses to view processes, edit files, or print hard copy.

All of these engagements have provided workstations that were Windows based, usually NT 4.0, and more recently XP. I spend very little time in the command line interface (CLI) when I’m working on a Windows workstations. I do some things there, like run backup scripts or the occasional ant build file.

Now, as a Mac user, I find that I do some activities via the Aqua interface (GUI) and some via the CLI. Installing, managing, and configuring open source development tools like Apache, Hibernate, or Spring is something I do exclusively via Terminal. In fact looking at that part of the file system (usrlocal) through the GUI Finder makes the files there seem alien and out of place. While I can install graphic applications through CLI I tend towards Aqua – it only makes sense.

What I find so interesting about this is the paradigm alignment going on in my head. Unix, be it AIX, Digital, or Darwin, is a command line interface world for me; stripped down, lean, green phosphor on black background. Commercial applications are windowed, Aqua decorated affairs.

So which are you? CLI or GUI?

Filed under: Unix

Extreme Makover: Software Edition

One of my new favorite shows is "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." I like the idea of helping people who really need it, and building an entire house in seven days is a great hook for the show. As an enterprise software architect I am very intriqued by the amount of planning that must occur behind the scenes.

The current project team I am a part of has 17 resources assigned to it and it is nearly a fulltime task to keep the project plan updated with work that has occured and work that is ongoing. Planning ahead so that all 17 of us don’t run out of tasks is another nearly fulltime activity. I simply cannot imagine the effort it must take to manage the 200-300 or more people involved in EMHE each week.

My hat is off to the project planner behind the scenes at ABC who developed the template project plan, and to the onsite manager(s) who are able to utilize it to complete demolition of the existing structure and construction of a new house in 168 hours.

Filed under: Project Management