DevOps consultant VS. DevOps Employee

May 8, 2018
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Weekly Shorts are topics we discuss in our weekly remote meeting related to recent work we have done with our customers
DevOps consultant VS. DevOps Employee

“Help, I need help here and now!!

We have a great product and customers are pouring in; BUT, we can’t handle the scale, outages happen all the time and by the time we manage to release new features, the customer has already lost interest. Help!”

Alex (an imaginary CTO, VP R&D, etc.) Googles the symptoms, reads blogs on the subject and… the answer is under his nose… He needs DevOps!
So Alex starts looking for a DevOps Engineer…
He knows exactly who he is looking for and exactly what that person should do. “Consultants, don’t contact me, only an internal employee will do the trick“ he thinks.

When do you reach out for help with your infrastructure needs?

Is it at the moment you are in crisis mode, when an employee or a freelancer left you or when you have the understanding that being in crisis mode will cost you much more and you know you can’t handle it today?

Some believe it is naive to assume that when there are many issues with the production infrastructure of a company, one or two external consultants will come and solve the majority of the problems. Well to your disbelief, this, in fact, happens in most cases (in my experience).

In this article, I would like to take a closer look at some common misconceptions that prevent hiring managers from even considering a DevOps consultant.

General Misconceptions:

The hired DevOps consultant tends to stay as long as he can in the company, which might drain its resources;The DevOps consultant will hardly achieve the same results as an internal employee, but be much more expensive;The DevOps consultant is not to be trusted with the companies internal information and production environment as opposed to an employee.

Misconception 1: Consultants get stuck and become expensive employees

A consultant’s work is quite often confused with the work of a contractor. A consultant is a person who provides expert advice professionally whereas a contractor is more like an employee but with a defined and limited scope of work — time or task wise.

The consultant possesses the required professional expertise and needs little supervision. Acting as the company’s advisor, he can help the in-house team to overcome the crisis or realize some issues in their product-to-customer chain.

When a consulting team starts an engagement with a new client, they spend some time learning the client’s processes. The consultants should know the industry. But every company in every industry has its own unique way of doing things. They learn its processes by spending time interviewing and shadowing the client’s employees.

Once a consulting team becomes familiar with a client’s way of doing things, they will present their findings as a report or in a meeting to share and verify their understanding.

The consultant’s next step is to begin adding value. They pinpoint areas where the problems exist and provide options for improvement. All this takes time, but in no way is it targeted to staying longer than needed.

I’ll tell you a secret: not everyone can be a good consultant. It requires a specific set of skills and personality traits, which do not include the love for a permanent position. Consultants are not involved in power games and internal politics. Their main desire is to come, fix whatever they can and move on to the next job

Watching my consultant colleagues, I see them working together as a team and getting the job done fast with no compromise on quality and security.

It takes them about 2 months to listen to their client needs, check their systems, solve the infrastructure problems and implement the right tools and most importantly — teach the in-house engineers why and how it was done so they can continue on their own.

Misconception 2: Do the same, more expensive?

The second misconception has two questions in it:

(1) Do consultants really do the same work and bring the same result as regular employees?

(2) Are consultants more expensive than internal employees?

Let’s look at the different work scopes: consultants come to check, solve and teach while employees are there to work, implement companies strategy and do the job properly.

Coming from an outside perspective allows a professional consultant to have a more objective, bird’s eye view of the company and the industry as a whole. Instead of becoming too engrossed within a specific company, an external consultant should be on top of the industry as a whole.

An experienced consultant will possess multiple experiences gained from working with other companies in the same industry and that faced similar challenges. Therefore, he can apply experience from the past to the current project and engagement.

Another advantage of not being as integrated into the work project environment is the ability to be regarded as an expert and not a peer. Due to the lack of concrete understanding of the role, consultants can be viewed just as another pair of hands. Instead, external consultants are hired for the sole purpose of their expertise and ability to create change for a specific business problem. This brings more clarity and focus to the role, and helps concentrate efforts on the project at hand, and often, helps ensure client buy-in.

Moneywise, the services of the consultants should actually cost nothing! By assessing the cost of services the employer must understand how much money the consultant’s work will contribute to the company.

Hiring an employee is not just the monthly cost of his salary. It also includes many associated costs, like hiring fees and cost of waiting for very necessary help and change. Also, the market’s average time for finding a DevOps expert is 6–8 months. During this time, the backlog increases and other unresolved challenges delay companies lead times and increase risks of their systems. All this has to be taken into good consideration.

There have been many times where our team helped a company recruit the right consultant just by showing them what we created and what they can do if they’ll choose to replace us! For example, one of the job demands is to be available 24/7. After interviewing several prospects, we found that they indeed have issues that need to be fixed in the middle of the night and almost on a weekly basis. After establishing some recovery and scale practices, our consultants rarely are disturbed during the late night hours.

Misconception 3: Consultant not to be trusted

To be fair, we all, at some point, f*ck up…. You can be an employee of the month or an experienced consultant, straight out of college or a CTO with years of experience; we all make mistakes, we are human. An employer can do 6 vetting job interviews or find a consultant with the impeccable reviews and recommendations, and still be the one who’s AWS account will be deleted by mistake. I have heard stories of that happening in both cases.

Some decide to hire a consultant to ensure for himself a scapegoat, in case something goes wrong; it’s an outsider who is easier to blame. But let’s not go there.

My personal intake on the subject is hired wise and fire fast. If you have an experienced consultant or an employee, the time to recover from a mistake will be minimal. Considering the system was built correctly and there is monitoring and alerting in place, you’ll be able to react fast and efficiently.

To summarise, I want to tell a story that one of my colleagues shared with me. The hero in this story is his dear friend — Chinese medicine guru working in Moscow.

“Every day I have lots of patients coming to me with their problems, they tell me where it hurts, why it hurts and what they think could help them; I patiently listen to them, take their pulse look at their tongue and treat them as well as I can. I really want to get to the bottom of their problems, make them feel better and eliminate the pain…”

The funny thing here is — the Chinese Guru doesn’t speak Russian. He listens to the patients, without an understanding of what they are saying, to make them feel emotionally better and be polite, but the only thing he needs to do is diagnose them and help is to feel their pulse and look at the tongue.

Keep an open mind. Sometimes it’s a good idea to hire a DevOps consultant; sometimes you need a DevOps engineer and sometimes you need both. When asking for advice, choose wisely. A professional consultant will never agree to the job he can’t perform or thinks unnecessary to do. When you contact a consultant, let them “check your pulse” and treat you to the best of their knowledge. As for misconceptions, they generally result from non-professionals in the field that taint those who do no harm.

Successful businessing to us all!

DevOps consultant VS. DevOps Employee
Daniela Kortin Shterenzon
Operation & Community Manager
Daniela runs the finance and operations at ProdOps; from making sure the company has smooth operations and logistics activities as less as possible to running marketing campaigns and organizing meetups and public events. You can trust her common sense in any decision she needs to make. Her strength in finding ways to minimize waste. She must have been an octopus in a previous life due to the many things she has to handle at once!