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How I Lost My Consulting Job

theoutlander profile image Nick Karnik ・4 min read

For the past 9 months, I've worked as an independent consultant on gigs that were mostly a few hours long to maybe a couple of weeks. Two months ago, I came across a client providing a service set to disrupt their industry. They were funded in excess of $100 Million.

Landing a stable gig is every independent consultant's dream!

Before I took the gig, the Head of Engineering emphasized two things:

  • You can work as much as you want. 50 hours, 100 hours, no problem! We have a lot of work.

  • We want you to know that if you would like to go full-time, the option is on the table.

This prospect was better than others I was about to land because it was a well-funded company with lots of work and going full-time was an option in case I wanted to explore that.

I thought to myself, 50 hours sounds great because I would like to clear some debt and fix some things around the house before our fourth baby arrives. In addition, I wouldn't have to keep looking for work at least for a few months. My family depended on the income from it.

After I signed my contract, I decided to reject a couple of standing offers for long-term gigs. My first week into this job, I was barely able to clock in ten hours of work. I thought maybe this was because both of us needed time to ramp up. The next week, it was ten hours again. Instead of letting that bother me, I decided to enjoy the reduced work hours.

Then, the following week, I barely got to 18 hours. I was told to start mocking up the UI and backend because the backend API's were not ready yet. I mentioned that I was a full-stack engineer and I could work the entire stack, but that was ignored for some reason. In addition, working on their other applications wasn't an option because they wanted me to focus on one.

I was working on a production app, mocking up functionality where parts of the data came in from the production backend and parts from the mock server. Updates were split similarly. This was one of the most convoluted React projects that I've worked on. It used a plethora of React/Redux plugins (very old versions of dependencies that couldn't be upgraded easily) which didn't improve productivity or add value.

All along I was thinking, does $100 million afford a company the ability to be careless with their project? Nothing the application did was groundbreaking. It was clear that the money was raised for marketing.

Somewhere along the line, they assigned a project lead who would ensure my plate was always full. Unfortunately, that person was bound by other constraints and was not able to accomplish that goal. We ended up doing a little bit of pair-programming once in a while which got me another ten hours.

Throughout the project, I was asked if I would like to go full-time. So, I finally had that conversation and during that time also mentioned that I was running out of work-items and I hadn't even crossed 20 hours a week.

Fast forward a week, I was sitting idle for a couple of days, so I decided that it was a good time to follow up on our conversation. I was told that there was no more work because the backend API's would not be ready for several weeks and that they wouldn't consider me for full-time work unless I relocated.

This was unexpected considering the initial conversation. Relocation during the middle of a school year is not an option, let alone with a baby on the way!

What I found really disturbing was the lack of empathy. For the past seven weeks, I mentioned I didn't have enough work and that my family depended on the income from that job, but nothing changed.

A contract doesn't guarantee full-time work!

Anyway, I'm glad that I was able to anticipate this scenario and proactively managed to schedule interviews with the Big Four and a handful of smaller companies. Even though I've been in the industry for so long, I still have to study before interviews, so I'm hoping to be interview ready in the next week.

Over the past two years, I traveled with my wife and three kids for a year through Asia and Europe while I worked on a startup and later worked as a CTO for a couple of companies before deciding to do independent consulting and teaching.

Having worked with close to 200 clients has given me such an incredible experience about the ups and downs of independent consulting. Nevertheless, I feel that I'm ready to go back to work at a stable company. This is something I took for granted and quit two dream jobs in the past.

Regardless of the sequence of events, I am glad that I've tried the things I've felt passionate about. It is evident that I couldn't do that without my wife who supported me in all my decisions.

I've tried to strike a balance between responsibility and following my dreams. Detaching yourself from elements you take for granted makes you appreciate them even more. Events like these are a good learning lesson in case you are complacent.


Discussion

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evm2mark profile image
Mark Aurit

Actually, a contract does guarantee you full time work - if you have documented a minimum number of billable work hours each pay period, have signed and dated it, and given them a copy BEFORE starting work. That may or may not be legally binding
depending on the states work laws, but just having it documented is very powerful
if it ever becomes an issue. Although a good case can be made that if it ever gets to that point you've lost and should be looking for the next gig.

Remember, it benefits the money people - who are probably higher up in the food chain than the person who interviewed you - for you to work as little as possible, especially in lean times, when the employees come first. Life is sweet for contractors - when you are first hired and are treated as an employee.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

Thank you for the advice. It is my fault that I didn't ask for it in writing about guaranteeing a minimum number of hours. I've never run into that issue before so it didn't strike me as something I should include in the contract.

In my case, I don't think it was anything to do with money. They are well-funded and looking to hire more full-time engineers. I think they're just caught up with the plethora of work and upcoming releases and may not have time to take a step back and think about people.

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comdexxsolutionsllc profile image
comdexxsolutionsllc

Actually in no way, shape, or form does a contract (unless clearly stated) guarantee you full-time work. This is what was implied by the author.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

The biggest mistake I made was that I trusted them and took their word at face value regarding the amount of work. In addition, I also rejected two lucrative standing offers for slightly longer-term gigs.

