Shadowing my first consulting engagement

A couple weeks ago I traveled to my first client engagement and learned what it's really like to be a consultant. As I waited for my flight out early that Monday morning, I thought about all the scenarios that could play out over the week. Was I ready for this? What issues will I run into? Is the client even nice to work with? Well, I was about to found out.

On the trip, I accompanied one of the senior architects and leads on the team. This was known as a shadow engagement in which I had the opportunity to get first-hand experience with an enterprise client while being mentored on the job. For four days, we worked to gather ideas, troubleshoot existing issues, and meet with the client to discuss expectations.

2012-10-03T11-53-38_1.jpgSource: Andrew Weiss

This project involved a customer that was looking to deploy a private cloud solution using System Center 2012 and Server 2008 R2 products. I was really excited to work with these products in an actual customer’s environment. Prior to the engagement I had only spent time in a lab building clouds on a smaller scale.

My first thought going into the client's office was, "They're probably going to shove me into a corner and leave me to work for the rest of the week without saying a word." Things turned out much different than what I expected. Throughout the week, I went back and forth between troubleshooting the existing proof-of-concept build and gathering information from the client. I also squeezed in some time to meet the other individuals on the project and do some networking.

What made this project unique was that the customer runs a fairly complex IT operation and is bound to certain regulatory constraints. My job was to assist the architect and demonstrate a Microsoft solution based on various use cases and requirements. I was also responsible for evaluating features that ranged from scale unit provisioning with Virtual Machine Manager to performance monitoring with Operations Manager.

I have to say that the engagement shadow taught me things that I never really learned in college. In school you develop a technical foundation in certain topics and concepts. However, when you have to speak with clients from a business perspective and discuss their specific goals in IT, that is something you can only obtain via experience. Knowing how to use the technology is one thing, but building a solution to satisfy the customer’s requirements adds a new level of complexity to the job. No more than a few days after returning to my home office was I requested by the client to add feature customizations to their solution. That’s when I knew I was in for a treat.

If I were to grade the experience, I would definitely give it a solid A. Even with the abundance of training resources at my disposal, nothing beats getting actual on-the-job learning. My mentor was also more than helpful in guiding me throughout the process. Over the next couple of months, I hope to shadow additional engagements and gain confidence in my consulting delivery skills.

As a bonus, for those interested in learning more about Microsoft's System Center and some of the new features of Server 2012, stay tuned for posts with some tips and tricks that I'll be compiling from my engagement experiences.

Read more of Andrew Weiss's "Launched!" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @Andrew_Weiss. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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