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I have been programming computer in some professional capacity for almost 13 years. In that time, I have written code in several capacities. I have been a permanent employee of a company that hired me to write internal applications, I have been a permanent employee of companies that have paid me to write applications for their clients. I have been a contractor and I have also been a consultant. On the surface, those might seem like the same thing; but consulting and contracting are very different engagements.

What’s The Difference, Kenneth?

A lot of people, including contractors and consultants themselves, use these terms interchangeably. The problem is, people need to know the difference. Companies especially need to know in order to be able to hire the correct one. So here is the difference: Contractors can help an organization keep the lights on, but consultants can help you get more light for the same or less money.

Now on the outset, that may seem like you should always go with a consultant. That is not the case. Like anything else, there is a right tool for the job. Consultants are always going to cost more than contractors, and they should. Consultants bring more to the table. They bring ideas, expertise and a business acumen that contractors don’t. Contractors provide great helping hands when you need to power through something. Good contractors can even sometimes help you get it done faster or better. Consultants, on the other hand should always help you find a way to get it done better or faster. Consultants can still help you slog code, but their main purpose should be to help their clients improve their situation. Contractors are also (usually) hourly, temporary employees. If you need the same person in six months, they’re likely not going to be available because they are slogging code somewhere else.

What’s This Mean To Me?

If you’re a company looking for outside help, hopefully this will help you decide whether you need a contractor or a consultant. If you’re a programmer looking at a job as a consultant or a contractor, this might help you decide which one is for you. Consultants are rarely happy in contracting positions. Consultants have experience and ideas that they want to share, and the want to be part of the overall strategy of the project or projects. That doesn’t mean that contractors don’t have ideas or expertise, they are just more likely to be happy doing the heavy lifting work and letting someone else provide more high-level direction.

What do you think?

Posted on Tuesday, July 13, 2010 9:35 AM | Back to top

Comments on this post: Of Consultants and Contractors

# re: Of Consultants and Contractors
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I agree with a good portion of it, my rule of thumb has always been that a contractor does what either the client's team can't or won't because of time constraints, moral or expertise, and a consultant brings specific expertise on a system or gets a particular project or team off the ground or out of the ditch.

One thing to note however is that a contractor today may simply be a contractor due to business climate. With the economy the way it is, contractors might be preferred because either another company pays the employee's benefits, or they're 1099, reducing the tax liability of the company.

For anyone that's looking for a job, heart-set on full-time work for a company they can retire with a gold watch from, they might consider a contract at that company instead.

It's a lot easier to ramp up or down without all of that pesky HR paperwork.

Left by Brian on Jul 13, 2010 10:28 PM

# re: Of Consultants and Contractors
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I think you nailed it. I have held a role as consultant for several years. Sometimes the role is misunderstood by the client and the consultant becomes a contractor(a capable body to move the project along). When I am called in on a project as a contractor, it is a bit frustrating not being able to use my expertise to improve the project. Especially, when there are obvious clear opportunities. So I, definitely, more enjoy projects where that expertise is valued and utilized.
Having also managed contractors, I would not have any expectation for them to do more than the task assigned to them. Anything beyond that is bonus. I usually ask another consultant if I'm stuck and need a fresh perspective to attack a problem.
Left by Timothy Wright on Aug 14, 2010 10:53 AM

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