Trust is something I need to work on as part of my career growth. I start out with 100% trust and recalibrate. I think I need to reverse that.

I think I was complacent thinking that this was just a slow start. Thanks for the advice!

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aminmansuri profile image
hidden_dude

If you're on your own you're better off setting a minimum set of hours in your contract or working at a fixed monthly rate (with max hours limit).

Strict hourly rate is better for companies that can handle ups and downs by shifting resources. Individuals need a stronger guarantee. When I started out it was always long-term, fixed monthly. Not by the hour.

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makiten profile image
Donald

I had something that I felt was similar. I'd been working at 2 startups, one was a rollercoaster in terms of pay, and the other was in terms of work. But instead of relocation, it was wanting me to come in to the office daily vs. a few times a week. It just so happened that at the same time the responsibilities increased, but the compensation would've been far from fair at that point.

I ended up doing full-time work, but I will want to go back at some point to being independent. Though, I'm tired of tech companies and will probably not want to stay in tech forever.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

Lately, I've started to feel the same way. However, that could just be some form of a burnout given that I've worked with 200+ clients this year.

What are you up to now?

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makiten profile image
Donald

I'm working as a Software Architect for a company. I'd be lying if I said I really wanted to add a daily commute to my lifestyle, but the work is interesting and enjoyable. Helping a company transition from legacy technologies (in an industry very slow to adopt anything new) to newer technologies is an interesting challenge for me that avoids all the AI/ML buzzwords I've had to deal with this year.

My problem honestly was it was a challenge to find clients. I spent a lot of 2017 building a product for my consultancy, and the only place that was really intrigued enough was the place that hired me exactly a year after I showed them. I could go on about that experience, but I was experiencing burnout again after everything that came from that business.

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raymondwmorgan profile image
ray morgan

Nick
I have a similar situation. I was released from a big 4 consulting firm and joined a hardware firm that wanted to start a security practice. They had several projects. I started as a contractor. The argued about every hour. I was guaranteed in writing a minimum of 50 hours per week by email. First week was orientation..no billable hours. Ah..the trick..billable hours..not just hours. The refused to pay for travel, 15 hour flights, because the client would not. They refused to pay for travel to the airport..$8..we are fighting over $8? I left after 6 weeks. Terrible, stressful, brutal and not worth the time or money. In any contract get 2 weeks paid notice. If ft get bridge money. Rem you are not a non.profit. you are only doing this to make $ or you would be doing something else.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

Sorry to hear that, @raymondwmorgan ! It sucks to see companies spend more time and money nickel and diming. Definitely not worth it. Thanks for sharing.

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xortype profile image
xorType

Good insights. Maybe time to dream bigger, founder/co-founder perhaps. Cause working for a boss can suck. Or worse, create a new 100M product and simply pull salary, no rotalties (my fulltime situation).

I went from contracting for 10 years then chose stability (fulltime) during my son's early years. He graduates high school in less than 2 years so and I look forward to quitting the fulltime nonsense and focusing on my entrepreneur path again.

Guess my point is, corporate fulltime simply sucks. Keep consulting if you can.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

I've always moonlighted and continue to do that. I have done ~14 startups and have one acquisition. Its hard to take chances with the need for insurance in the US, but I plan on some form of self-employment in the future. Thanks for your advice.

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sandordargo profile image
Sandor Dargo

Thank you for sharing your post and first of all, good luck!

You have an impressive resume and I'm pretty sure you're way more experienced in negotiating as well than most of us. So, don't get me wrong. You mentioned the lack of empathy and that your family depended on that income. The first thing, I learnt about salary negotiation that don't even mention how much money you need, because nobody cares about it. The same goes here. Should you get more work just because you need more money? Should actually they care why you want to work more? Or have I misunderstood the reason why you brought up empathy in the first place?

Again, thanks for sharing and good luck. Your experience is impressive, I'm sure you'll have a job very soon for each of your fingers.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

Thanks for the kind words, @sandordargo !

I have a feeling you misunderstood what I wrote. My comment about lack of empathy isn't about getting more work per se.

I didn't have any conversation around how much money I needed. Before our engagement, I was told that they have an endless amount of work and I could work way more than the average number of hours per week if I wanted to. However, the actual workload ended up being an average of 10 hours versus what was communicated initially. How can anyone pay their bills if they don't work at least an average workload?

Companies have to care about you regardless of if you are an employee, contractor, intern, or customer. People are what make the company and most of us work to make ends meet. I don't think it is an unreasonable ask to work ~40 hours given that I accepted the job based on our initial discussion and not any assumptions. Now, it is my fault that I didn't ask for it in writing about guaranteeing a minimum number of hours. I've never run into that issue before so it didn't strike me as something I should include in the contract.

It would be one thing if I was brought in as a filler (which I have done with other clients as per the agreement), but that wasn't their intention.

Thanks again!

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jfrankcarr profile image
Frank Carr

Sounds familiar. I was on that roller coaster back in the dotcom boom/bust days of the late 1990's. They were exciting times where I made a whole lot of money. But, they didn't last and neither did investments I made.

