Good article, Mr Ketel.
This is not about full-timers vs consultants, rather it is about the more-experienced vs the less-experienced.
The experienced engineer grounded the metal plate without a second thought. He knew from experience that this was the way to go.
The less-experienced engineer was not as aware of practical considerations (possibly a virtual simulation expert?) and completely forgot about capacitive coupling through floating metal and that there should be a mechanical propagation delay. On the bright side, he did learn from this and became a bit more experienced in true hands-on testing. Possibly some others on the team also benefited from this learning experience. (It's always better to gain your "do-not" experience from the mistakes of others...)
Again this has nothing to do with being a consultant, it is all about common sense and accumulated experience, or the lack of. The same accumulated experience that is currently being sent to the unemployment lines.
Very entertaining reading for all of your comments. I've worked with consultants and guess what - they're human people like everyone else. They make mistakes, they're funny, they try to impress, they try to justify their higher cost, they boast, etc., etc. I've often thought that they're just like regular employees (with special skills) but they got the guts to try it on their own! So they should be commended for that in my book. I always look forward when a consultant is hired because I think I can learn something...or perhaps that consultant will be a part of my network for my next job search. And , as someone pointed or earlier I think, sometimes you become a contractor/consultant because thats the only kind of work (because of your age) that you can get....Lastly, in the business, it seems the norm is to tout "I'm a better engineer than you". O.K. if that's what you want, fine, you are a better engineer and yes, you can get recognition and the promotion you want......all I want is for us to work together and design the product we're paid to produce. Makes no difference whether I made the error or the consultant.
Frank Eory - point taken, there is a vast difference between a consultant employed for some specific expertise, and a contractor who exists because the @#$%^& bean counters think that engineers are commodities.... In WK's case in the article it seems to have been a bit of both though??
I have worked both with, and as a consultant; had good and bad experiences in both realms. The consistent difference being: communication of and realistic expectations. In one instance the boss expected "walk on waters" results from a consultant; he delivered a half baked idea that did have a germ of the solution. The problem was he had no idea how to make it work, the skill set needed to "get er done" was lacking. The full timers were able (once the consultant was "excused" - with pay) to work on and develop the solution. Not pretty but it was done. I have worked as a consultant and when asked about capabilities strive to tell it like it is; this sometimes does not get the job, but like the doctor's creed: "does no harm". Clearly, the right skill sets, expertise, and clear communication of expectations are needed for the success of any endeavor.
There are "consultants" (i.e., experts for hire) and there are "contractors", but I guess they are often treated as one and the same these days -- temporary employees that are hired and paid on a 1099 basis to do some work for a company.
There have been news stories over the last year about the IRS cracking down on U.S. companies misclassifying statutory employees as contractors. From the IRS point of view, there are unpaid taxes due if a company hires someone to do the same type of work as it's regular employees, but doesn't consider them full-time employees and doesn't pay the usual FICA taxes, unemployment taxes, etc. on their earnings, simply because it is paying them on a 1099 basis instead of a W-2 basis. Interesting enough, the electronics engineering field was described, in one article, as one of the worst abusers of this alleged 'tax evasion'.
Don't misunderstand me, I have nothing against consultants. I have had great experiences working with several of them over the years, and some of my former colleagues, who are genuine experts at what they do, have chosen to be contractors rather than be 'regular employees' at a company. There are many pros & cons to either choice, but hey, it's a free country.
Let's just say many of us are aware of the types of situations these news articles are talking about -- not an expert brought in on a very short-term basis to solve a specific problem, but rather, an engineer doing the same work each of us is doing, on an ongoing basis for a long period of time (in some cases a couple years), but being paid on a 1099 basis with no benefits and no taxes withheld.
Some would say that such a person is not a 'consultant' but rather is an 'employee'.
One other point, to Z1 and Davidb. The tagline and header of the article are probably put in by Karen, not the author. Any perception of arrogance you get is probably mainly due to this, not to the content of the article, which does not set out to bag the consultant, as WK states later in his comment. Though the fact that the consultant WAS sloppy shines through.
Karen, could you comment here?
There's only one justification for employing consultants, and that is in companies whose need of expertise is either of too limited duration or too limited time per week to justify a full-time employee (FTE). There's possibly some justification for employing one on the above basis if the existing employees are lacking in a particular skill set. That clearly was not the case here.
The employment of consultants where there are already FT employees is, to my mind, a deliberate spit in the face of the FTEs.
A previous manager in my division had a plan to outsource our work (looking after a multi-faceted comms network over a huge area). He produced figures showing he could (he thought) do this for much less than the cost of his existing employees. He asked us "What do I tell the CEO about this?" My reply was to tell him that he already had a bloody good team and that he was unlikely to get the work done to the same standard by anyone else. The market told him this too when expressions of interest came in. But, like WK's manager above, he still didn't believe it. What is it with Bean Counters?
Fortunately he got pushed sideways and I still have a job. But the "Us and Them" attitude of managers like this is so damaging to employee morale that they can become self-fulfilling.... piss your employees off enough and their standard of work will drop such that you CAN outsource them cheaper.
Between Rich above, and myself I'm sure you'll be asleep by now... ;-)
OK, Folks, clearly I need to add a bit of explanation here. For starters, our consultant is VERY SMART, actually, quite brilliant. He just made an error one time. The mistake was in not being a bit skeptical about the results. My experience has been that it pays to verify ones results prior to telling others about them. Also, if a solution seems "almost to good to be true", it may well be that it is not true. In addition to all that, in most scientific publications, the classical verification of a claim of some discovery is having others be able to duplicate the results. If others can do what you claim to have done and get the same results, then generally your claim is presumed to be valid.
Besides that, the point that I was making was that his error led me to find a working solution. So don't be so harsh! We shared the solution with our consultant and continued the project. My main benefit from my finding a solution was some enhancement of my credibility within my peer group. We continued to regard our consultant as brilliant, since he is.
William Ketel, (the author)
In this day and age of downsizing and layoffs I think that perhaps most of the replies bashing consultants ought to thank their lucky stars that they have full time jobs. To some of us, the only paycheck we can get right now is to consult.