According to Evans Data Corporation, the number of software developers is expected to reach 26.4 million by the end of 2019 and 27.7 million by 2023. Attracted by high salaries, plenty of job opportunities, and the chance to work on world-changing projects, junior software developers are united by their shared passion for technology and their unique problem-solving abilities.
However, software developers are not the homogenous group they are often presented as. In reality, they come from diverse backgrounds and different parts of the world, some thrilled by the intricate nature of complex algorithms and others being more business-oriented and always paying attention to the overall objectives for successful project execution.
Regardless of which camp they are in, there are several reasons why developers should become software engineer consultants. To explain why, we must first explain who a software engineer consultant actually is and how their role differs from the role of a software developer.
Who is a software developer?
According to statistics from Indeed, an American worldwide employment-related search engine for job listings, the average software developer can expect to earn over $100,000 a year, and senior software developers earn $20,000 more.
The career of software developers typically starts in college, where they learn computer programming, program design, computer systems analysis, fundamentals of hardware, networking, computer architecture, mathematics, databases, and other essential skills.
Junior software developers with a fresh programming college degree are able to write simple scripts, and they can also understand the expected application lifecycle and database and application services such as queues and caching. With several years of professional experience under their belts, and the ability to write complex code, many software developers graduate to software developer positions, where they sometimes remain for the rest of their careers.
While software developers can also deal with clients, most organizations employ someone else to take care of the communication with clients and let software developers focus on code writing. Software developers with exceptionally good leadership and people skills can become software development managers and even chief technology officers, overseeing the work of software developers and taking responsibility for their performance.
Who is a software engineer consultant?
Erik Dietrich, founder of DaedTech LLC, programmer, architect, IT management consultant, author, and technologist, acknowledges that the term “software engineer consultant” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
“A lot of people think that it means a software developer that writes code for a company other than their employer. Some think it means you come in, hand wave and spout buzzwords, and leave before anyone can figure out if you’re helpful or not. And still, others think it’s sort of a black belt of soft skills kind of deal,” he writes. “But it’s none of these things. Instead, being a consultant means something much simpler. It means that you provide expert advice” he adds.
Typically, software engineer consultants are senior developers with years of professional experience. They are hired by companies to advise, strategize, design and together with software developers build software that solves business problems. As such, they spend quite a lot of time collaborating with various stakeholders, capturing project requirements, and translating them into concrete technical objectives.
Because there is no clear-cut path for software engineer consultants to follow, real-world experience is the most important qualification they have. Leveraging this experience, software consultants adapt to a client’s business and plan or build software as if they were a direct part of the business.
Software engineer consultant versus software developer
“It’s not about employment status or how you collect money. It’s about how you deal with other people,” explains Dietrich. Fundamentally, software developer consultants don’t receive specific direction from management. Instead, they are tasked with a certain mission, and they use their experience to accomplish it, which typically means reducing costs, increasing revenue, or making processes more efficient by providing technical advice.
At Brainhub, we know that every product has a vital business goal standing behind it. We believe that it is important to challenge every idea in order to find and choose the best solution and path to achieve it. To ensure that result we constantly train all of our developers and help them develop consultancy skills.
Contrary to our belief, many software developers in other teams are told exactly what to do and how to do it. A project manager prioritizes their work, a business analyst tells them what the software writing needs to do and why, an architect tells them how to write the software from an abstraction perspective, a tech lead reviews their work and supplies more granular detail, and senior software developers provide direction as well.
“This is the epitome of commodity labor, which is why, by definition, it costs the least. The hope, for both this ‘junior’ developer and the organization is that some of those bosses melt away with time and seniority. More people defer to this ascendant developer with time, and fewer people have to say ‘what’ and ‘how,’” writes Dietrich.
The allure of being behind the steering wheel and calling the shots is self-explanatory, but not every software developer dreams of being in charge. Some software developers actually enjoy being given clear tasks to complete and then being rewarded for their completion. This feedback loop shares many similarities with video games, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying its straightforward nature.
However, even software developers who enjoy being told exactly what to do and how to do it should consider transitioning to a position that utilizes consultancy skills because there are many ways it can benefit them professionally.
Top 3 reasons to become a software engineer consultant
1. Broader outlook
Software engineer consultants typically take long-term ownership over the life of a product, from the initial requirements analysis to maintenance. Having a clear understanding of everything that goes into developing a software project from start to finish is an invaluable skill for software developers, and work as a software engineer consultant is the best way how to obtain it.
Developers who utilize their experience in consultancy, usually know how to save time, money, and effort in the long-term, which makes them very attractive in the eyes of companies that are looking for fresh talent.
2. Morale boost
When software developers start to transition to consulting after years of being told what to do, they tend to experience a major morale boost. “There was so much to learn and grow, and I loved the fact that you are not treated as a commodity. You get a chance to talk and work with people at CTO & VP level,” says one former software engineer consultant. “It gives engineers the morale boost which I see many engineers lacking.”
Developers that are becoming consultancy-focused will find their engineering experience highly beneficial in helping them complete challenging software projects and avoiding the dreaded software developer burnout, which is so prevalent in the industry.
3. Put your soft skills to good use
Soft skills have become very important for software developers, but saying that software developers have an abundant amount of opportunities to put them to good use would be an overstatement. Software engineer consultants spend quite a bit of time with clients to create software that solves business problems, which tests and further hones their people and management skills.
Some software developers can be average at programming but outstanding as software engineer consultants because they can put their soft skills to good use.
How to become a software engineer consultant
Becoming a software engineer consultant isn’t difficult per se, but it requires some patience and good planning. Here are 5 steps every software developer can take to make the transition:
- Get enough software development experience: Software engineer consultants need enough software development experience to understand the many nuances of software development and be able to guide junior developers. For some software developers, a couple of years of experience will be plenty, while others may want to have at least a decade under their belt, and preferably spend it working for multiple companies.
- Master a new technology: Nothing can stop the relentless pace of technology. New technologies rise to prominence all the time, presenting many fantastic opportunities for aspiring software engineer consultants to evangelize it. Once the technology takes off across the industry, the available software engineer consultant opportunities will be abundant.
- Become a company hero: Every company needs a hero from time to time. When the time for a hero to save the day comes, some companies quickly hire outside help while others don’t have to because someone from within their ranks rises to the occasion and saves the day, single-handedly promoting themselves to the role of a software engineer consultant.
- Establish a strong online presence: Thanks to the internet, software developers can become software engineer consultants by establishing a strong online presence and industry authority. Those who successfully carve a niche for themselves in their field can expect plenty of job opportunities coming from companies in the same niche.
- Learn from other software engineer consultants: The value of a good mentor is immeasurable when it comes to learning the ins and outs of a certain profession. As a software developer, the best thing you can do for yourself to kickstart your career and get much closer to being able to work as a software engineer consultant is work with a mentor and learn as much as possible from them.
To avoid burnout in any field, it’s important to always maintain forward momentum. One way for senior software developers to fall back in love with software development is to transition into the role of a software engineer consultant and put their non-technical skills to good use. Software developers who spend at least some time working as software engineer consultants develop a broader outlook than they would have otherwise, and they get to march to the beat of their own drum, which is often exactly what they need after years and years of being told what to do and how to do it.