Rules of Engagement: Tools and Equipment

This is the final post in my series of posts on the rules of engagement in the consulting business. In this post I focus on the tools that you need as a consultant to get the job done. Its actually an interesting time for me to look at this because the tools that I use are changing.

If I think about what I work with on a daily basis:

  • The Laptop
  • The Mobile Phone
  • The Wireless Broadband Card
  • The Headphones

Everything else is really an optional extra, but lets zoom in on the list above and discover why they are so important.

The Laptop

Having a laptop in the consulting business is absolutely critical. When I took up my first consulting role I was issued with a Dell and have pretty much been using them ever since. Most of the laptops I have worked with tend to be a bit on the expensive side because what I really need is a desktop computer that I can carry around with me, use on the bus, in the taxi and in the airport lounge.

Your laptop is what keeps you sane. With a laptop you are connected to your e-mail archives and you have a stable development/test environment on which to try things out – it can take some people months to organise development kit and you don’t want to waste a clients money by not getting started prototyping straight away.

The Mobile Phone

If you are an independent consultant your mobile phone is a valuable sales tool, it keeps you in touch with your clients and helps you line up new engagements, basically, if you are an independent you can’t be without your phone for long.

For consultants that work with a consulting firm your mobile phone is your lifeline. If we look at the modes of communication that we used to reach people they can usually be put into one of two buckets, asynchronous and synchronous.

E-mail is a synchronous tool, and in general you have no QoS (Quality of Service) guarantee, although you can use history as a guide. The mobile phone is a synchronous device so when you dial it and someone answers you have that resource locked into a conversation.

When I get stuck on something I like to enlist other resources to help me, it allows me to solve the problem faster and provide the client with more value.

P.S. When you get voicemail – thats a Denial of Service

The Wireless Broadband Card

Given that a laptop and a mobile phone are essentially standard issue for most consultants these days I wanted to add to the list one more really important item. The wireless broadband card. I predict that ever since I got issued my iBurst card that my productivity has shot through the roof.

The ability for me to reach out and connect via e-mail to all the geeks in the company via e-mail during the middle of the day means that when I fire a question out I am going to get a diverse set of answers.

It also enables me to get to parts of the Internet that corporate firewalls often block out (not because of the material, just because the firewall is managed by network nazis).

I’ve also noticed that my iBurst card is faster than most internal networks because they tend try and push all Internet bound traffic to the core of the network and then out onto a backbone rather than having links out from the leaf nodes of the corporate network – if you ask me this is poor network design.

The Headphones

I like to make selective use of my headphones and try to limit their use for when I don’t want to be disturbed or when I am trying to get into the zone (usually occur at the same time). Headphones allow you to block out general cube farm noise and focus on your work and if you pick the right choose you will be dancing in your chair while you bash out that piece of complex code.

From personal experience I don’t recommend listening to podcasts while coding (I’ve tried several times), I just find that too many brain cycles get stolen trying to process that information where as music tends to be processed subliminally.

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One thought on “Rules of Engagement: Tools and Equipment

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