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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Consulting is better than Epic

I got some comments from a reader that are worth sharing in their own post. I had intended to broach this subject at some point, I just hadn't gotten to it yet.


I think what this blog is missing is some advice about how to select a consulting company, as well as reasons why consulting is so much better than working for Epic itself. Allow me to share some of my thoughts. Feel free to use this in a post and edit it as you see fit. [Will do. Thanks.-ed.]

On why consulting beats working at Epic:
Paid hourly vs. salary
Epic billed me out at a very high hourly rate to the customer, but only a small percentage of the money I brought in was paid to me in salary. With consulting, although I am billing at a slightly lower rate, I keep much more of it, resulting in my making more money.

No more unpaid overtime
At Epic it was expected that you worked over 40 hours a week, with 50-60 during on site weeks commonplace, and even higher for a go-live. I felt guilty when I “only” worked 40 hours a week at Epic, since the culture was to overachieve and work harder than the person next to you. I also felt pressure to check e-mail on weekends and keep myself available at all times in case someone needed to ask a question. This overtime was unpaid and rarely rewarded, since there were always people willing to put in more hours than me, and I would be compared unfavorably to them. With consulting, I get paid for every single hour I work. With my current contract, I'm not even allowed to work more than 40 hours per week without special permission. This reduction in working hours will lead to a better work/life balance.

No internal work
At Epic I had my customer obligations, but I was also expected to devote a lot of time to internal projects like the model system, team meetings, and work groups devoted to improving internal processes. I rarely enjoyed this. I always felt it took away from time I could spend doing customer work. Also, your reputation at Epic depended largely on how much internal work you did, since it was more visible to your application team. With consulting, I will focus 100% on the customer with no internal distractions.

Pre-set contract lengths
At Epic I was staffed on the same customer for over two years. Things seemed to drag on and on, with no clear resolution. Even after a site went live there was still a list of issues to work on, on top of planning for the next site to go live. There was no such thing as a “closed loop,” since work done a year ago could rear its head at any time, forcing me to re-explain everything to people who may not have been on the project at that time. Even if decisions were documented perfectly this could lead to re-hashing old debates and wasting time. With consulting, I may only be at a hospital for a short period of time. I will be brought in to work on a specific set of issues and projects, rather than the daunting, all-encompassing Epic job description of “owning the success of the entire implementation.” I will be given clear tasks and will be able to produce tangible results. When I'm finished, I will move on to the next customer. Or my contract can be renewed, but only if mutually agreed upon. This renewal process every 6 months or so gives extra leverage when negotiation vacation time.

Ability to choose customer location
Because of the high demand for Epic certified project managers, I'll be able to focus on (or avoid) contracts in certain customer regions. At Epic, you went where they told you to go, for as long as you were needed. If the customer was two flights away plus a two hour drive in a rental car to the middle of nowhere, that's just too bad.

Freedom to live anywhere in the country
Epic required you to live in Madison. With consulting, I can choose to base myself out of any city in America and fly to the customer site. This not only gives me more flexibility, it allows me to have a more balanced personal life since I won't be in a city populated seemingly entirely by other Epic employees.

Time off between contracts
At Epic, I got two weeks paid vacation in each of my first two years. I would have gotten three in my third year had I not quit. Although this is standard practice in the US, I believe it is unhealthy and unsustainable. Countries in Europe have a much more balanced view of holidays. At Epic you theoretically had the option of unpaid time off, but I don't know anyone who wasn't pregnant that actually tried to get it. To truly be able to take a significant amount of time off, you need to quit. With consulting, I can take as much time off as I want between contracts. Also, as opposed to quitting a company and finding a new one, there is no drama or stress in winding down your current contract and taking your time before accepting another one.

Never being staffed on multiple customers
At Epic, some IS people were staffed on up to 4 customers at once. I don't know how they possibly managed it. With consulting, I am contracted directly to the hospital so I'll never have to balance customer loads.

Bottom Line
At Epic, as with most salaried positions, you are pretty much owned by the company. You go where they need you when they tell you, and you work as many hours as it takes to get the job done. They decide how much to pay you and what your bonuses are. You need permission to take vacations. With consulting, you get to call the shots. Before you even interview the recruiters ask what hourly rate you require, then they work on your behalf to get it. You decide where to live, and where to work. If the client needs you to work overtime, they need to pay you for every additional hour. There's no more trying to make yourself look better and politically maneuver yourself to a better position in the company. I never had a taste for that sort of thing and wasn't very good at it anyway. Fortunately, as a consultant there's no time for that. Since you're paid hourly, all that matters is the task in front of you and the results you can create for the customer. It's less hassle, and more freedom.

