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December 04, 2012

Software Engineer or IT Consultant? Which Does My Business Need?

4 mins read

What a question.  Are these two even different?  When you’re in the business of providing IT services, recruiting software engineers to work at your company, or attempting to hire contract software engineers, then you will no doubt be faced with this question at some point.

"Hiring software engineers" on sticky note.There are many perceived differences between software engineers and IT consultants.  The truth is, there’s really no objective answer to which one is better or even how they differ. Therefore, we can’t and won’t try to decide this for you in a single blog post.

What we can do is provide a list of questions that should be at the forefront of your mind when making this decision, and ultimately will help you make the right decision for your project or business.

Note: we will not debate the difference between a software engineer and a software developer, or a consultant and a contractor.  For the purposes of this post, assume that a software engineer is someone who writes code for a living and an IT consultant (who may also write code for a living) works for a consulting company.

Ready?  Here we go!

Question 1:  What Communication Skills Are Important To Me?

Whether you’re recruiting someone for your company, just hiring a capable engineer to fill a seat, or hiring someone to deliver a complete solution – think about what sort of communication skills are important in the daily job.  Ask yourself:

  • Do I expect the person to write well?
  • Do they need to speak well?
  • Is the quality of the code they write more important than anything else?
  • Will they be expected to interact directly with my customers or clients?
  • Does this dictate their physical work location?

You can find software engineers and IT consultants that do all of these things well or only some of them well, but it’s good to have an idea in your head of what you’re looking for beforehand.

Question 2:  Do I Expect A Leader?

Ask yourself the following:

  • Will this person work as part of a supervised team or will they be expected to lead a development team?
  • Is this for a new or existing project?
  • Does this person have prior leadership experience and have they delivered code projects from scratch?

Many people have lots of experience, are great at their jobs, but have no desire to lead.  Others have the motivation necessary to lead development teams while maintaining responsibility for delivering their own work.  A truly motivated leader may not necessarily have prior leadership experience.  A future leader doesn’t hesitate to take ownership of situations when granted the opportunity.  Know what you’re looking for.

Question 3:  How Important is Technical Innovation To Me As Well As My Organization?

Are you looking for someone that will challenge your way of thinking and recommend new solutions?  This may not sound so important, but it could be the difference between someone implementing an outdated legacy framework because “it’s what they and the team are used to”, and someone researching, learning, recommending, and implementing a new technology or engineering practice that improves things on the project.  Also, take into account the work environment within your organization.  Is there already a set of rigid architecture standards and processes, or do engineers have some leeway to provide recommendations for improvement and try out new technologies?

Question 4:  How Important Is Company Brand Name And Reputation To Me?

When recruiting someone to work for your company, do you expect them to represent your organization to others, or is your main goal to fulfill a staffing need?  Keep in mind there are many ways for people to represent your organization – they could be thought leaders, bring diverse technical experience, or thrive at communication.  Likewise, if I’m hiring a company to provide technical staff, am I asking that company to provide engineers to supplement an existing team, or am I asking that company to provide the entire team and come up with a solution?  Am I willing to pay a premium for that solution if I can’t do it better in-house?

Still not sure what route to take?  Don’t hesitate to send us a note with your questions or thoughts!

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