Objectivity, analytical skills, and the ability to thrive in a high-pressure environment — these are all traits that sound typical for your average software developer or data scientist. They’re also highly sought-after in the world of business consulting.
If you’ve been working in the tech industry for a while, you might be wondering why you’d switch to a firm full of people who know nothing about tech stacks and everything about corporate hogwash. If frameworks like scrum and Agile already make you groan, why bother with buzzwords like top-line growth, ARR (annual recurring revenue), or P&L (profit and loss)?
Well, for one thing, consultants are harder to fire. Consider the last round of tech layoffs. Who was fired? Ordinary programmers. Developers who built the skin, bone, and meat of the products that big tech sells every day. Those in top management or from outside consulting firms didn’t see a dent in their pay, however. They were too busy handling Excel sheets full of employee names and deleting those they deemed least worthy of staying.
I don’t mean to say that you should become a developer-turned-consultant so you can fire everyone. After all, there are many good consultants out there who don’t randomly fire hard-working employees in the name of cash flow optimization.
Becoming a consultant, however, can free you from some of the pressure and uncertainty that comes with being a developer. The learning curve isn’t very steep from a developer’s point of view, the pay is handsome, and you can climb to the top of your company faster.
At the time of publishing this article, I’ve spent six months in consulting. I’ve also spoken with many of my older peers to confirm my intuition. A significant proportion, if not the majority, of the consultants I met have a technical background.
Many developers may doubt that they have what it takes to become business-oriented people. But they’re wrong. Here’s why.
3 Perks of Business Consulting for Tech Workers
- Your pay will likely be higher.
- You get to work on/with a variety of technologies.
- You can fast-track your path to the C-suite.
Consulting Firms’ Big Reckoning With IT
When you think of top consulting firms, you might think of overpaid, soulless drones in smart suits who know nothing about the real world and get a big, fat paycheck for that lack of knowledge every month. What would such people be able to contribute in tech, where knowledge is everything?
Well, believe it or not, consulting firms have realized that there is a lot of money to be made in the tech sector. And they’ve realized that they need qualified, tech-savvy people working as consultants. That’s why BCG has a tech division called BCG Gamma, McKinsey has Quantum Black, and Bain has Vector. These divisions primarily employ people with deep technical knowledge because the clients of many top consulting firms don’t have that expertise in-house.
Consulting firms no longer only employ graduates from business schools in fancy suits. A high-performing, hoodie-wearing tech graduate has a realistic shot at landing a job in a top consulting firm.
The Perks of Being a Tech Consultant
If you think that the salaries and perks that you get at Google, Microsoft or another tech giant can’t be topped, think again. Consulting firms will give you a handsome salary that is quite comparable, if not better, than what a tech firm will pay you. Particularly if you’re fresh out of college, entry-level salaries in top consulting firms can be up to twice as high as what you’d get in a junior position in a big tech firm.
Putting pay aside, an enticing part of consulting is that you get to work on many different projects. You can dabble with creative tech, cyber trust, data, innovation, web3, or whatever technology you’re excited about as long as there’s a client with a demand in that niche. You get to see what the tech industry as a whole is working on and what it’s struggling with. You get a bird’s eye view versus the narrow lens you’d get from working at one specific tech company, in one specific department, or on one specific team.
Even if you notice over time that you don’t want to do consulting until retirement age, a few years at a tech-oriented consulting firm are an excellent resumé booster. You could go to work in business, if that’s what you want, or you could go back to IT. The good news is that you don’t need to start again as a junior developer and work your way up. Many ex-consultants get hired in high-level management or even the C-suite.
Given the fact that most developers stop writing code once they’re leading a team, you might as well take a detour over consulting and land a job as a CTO or CIO a few years later.
How to Get a Consultant Position
If that sounds too good to be true for you, I’m sorry to say that, yes, you might not have much of a chance in consulting. That’s not because you wouldn’t have the necessary skills — most analytical people with a little bit of business acumen do — but because your profile might not match precisely what consulting firms search for.
These firms typically hire young graduates straight from school. They want fresh eyes and innovative ideas, so somebody who has spent a decade working in the industry won’t be as competitive unless they have a compelling resumé otherwise.
Also, as with many jobs, coming from a prestigious school helps quite a bit. Companies like BCG and McKinsey court students at well-known universities with job events and after-work drinks in order to get their share of the finest graduates. That being said, it’s not impossible to enter a consulting firm if you graduated from a smaller school or if you are completely self-taught. But interviewers might press a little harder to test your competencies.
Also, an MBA or some other business-related credentials are desirable. If you come across as too nerdy, they probably won’t hire you, no matter how competent you really are. I once got rejected from a large consulting firm myself because, in their words, my profile was “too scientific.”
So, if you apply, keep your tech expertise short and concise on your CV. Highlight any business degree or any other business-related pursuit that you’re doing and expand on that during your interviews. This will land you way more points.
Drawbacks of a Consulting Career
The number one downside of being a consultant: You probably won’t code a lot. You’ll be spending way too much time talking to people, assembling PowerPoint slides, and attending/leading meetings with your firm’s clients.
I often have five or six meetings in a day for a client, many of which require some preparation and some work afterward. I might get a meeting-free half-day once every two weeks. That free time I use — you guessed it — to finally code a little bit.
Consulting is more about high-level decisions, negotiating with partners, and discussing the why and how of implementing a technical solution than implementing it oneself. For me, this involved quite a shift in perspective, but you get used to it as time goes by.
Another downside is that you’ll generally be working long hours, have many deadlines, and must travel to your client every so often. This can vary a lot from one project to another, though.
There are weeks during which you’ll be crunching 12-hour days at your desk. There are others where you might be able to take a two-hour lunch for the sake of networking or go home at 6 p.m.
If you’re a little bit introverted (like me), love your routines (like me), and generally dislike deadlines (like me), you’re definitely going to have an adventure when you start consulting. The good news is that you get used to it and that you can actually enjoy it after some time.
It all depends on your ambitions, your personality, and on the amount of time you need to care for your pets and loved ones, juggle your other responsibilities, take care of your health, and so on. Apply if you want to see what the process is like, but think twice before accepting a job offer as a consultant.
Tech Workers Make Great Consultants
Many tech workers have the skills to become great business consultants. But it’s not the right path for everyone. Sometimes, I long for the good old days when I was in about two meetings per week, had all the time in the world to code and tinker about tough problems, and didn’t have to travel and talk to people if I didn’t want to.
But when I reflect on how much I’ve learned about how business, strategy, and high-level decision-making link with tech, I don’t regret my decision to become a consultant. It’s not an easy path to take, but it’s well-paid and opens doors for you that you didn’t even know existed.
As tech workers, we have the analytical skills, problem-solving abilities, and deep knowledge that consulting firms so badly need. If we demonstrate some business acumen, which for the most part isn’t hard to grasp intellectually, then we can be the raw diamonds that consulting firms search for.
What sets us apart from business graduates is that we have deep technical expertise. As the world becomes more and more digitized and tech-ified, this is more and more necessary. Consulting firms know this.
For some of us, it might be time to step out of our nerdy comfort zones and wield our intellectual assets as the weapons of power that they are.