What’s an “IT Consultant” And How Can You Become One?

IT Consulting
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Dreaming of a life on the road, but one that involves fancy hotels and airplanes rather than RVs and youth hostels? Consider becoming an IT Consultant.

Guest blogger Melissa Nguyen gets the scoop on what it’s like to constantly travel, what it means to be a “consultant,” and how you can find a similarly sweet deal for yourself.

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If you’ve ever been to an airport, you’ve seen them—IT Consultants leisurely strolling along the corridor dressed in business casual with a small carry-on-sized roll-y bag trailing behind them, a matching laptop case perched on top.

If the professional traveler gear doesn’t give consultants away, then it’s that they have their security line routine down to a science (shoes slip off and are neatly placed into the plastic bin in one fell swoop, and laptops open for inspection at the blink of an eye—not to mention that they probably greeted the TSA agent by first name and had the time to roll their eyes at slower vacationing travelers who take too long unbuckling their fanny packs…).

But what is it that they consult? And how do you, as a new college graduate, land such a sweet gig that’ll pay for you to bounce from city to city and stay at posh hotels? Avanade systems engineer Tommy Luu put the brakes on his roll-y bag for just long enough to give us the inside scoop on life as an IT Consultant.

tommy luu

What is your role?

I am a systems engineer in the infrastructure service line for Avanade.

What exactly do you do? What are your responsibilities?

I am what’s called a “college-hire” (meaning right out of college) and considered new to the IT industry, so I do what people ask of me. I began at Avanade about one year ago. My responsibilities are mostly not to break anything while trying to learn as much as I can from the project lead.

The majority of the time, it’s trying to figure out how to tell the machines/servers to do what I want them to do. It’s not as easy as it sounds and requires a whole lot of Googling. But between those tasks, I can be responsible for maintaining server environments that are used for application testing.

When I say maintain, it includes tasks of creating scripts, updating applications, ensuring performance is good, and anything else that allows the server to function correctly. It is said that if I’m doing my job right, no one will notice me.

What attracted you to this role? What was the interview process like?

The travel attracted me to this role. I’m not sure how the 9 to 5, Monday through Friday work life would be right out of college, but it doesn’t sound as fun as being able to fly to your job. The interview process was simple and basically a conversation to make sure I am compatible with other people and that I’m not some oddball weirdo.

I attended an Association of Information Technology Professionals (AITP) event where many companies were seeking IT graduates. I dropped off my résumé to all of them and Avanade was the one that called me back first.

After the initial talk with the campus recruiter, I was intrigued by the traveling aspect. There were three parts to the interview: The first one was a phone call to see when you will graduate and how interested you were in the position. The second interview, a phone call, is a technical interview by someone who has been working for some time and will get a feel for your IT knowledge. The final interview is a face-to-face interview with a consultant that is in a manager role or higher. This person asks you a mix of technical and personal questions to see how well you will fit with the company.

If you did well in college and had a decent social life (meaning you are comfortable speaking to someone new), the whole process isn’t too challenging.

How has it been different from what you thought it’d be?

After college, you figured you learned everything you would need for your work life but that isn’t the case. I basically had to relearn everything about IT from scratch for my current job and the sad part is I’ve been in the IT field for the past seven years (that includes the prep I did in school).

Working on the consulting side of the IT industry is different from the enterprise side. You will be on a new project every three to five months and each project requires different skills. As a new hire, all those skills will need to be learned until you find your niche where you will become a subject matter expert (SME).

An SME will only be on projects specific to that skill, because (s)he will lead the effort, but it takes at least three to five years to get anywhere close to an SME due to how technically skilled you have to be.

What did you study in school and how has it helped you in your current role?

I graduated with a degree in Computer Information Systems from the University of Houston, which is essentially a degree in the jack of all trades in IT. I learned a little about everything that has to do with IT which helped me get a feel for what I like.

IT doesn’t mean just building a computer, FYI. The CIS program helped me by being a project-based program, meaning that you work in teams, had deliverables, deadlines, meetings, scope of work, client, and each person had an individual role to play in the team. The biggest thing I learned is if one person isn’t doing the work, someone else is going to have to pick up the slack and you can’t complain about it—same goes for real life.

What is it like to have travel as such a main part of your job?

Being young and ambitious, I chose this job mainly for the traveling. Free hotels, car rental, flights, and per diem all add up in the end. I would recommend everyone to break out of their shell and travel while they still can right out of school to explore and learn about yourself. Visiting museums, bars, local attractions, parks, or anything you can find all by yourself and speaking to random strangers is a big learning experience.

What advice / insight would you give new graduates considering going into consulting?

There are many consulting companies out there. Apply to one (or all) of the big four: Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PwC along with Accenture. There are many smaller ones, too. Be sure to keep your LinkedIn updated, because good technology companies look for employees who utilize and can navigate all available tools online.

And once you land your consulting role, work hard but don’t forget to reward yourself. Don’t spend all that time working just to go back home or to the hotel while you’re on your trips. Go out and enjoy the new city you are in and meet people. It’s the best part about the job.

What kind of skills/personalities would be a good fit for a consultant?

Anyone can be a good fit for consulting. The lifestyle is a huge character builder.

Homework time! Tommy was able to find his job by attending a professional organization career fair. If you have an idea of which industry you’d like to work in, see if there are any similar organizations hosting events in your area. If you’re still not sure, look for career fairs that are more general and likely to include a broader range of jobs, like a career fair for jobs in non-profits or one for humanities majors.

Melissa Nguyen still has her roll-y Mickey Mouse suitcase from yesteryears and wonders if it’ll stand up to the wear-and-tear of consulting life—actually, she’s too lazy to to pull it out of the closet and will continue freelance writing at writingsbymelissanguyen.wordpress.com.

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