On finding a good consulting company:
I would put your resume on Monster and let the head hunters contact you. Make sure you include the important keywords like "Epic certified builder, consultant, trainer, etc…” Also list the names of the applications you’re certified in.
There are dozens of these guys whose whole living is to scour the internet looking for suitable candidates, so you'll probably start receiving a ton of e-mails and phone calls as soon as you do this. Some of these guys are shady though, so here is a little bit of advice for dealing with them:

-Remember that you are in control of these conversations. You're not applying to work with a consulting company; they're applying to represent you. They are pretty much just middle men who make their living off of your hard work, so no need to suck up to them.

-Make sure you have a good idea of what hourly rate you're looking for ($60-$100/hr depending on where you work) and what area of the country you want to work in.

-Decide whether you're looking for a full time salaried or hourly contract position. I prefer hourly contract since you make more money. Also, you have pre-set contract lengths so if you want to take a couple months off between contracts you can do so without the drama of having to quit your job. Just let the contract expire.

-Only deal with preferred consulting companies that deal with clients directly. There are some guys who act as middlemen and refer you to a consulting company, who then submit you to a client.

-There are several different ways to work for a consulting company. Some want you to become a salaried employee of theirs. This comes with full benefits and “bench pay”, which means you get paid between client obligations. I prefer working on a contract to contract basis and remaining more independent. It's really your personal preference. Benefits are usually always offered if you're full time, but many companies now offer benefits to hourly employees as well.

-Don't ever provide references to a headhunter or consulting company unless it is required by the client as part of a submittal. They just use these as more leads to recruit people you know.

-Never let a company submit your name to a client without your expressed written permission. Once you are submitted to a client, they will usually not deal with you if your name is submitted by another consulting company. Also make sure you get final approval over any alterations to your resume before it's submitted. If any company does either of those things, stop dealing with them immediately.

-Before signing anything ask about their non-compete agreement. Most (reputable) companies will say that you can't work for the same client through any other consulting companies. However a couple of shady ones say you can't work for any of their clients through any other company. Don't sign with them.

Anyway, those are just a few tips. I currently work for one of the larger firms, but for a previous contract I worked for a smaller local company and had a very positive experience, so don't count out the smaller firms (just ask around a bit first).


Thanks, AnonymIS. I can add a couple of notes on this last section. As soon as you put your resume on the job sites (Monster, Dice, etc), your phone will start ringing, almost certainly within the hour. Your email will explode. There's no avoiding that. A good sign of a trustworthy consulting firm is that they'll call you, talk to you like a real human being, and then follow that up with a personal email. A lot of firms appear to outsource their calling to India and send form emails that aren't always formatted correctly--you can tell where the placeholders for your name are, and where they didn't get filled in appropriately.  Avoid these companies. You can afford to be picky.

The legitimate companies know about the non-compete. They'll call you early on to get their name in your head, and then they'll call you every couple of months to check up on you. If you're not getting this kind of personal attention, keep looking for a better firm to represent you.

I've worked with a couple of companies since leaving Epic--one for my non-compete year, and one since. Leave a comment with your email address if you'd like recommendations for some of the better consulting firms, for both the non compete year and after.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Regarding the Quality Assurance Role

For some reason, I'm unable to reply to comments that readers have left. I've gotten a couple comments lately about the role of QAer. I've published those comments on the correct pages (links open in new window). Consider this the response to both comments.

QAers do get certified. The only roles at Epic that don't begin with certification starting at week 2 are Culinary and Facilities/Maintenance.

There's nothing stopping an ex-QAer from consulting after leaving Epic. As long as you can sell your experience and nail the interviews, you'll be fine and well on your way to making 2-3 times what you will make at Epic.

To that end, highlight your build experience. As a QAer, you'll be building a lot of records as you test new functionality. Highlight your troubleshooting capabilities--you'll be expected to do some light troubleshooting as you test, but the harder issues you'll just send back to the developer to fix. Be honest about what you can troubleshoot. Interviewers are generally more interested in hearing that you know problem solving techniques than that you know the exact steps to go through to fix something.

Go on as many go-lives as you can talk your TL in to. Face time with end users has provided some of my best answers to interview questions.

Unfortunately, my experience is more closely tied to Technical Services and Implementation than to Quality Assurance. I can't provide more direct feedback, but as a general rule, sell your soft skills (the other stuff that isn't necessarily Epic-application specific) and you'll be fine.