How do you build yourself as a consultant to become recognized above and beyond the fold? In this article, I'll use myself as an example (now my ego is not this monstrosity that I believe I'm a super star), and show you how you can go from being a great consultant to being a recognized consultant.
Actually, I originally didn't intend to be a developer at all. I was home computer hobbyist, but not really a programmer. I had served in the military, and then went to work on the production line at a local corrugated box plant where my father had worked for 40 years. After a couple years of this, I decided this was terrible, and didn't want to work there the rest of my life, and entered into college while working full time since I had mouths to feed.
During this time, I started a web page on the college's VAX system. This site was aimed at the corrugated packaging industry. I figured being that I worked at a box plant in production; my goal was to obtain my business degree and use the site as a tool for networking. Being that this was the early 90's, the site at the time was one of the few sites devoted to the packaging industry, and soon became an obsession keeping it up to date.
About a year or so after starting the site, I was contacted by a UK publishing company. They informed me that they were trying to start a site for the packaging industry, and every time they would go for sponsors my site would be brought up:
'Why would advertise on your site, when everyone goes to Santry's site?'
So this publishing company flew me to Atlanta for a meeting. Eventually I agreed to sell the site, and sign on to maintain the site for them. This relationship led me to do presentations at various packaging events located around the US. I would get exposure in industry magazines on presentations, and discuss how companies could use the web for marketing of their products, and eventually as a tool to help their business. The weird part was flying off to do a speech in San Antonio or Orlando, and coming back to the shop, where my fellow production workers would see me in the magazine in my suit and tie doing my presentation.
Eventually I did get off of the production line and I started working on a project for the Meetings and Planning Industry in Twinsburg, Ohio as a Webmaster for a large database on hotels. This is what perked my interest in Microsoft development as well as infrastructure technologies. My previous experience was using Linux, Perl, and targeting Netscape (remember when Netscape ruled?), but now my job was to develop using Denali (this was ASP classic in beta), and IIS.
After gaining some experience on Microsoft web technologies, I moved into the consulting field. I had the opportunity to go to work for a consultancy back home in Erie, PA, as a Senior Consultant in their Microsoft Practice. I did both development work and infrastructure, and since they paid for certification, I earned my MCSD, and MCP+SB (old timers, remember that one?). The MCP + Site Building was a certification aimed at Web developers, and covered products like Visual InterDev, FrontPage 98, and Site Server.
I knew FrontPage 98 very well and figured it would be an easy one for certification, so I knocked that out as part of my requirement for my MCP+SB. Also, a big thing for me was participating in online community forums. My favorite site back then was MCP Magazine's online forums. I posted very frequently answering questions people had on FrontPage. One day, I received an e-mail from Syngress publishing asking me if I was interested in writing a book on FrontPage 98 certification. Of course, I said yes. My rule of thumb is to never turn down an opportunity; especially in the beginning of your career. Also, when it comes to the book business, once you're published, it is much easier to get a book published in the future.
Once my book was published it provided me with a little bit of creditability, and being a frequent user of the MCP Magazine site, MCP Mag asked me if I was interested in writing an article on a MCP beta exam that was coming out, of course I said yes, and they would pay me for the article as well as the exam (I think I took 4 exams this way and wrote corresponding articles for them). Of course, writing for popular magazine builds more credibility.
During this time, I left my consultant's position in Erie, PA and moved on to another consultancy in Cleveland, Ohio. This company was a Certified Technical Education Center (CTEC), and I figured I could gain my Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) certification to add to my list.
During my time at this company, there was a need for a trainer who knew Visual InterDev, being certified in Visual InterDev, I offered myself up as a resource. Shortly thereafter I was sent off to a 'Train the Trainer' course and received my MCT after making application. I could now consult in the field and train (which came in as additional income when I went to my corporate job).
While working for this Cleveland company, a co-worker came up to me and said they were approached about doing a book on Internet Information Server 5, and didn't have the time and asked me if I was interested. She would pass the contact information on to me for follow up. Of course, I jumped at this opportunity, as the publisher was McGraw-Hill a very recognized publisher.
After a couple months the book was published, not just in English, but in Chinese as well. The book helped shoot my career up and assist me in gaining my previous job before coming to my current employer. My family wanted to go back to Erie, and I found a contact at a local technology show who said this company was looking for someone who knew IIS and knew FrontPage. Having wrote books on both of the technologies it didn't take long to get past the initial resume review and in the interview. Needless to say I got the job; once they found out I wrote books on both needs they were looking for.
