Career Story: Self-Employed Information Technology Consultant

Self-Employed Information Technology Consultant

Job Title: Self-Employed Information Technology Consultant

Type of Company: I am a self-employed consultant. I help my clients solve business problems with computer systems (technology).

Education: BA, Liberal Arts, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Previous Experience: After college, I took a job doing computer programming. The job involved doing custom programming for clients. Over time, I began to work more and more with clients, and less and less with machines. My career has continued that trend so that, although it's always technology-related, I work more with people and business challenges than computer issues.

Job Tasks: My consulting work with clients helps them with business and technology issues. Lately, I have developed a sideline and specialty in helping hospitals raise funds. It probably sounds simple, but it involves sophisticated computer systems and many strategic decisions. I work with my clients to ensure that the computer systems are doing as much as possible to increase the efficiency of their offices. And that the proper information is being captured and reported to enable managers to make informed decisions about how to run their business.

Here's an example to make it clearer what I mean. Some people -- wealthy people -- make very large donations to hospitals, literally millions of dollars, in appreciation of the care they've been given. Working with the donors to reel this kind of gift in requires many meetings and a lot of creative work. (It's not so simple to give away a million dollars!) And hospitals have come to depend on such donations to keep their heads above water. (Hospitals don't actually make a big profit.) So it's important to them to anticipate their needs and track donations coming in -- along with who made them, of course -- and to monitor the efforts they're making to win further donations. Tracking all this information requires databases, reports and consistent business procedures. It is my job to help my clients create these things.

A typical day involves meeting with managers and discussing the problems they are encountering, and then designing some sort of technological solution for their problem. Over time, we would meet again to confirm that the solution will address their problem. Once that is confirmed, a building phase begins. As the solution (computer program, report, etc.) is developed we check in to confirm that we are on track. In the end, there is usually some training involved to help people use the new system. Of course, this doesn't really all happen in one day!

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: As an independent consultant, I enjoy the freedom and flexibility of being my own boss. Of course, no one is really ever his "own boss"; everyone works for someone. In my case, my customers are the boss. Still, I find that owning my own business allows me more freedom than working for another company.

I don't know if there's a worst part, but there's a large responsibility about being self-employed and there's not much of a safety net. If my company has a lay-off... I'm the first to go!

Job Tips: If you're interested in technology as a career, I would encourage you to learn a business as well. Just knowing technology is fun and can be helpful to people. But when that knowledge is combined with business knowledge (of healthcare, finance, manufacturing... anything) then you offer much more value.

And anyone in school should make sure that he can write well. Even with texting, Facebook and cell phones, written communication is still very important in business. Being able to write clearly and persuasively will significantly help anyone's career.

Additional Thoughts: Some kids are focused in high school and know what they want to be. Others have no clue. I was the latter. I'm 48 now and still don't know what I want to be when I grow up! But work hard and study hard. Your education will be very important no matter what you choose to do. Your career might pick you -- rather than vice versa -- but you will create many more opportunities for yourself by studying hard now. You're young now, but it won't be long (trust me!) before you are supporting yourself and, perhaps, a family. Make it as easy on yourself as possible. Give yourself the best chance. It sounds silly, but your parents really are right: do your homework and study hard.

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