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robencom profile image
robencom

I've been through a similar career "roller-coaster" lately. Once it is over, I will definitely write about it.

"I've tried to strike a balance between responsibility and following my dreams." - it is great to be able to do this, isn't it? Even if following your dreams, SOMETIMES, doesn't lead anywhere. It is the experience that we gain from it that is worth everything.

Good luck to you, Nick.

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Scott Simontis

I feel you so much on this one...I wanted to be able to work from home and get out of the insanity of the corporate world, and without much background research or stable financial reserves, boldly but brainlessly set off on my goal. I found some random work here and there but at the end of the day I wasn't near breaking even. I kept holding out for a similar "one perfect account" and right before they signed they suddenly started communicating a lot less and my stomach instantly dropped.

After a few weeks of e-mail tag, they finally admitted that they couldn't commit to it. I turned down some really sweet job offers because I was determined to make it, and now I've ended up in a situation that I can describe as "interesting" but it's good full-time money in exchange for double the corporate BS that had set me off on this quest. If I didn't start work again this week, I'd probably be seeing what bankruptcy court feels like. My guess is it's pretty soul-crushing.

I still love the idea of it, but it's going to be a while before I fully recover from this. I'm just terrified I am going to wander around from shitty corp job to shitty corp job like a real life version of the Realms of the Hungry Ghosts in Buddhist mythology, never finding a long-lasting sense of satisfaction. I think I'm gonna go play with my roommate's cat now.

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rattanakchea profile image
Rattanak Chea

Thanks for sharing your story. I am in a similar boat. Good luck.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

Thanks, @rattanakchea ! Good luck to as well.

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Sung M. Kim

Thank you, Nick.

I found this story valuable as someone who hasn't experienced consulting.

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spirodonfl profile image
Spiro Floropoulos

Ugh this was hard to read. I'm sorry. I hope all is good and you're on your feet now.

I find that companies that do this over the long run tend to pay the price. Time will tell.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

Thanks, @spirodonfl ! Getting interviews isn't hard, but finding the right company is. I make it a point that I work on stuff that will elevate my career and add to my resume, but in cases like these, I need to stop being picky.

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spirodonfl profile image
Spiro Floropoulos

Well if you've done the CTO thing before, it's probably not hard for you to get interviews, no. How'd you get into that? I'm looking to dip into the CTO pool but I fear I may not have the chops for it.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

I don't think there's a specific formula for this. It's hard to get into mid-to-large sized companies as their CTO/VP. I'm still working on that goal. On the other hand, it's much easier to join smaller companies (and sometimes mid-sized) in that capacity.

At the same time, you need to bring something valuable to the table. All your experiences, projects, and accomplishments add up. You need to stay up-to-date and be on the cutting edge.

I've moonlighted for the past 20 years on all sorts of projects and founded ~14 startups with one acquisition. I was the CTO for all of them (in reality, titles don't matter at smaller startups, but the experience and lessons do).

I've worked in several engineering roles at organizations of various types which has given me a diverse perspective. In addition, I've been fortunate to work for a very well-known high-profile influential alongside several highly accomplished individuals. Combined with my skills, this is probably one of the reasons I can get an interview anywhere.

Other than that, I've worked as the CTO of a couple of smaller companies. To get those roles, all of the above helped.

I would suggest that you work on building deep technical skills, work on software architecture, and soft skills. Focus on things that make you more marketable and competitive in this landscape. IMO, everything that you do should add to your resume in some form. Things add up over time, so don't shy away from engaging in random projects (work on a side project, volunteer on a presidential campaign, work with a non-profit, host tech meetups, teach people, etc.). At least stuff like this has helped me.

You could also choose to be a subject-matter expert instead of the above.

At the end of the day, this field is competitive so you need to ensure you do what you can to stand out from the rest (at least for the higher level positions). But, remember that these things take time.

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papaponmx profile image
Jaime Rios

Thanks for sharing, Nick.

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sfarias051 profile image
Sebastián Farías

Wow, I cannot imagine the stress on that situation.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

I've gone through quite a rollercoaster over the years, but my ability to stay calm has helped me. I've found that every time you get a kick in the back, you end up in a better place. The growing needs and responsibilities do make it stressful.

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rhymes profile image
rhymes

Having worked with close to 200 clients has given me such an incredible experience about the ups and downs of independent consulting.

As a freelancer I would love to read a long take on this :-)

Good luck for the future!

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

Thank you, @rhymes ! I'll try to summarize it into a post one of these days. Likewise, I'd love to hear your take on it as well.

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Adrian B.G.

Thanks, very informative story, especially for those who consider switching to a consultant from full time.

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pavlosisaris profile image
Paul Isaris

Thanks for sharing this sincere story. Looks like that they may have raised several millions but did not invest a dime in a proper HR department...

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

Thanks, @pavlosisaris ! Not sure how much an HR department would help as they really exist to protect the company.

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theoutlander profile image
Nick Karnik Author

Thanks, @mudasobwa ! The wheels are turning...