IT spending is down this year--it's true. But after increasing year after year for the past decade, there's still a huge market for tech consultants. IDC estimated that worldwide corporate spending on online initiatives would reach $700 billion in 2001, with U.S. companies spending $260 billion on Web infrastructure in 2000.
Who's the market for tech consulting? "Any firm using IT systems. In other words, almost any firm," says Don McLaurin, CEO of the National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses, an organization that represents IT services firms.
As far as choosing a specialty, let your imagination and your skills determine that. Computer consultants can focus on software development, network engineers, security, programming, Web designers...the list goes on and on. "People specialize [within these areas] as well," explains Gloria Metrick, owner of GeoMetrick Enterprises, a Cincinnati-based computer consulting firm that specializes in managing laboratory data. "For example, there are many programming languages a consultant might specialize in. Another twist is, some consultants specialize in a functional area or a subset of a functional area. For example, I work with a specific type of laboratory system known as LIMS (Laboratory Information Management Systems), and I perform all tasks within the type of system I work with."
To get started, you need a good amount of experience in the area you're specializing in. Before striking out on her own, Metrick had worked for a LIMS end-user and a LIMS vendor as well as subcontracted at a LIMS consulting firm. "Consultants cannot be 'run-of-the-mill' talent," says McLaurin. "They usually need at least three years of practical experience. [And,] unless they are in some really esoteric technology, they need good soft skills, i.e., communications and relational skills. More than 80 percent of consultants are asked off of assignment because of nontechnical reasons."