During my first few years at this employer, I co-authored four additional books, two on i-Net+ certification, a chapter on Windows 2003 Active Directory, and developed a book called 'CYA: Securing Exchange 2003 and OWA'. Since my role was split between development and infrastructure, I started working on my MCSE for Windows NT, and then received my MSCE for Window 2000 shortly thereafter.
A project came up for consolidating all of FrontPage 98 sites into a unified portal framework, and my budget was zero dollars. Great I thought; I would have to write something from scratch. This was around 2002, 2003; I figured it would be a great way to update my skills from classic ASP to ASP.NET. Being an online forums kind of guy, I decided to check out some resources on the ASP.NET site. In addition, I started my own website to store my notes and share with the rest of the community. The site; WWWCoder.com soon began to grow and contain many articles I wrote to store some of my code, as well as some concepts that I would figure out while developing this new portal site.
I first started working with IBuySpy (IBS), and soon Shaun Walker developed this IBuySpy Workshop (IBSW) project which was an extension to IBS, and started communicating with others through the ASP.NET forums. I figured this IBuySpy Workshop could be the answer to my problem of having to do a huge project with no budget. Since IBSW was released as an open source application, anyone could contribute to the code. In the early days, it was easy to contribute to the IBSW project and have it become part of the base code. I was able to have a fully functional portal with relatively little effort on my part.
Forum activity flourished for our little project, and soon became the fastest growing forum threads on the ASP.NET site. As such, we all became top posters on the ASP.NET site. During this time, I met with our local developer evangelist out of the Microsoft Pittsburgh office, and when discussing my background he was very impressed with the books, and online activity. He recommended me for the MVP Award for Visual Developer. This was the first time I was awarded the MVP which was back in 2003, and I was awarded it three more times after that.
Getting the MVP was not just a matter of having the award and doing nothing, a little is expected in return. Soon after, I was asked by Microsoft Pittsburgh if I would speak at various events, from DevDays 2004, to speaking at the local .NET SIG, my schedule was filling up.
Also during this time, our little IBuySpy Workshop project started to really gain popularity, and soon a name change was undergone in order to separate the project from IBuySpy (which was considered just a developer's example when released). The new name decided upon was DotNetNuke, and we formed the first core team of developers, and shortly the first Board of Directors. Being involved heavily in the project at the time, I was asked to be on both the core team and Board of Directors. This was fun at the time; we were able to meet with each other for the first time in Philadelphia, PA back in 2005 which put a face to some of the folks I have been working with online.
Eventually I brought up the topic of writing a book on DotNetNuke and took up the torch to lead the project, working with Wrox to write a proposal and then creating the Table of Contents for the book. This book became known as 'Professional DotNetNuke ASP.NET Portals', and soon became the number one book on Amazon.com for ASP.NET.
I began speaking even more, at SIGs in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Toledo. Even the local Erie paper featured me and my work on the front page of the business section. Life was good. Soon we wrote another follow up book to the first DotNetNuke book which did as well as the first.
My advice to anyone starting out in their technology career:
Get certified! You have to start somewhere, and getting certified helps provide some credibility for you on a technology area.
Never turn down an opportunity; you never know where it will lead.
Always follow up and build from your experience. If you write a book, then promote yourself as an expert.
Participate online. Build a website, be active in the forums, and get your name out there. Opportunities will arise just from being out there.
Create a career plan. You need to set goals and objectives of where you want to be five, or ten years down the road and try to stay on the path to those goals.
Stay current! Probably the hardest aspect of being a consultant, but necessary.
Work with your local reps, most companies have development events to promote their products. Go to the presentations, and free training opportunities in your area. This helps build your knowledge and your network.
Support the local user group community. If you don't have a SIG locally, start one. Contact the governing body of the SIG for more information about your area.
Build the network. Contact every user group, or organization to see if you can promote your book, presentation, or whatever it is you want yourself to be recognized with.
The reason I'm writing this isn't to brag about my accomplishments, rather, it's for sharing with young technologists who are starting out their careers and maybe provide them with some tips for achieving their goals. My main motivation was working blue collar in a shop, but my passion was originally technology. Build off your passion, and it will grow you as an individual, either personally, or professionally, and of course never turn down an opportunity. Good luck in your endeavors.