A cat by any other name

Tipping the scales



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Meow to me

I'm regularly working 10-15 hours per day on this project. We've entered crunch time - development is at frantic pace, and we're all overworked and over tired. I come home too exhausted to want to do much more than poke at my keyboard. I have things to do around the house that I just never seem to have the energy to do, and I keep telling myself that it'll only be for a bit longer, when in reality I know that it'll be longer than just a bit. Phase 1 development is final in mid-October, so if all goes well and the gods are smiling, perhaps then I'll go back to a more 'normal' schedule (normal being relative when one is a consultant).

We were discussing resources with the head of the project, and when it came to the issue of myself and my fellow consultant-from-Davis, he noted that he fully intended to keep us around as long as he could. So contrary to my earlier guesses, I won't be rolling off this project any time soon. I'm having mixed feelings about this. I have told my new manager, and reminded her during her recent trip to see us, that this will be my last project as a consultant. I wheedled the office manager back in my 'real' office to not give my desk away because even though consultants do not officially get their own desk space in this latest incarnation of my company, I won't be doing it forever, and I'd like a place to go back to. But that was when I thought that perhaps by the end of the year I'd be able to go to a 'normal' desk job. Now it's looking like I might be still on this project through summer or fall of next year and I'm torn, because there *are* plusses to staying. It's within driving distance of my house (the existing one, and the one we're building). The project - while frustrating and hectic and time-consuming - is a wonderful project and I couldn't ask for a better group of people to work with. And as long as I remain a consultant, I get the quarterly bonus, which can only help when I'm looking at suddenly becoming a house owner in less than a year.

And yet I also realize that sooner or later I have to make the decision to leave, and be strong enough to walk away from not only this project, but from all that I have known and done over the past three and a half years. Because not only am I wanting to leave consulting, I have also started down the path of thinking that perhaps I want to leave the company as well. When I worked for the smaller fish (prior to it being bought by the current larger fish), they understood that consultants need to be allowed a certain freedom to do their work. I liked my job because I liked the corporate policies. I liked the software I was working with. And I honestly liked the company. Okay, so the travel was starting to wear on me and I'd already been working on getting out of consulting when my then-manager dangled this project in front of my nose and I backed down and took it. But I still felt like I was more than just a number to my company.

Not so with the bigger fish. The continuing message we get, pounded into our weary consulting brains by the higher-ups, is that we don't count as individuals. The emphasis is on being billable. It doesn't matter how it affects our personal life. Billable. That's the key word. We're penalized for taking training or going on vacation because our entire bonus structure (and with consultants, it's the bonus structure that keeps us here - that's what is our compensation for having no life. It's a BIG chunk of our salary) is based on hours worked. If the hours spent don't count, we might not even *get* a bonus. When the salary is lower because they expect that you'll make it up in bonus, this means that if you take vacation (non-billable hours) or take advantage of the training offered (assuming, of course, that you can actually find the *time*), you lose part or all of the bonus for that quarter.

It's not that my older company didn't want us to be billable - it's just that they had a much nicer and more understanding way of putting it. When we were required to give up a weekend to go to that horrid conference in Las Vegas that consisted of three days of utterly useless Death By Power Point presentations, we were reminded that we should find some way to make up the hours we'd be losing as billable work to go to this sharding conference. That made me angry. Very angry. It's good that I refrain from replying to some of these emails that come out or I might have my decision of what to do made for me, but regardless, it's this sort of thing that is tipping the scales toward me leaving the company entirely.

But despite the attitude - the big-company corporate policies, the time-wasting mandatory meetings and conference calls during work hours, the fact that it has become more and more obvious that to my company, consultants are merely billing machines that can and should be overworked - I am still clinging to the idea that I could just transfer to another department. Because frankly I'm still scared of what's outside. I inheireted this position by the simple virtue of my previous companies being bought up around me. I never had to go through the stress and worry of the whole job search. I had this opportunity handed to me on a silver platter and while I consider myself darn lucky it didn't blow up in my face, it still means that I never had to work to find it. So I'm scared to leave because at least if I stay then it's easy. I might not be happy, but at least it would be the easy way out.

So I go back and forth, and little things tip the scales one way or the other. Another lovely email from the VP's discussing how we could all save costs if we did some inane little thing that probably makes all sorts of sense to the desk-bound people who came up with it, but doesn't apply in the slightest to the thousands of us who are out in the field. Another reminder that I am nothing more than a number to them. And then that lovely bonus check every three months, and the thought of having to go out into the big scary world of job hunting and back the pendulum swings the other way.

I don't know yet what I'll do. I do know that I'll most likely spend a fair amount of time dithering back and forth, and that as this project continues, it at least gives me the luxury of time. And perhaps by the end, when I'm ready to either transition someone into my position, or the project itself runs to completion, the balance will be skewed more heavily on one side or the other and I'll finally be able to make up my mind.