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Dominic Connor

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Dominic Connor used to boss IT pros and quants around in banks, and now recruits people for less crappy jobs in the City.
By | Dominic Connor 28th May 2012 08:32

Why don't the best techies work in the channel?

'Cos the channel doesn't want them

I'm OK at Firewall One, but any number of people reading this are better, completing the tasks 10 times more quickly and screwing up 10 times less often.

But I'm a better employee than you are.

Firstly, a consultancy or reseller is going to be selling me by time, methodically setting up firewall rules taking a day is more profitable than someone who knows the trick to doing it in an hour.

It's the client's fault, of course, because they negotiate day rates, not skill levels, erasing the difference between mediocre people like me and stars like you. Of course that's not the same as saying there aren't good techies in the channel, because I know some. Which is not to say they want to be there. Each of us takes the jobs we can get.

A good way of understanding the people who are selling you a "solution" is to look at their job ads, which are commendably honest. Yes really. I'm a headhunter: would I lie to you?

The honesty is in the pay structure, which is basically of the form: Business Development : OTE £150K + car + wealth creation package; Pre Sales Support: up to £75K (including bonus); Post Sales Support : up to 40K + bens.

"Bens" in this context is free coffee, and the phrase "including bonus" begs the question of what the base pay really is, and quite what you have to achieve to get it. Even if you didn't know, it tells you what the firm believes is important: sales, followed by sales support – with actually delivering the system and keeping it running some way behind.

Now, this isn't always the case, since the smarter suppliers separate the ads because they realise the customers read them and draw the unhelpful conclusion that the relatively sharp IT pro who has certifications and clearly knows his stuff won't be answering the call when the network goes titsup. Please don't make me explain that "up to" means "less than".

Resellers and consultancies are run by and for the benefit of the sales team because in the words of an ex-boss of mine "they are the ones that bring in the money" and you're just a cost, not part of the business.

Then there are some nearly legal practices in the industry where there are "gentleman's agreements" not to poach, one structure I've seen is that you can't leave a reseller to join the firm who actually makes the stuff. Keeps relations sweet in the channel, keeps pay down as well. This would make the career path bad enough, but of course it's a sales-driven organisation so what possible hope can there be for promotion? The only way out is if you manage people. Clients will pay more for "project managers" or even directors, because they are management and they think management should be better paid.

Sales people like to add to their stock of jokes and if you want to show that you're not a humourless geek, tell them that clients should pay rates based upon technical ability.

Doing the right thing

In 25 years of working with computers and the people who look after them, nearly everyone I've worked with wanted to do a good job. Occasionally they've become confused about what "good" meant, but I've seen serious clinical-level stress in people who were prevented from doing their job properly. Ask someone "who they are" and their answer will include sysadmin or programmer, because most of us perceive our job as being part of our identity.

One consultancy firm was renting me to a bank and discovered that another bank would pay 25 per cent more, so I was lifted out against my will and dropped into the new bank with no proper handover, leaving a system behind that was deeply fragile and had promised features missing. This was a "commercial" decision and I felt bad about it. I hadn't done the best job I could, or even a competent one. I felt embarrassed when I bumped into the users, especially when they thanked me for the work, not knowing that it wasn't going to end well.

Money is the best revenge

That cliche applies to outsourcing. If you're outsourced you look good by pushing costs up, not down, and you're in a good position as you know the IT at your ex-employer and of course they don't. If they want to search for keywords in documents, you don't download Cygwin grep: your team architects a text management solution. You don't upgrade the memory on a router, you say they need another one, since your new employer gets an "uplift" on all hardware bought by the bastards who sold you like cattle and the upgrade project gets billable days up.

Money may be the best form of revenge, but it gets old, and you're not making that much. Few good geeks actually enjoy ripping people off. When you work for the same firm as your users you can get some satisfaction by making things better even if you're the only one who sees the difference. In consultancy and resale, that sort of thing can get you a stiff telling off from your boss (the sales guy, not your project manager).

I'm not an Oracle DBA

Oh, sorry, yes I am. You cost your employer every day and they can't control what work comes in, so you have to do what can be charged out.

I'm far better at MS SQL, but Oracle doesn't look bad on the CV. So I wouldn't mind, but six months of data migration where you learn nothing about anything while your core skills decay isn't so good and there's no guarantee that you will ever get back to where you want to be.

Actually that's not true, you will be promised that "just a few weeks in Arseshire at the Inland Revenue, then you can go back to TSQL development on the high profile project we're doing with Microsoft". As a Reg reader you will be amazed how many people are naive enough to accept that non-promise. Anyone think that random short assignments in things you aren't very good at make you highly employable ?

Of course there are some good people in consultancies and resellers; I know a good number of them. But that's not to say they are happy there. My advice is that if you're one of the unhappier ones, then it's time to be a bit friendlier to your larger clients to see if they want a bit of reverse outsourcing. After all, the markup on your time makes cutting out the middle man very attractive. ®

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