Opportunities in Unix Consulting

Software Forum hosts far-ranging discussion

At the Aug. 13 session of the Software Forum/UniForum Unix Special Interest Group (SIG), a panel of consulting and contracting professionals talked about their experiences--how they started in consulting and contracting, what they do and how they do it. The well-attended evening session, held at Amdahl Corp.'s headquarters building in Sunnyvale, CA, offered attendees an open, interactive forum where they were free to ask any business-related question they wanted of the speakers. The panelists were George Bosworth, independent Unix contractor and the moderator of the Unix SIG; Tony Bush, manager of the Unix contract group for OnLine Staffing, a San Francisco Bay Area staffing agency; and Ed Blackmond, founder of Detente Technologies, a computer engineering services company.

"More and more companies are looking for specialists in a number of areas in the Unix industry."

In his presentation, Bosworth outlined the pros and cons of being out on your own as a Unix contractor. He advised the potential consultant/contractor to always stay on top of the job market, because more and more companies are looking for specialists in a number of areas in the Unix industry. He presented several resources easily available to the consultant/contractor that facilitate the task of finding employment. These are Usenet user groups such as ba.jobs.contract; newspapers; agencies; computerized databases; computerized agencies such as IntelliMatch and ConsultLink; and even friends and acquaintances in high-tech industries.

Tony Bush began his talk with a general explanation about the way staffing firms are organized and how they work. He explained that firms can be categorized according to their geographical coverage. There are national firms with 30 to 100 offices across the country, most of which have branch offices in Silicon Valley; regional firms with five to 15 offices covering a specific geographical area such as the western U.S., some of which specialize in particular technology niches like Unix/NT system support; and local firms--Bush's company is one of these--which can have as many as five offices in a major metropolitan area. Bush got several questions from the attendees, ranging from the ubiquity of beepers and telecommuting for contractors all the way to which hardware platforms are most requested (Sun and Hewlett-Packard) and what the real opportunities are in the Internet (the closer to the server you are, the more money you can make).

"Many in attendance confessed to fears about leaving regular, salaried positions to work for themselves."

A third perspective was offered by Ed Blackmond. Detente Technologies delivers computer engineering services directly, specializing in system software, operating system ports and network applications. Blackmond had been a consultant who finally got tired of going from organization to organization pursuing what he called "really neat projects," so he started a firm that would allow him greater continuity while still working on hand-picked projects. The firm now consists of 25 engineers and one accountant, with several major clients in the computer industry (Sun Microsystems is its second-largest). He advised anyone who is serious about becoming a full-time consultant/contractor to "take very good care" of his or her existing clients, as they are almost always the most reliable source of new contracts. The audience asked several questions about Detente's rate structure ($75 to $135 per hour) and how that translated to the pay range for the firm's employee engineers.

The types of questions asked by the people in attendance revealed a desire to know specifics about breaking into contracting. Many in attendance confessed to fears about leaving regular, salaried positions to work for themselves. The panelists agreed that, while it is not for everyone, consulting can be lucrative and just plain fun.

Software Forum is a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit organization dedicated to software professionals, with almost 1,000 members. Started in 1983, it informs and educates its members on all facets of the software industry. Software Forum sponsors 11 other SIGs, which meet once a month: Business Operations; Client/Server; International; Internet; Macintosh; Marketing; Mobile/Wireless; Multimedia; Networking; Visual Basic; and Windows. Call (415) 854-7219 for more information on the organization.

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