Being an IT Consultant

Last weekend a friend had asked me, “What work do you do in office apart from reading emails and attending meetings?” I’d given him a scandalous look and proceeded with explaining my duties in complex industry specific jargon which left him looking baffled. Surely reading email and going to meetings weren’t all I did! But when I tried to think about a day in office these were the only two things that jumped out at me.

Incredulous, when I went back to office on Monday, I started to pay close attention to my day:

8:15: I log in. And there! The MS Outlook is teeming with 53 emails.

8:20: I boil it down to 21 emails requiring my attention. I mark 12 of them for follow-up and start making my to-do list for the day.

8:30: The first meeting of the day beckons.

8:57: I dash for my morning cup of coffee and breakfast before the next meeting. The next meeting is online, which I am thankful for. I can sit at my desk and munch on my food when I am not speaking. No awkwardness.

9:00: The stand-up meeting begins. This is the meeting where the offshore team members discuss their progress and issues. And I give answers to their questions.

9:16: While the meeting is in progress, I ignore the task bar which has started blinking like fireworks already.

9:30: Lots of takeaways, lots of questions to answer. Too short a time.

9:45: Switch context and multitask: The blinking windows are all from different teams, and different topics.

10:00: I have finally responded to all the blinking chat windows and have gotten a list of more questions which I have to look for answers in the coming hours.

10:25: I am halfway through responding my emails from the morning but a new batch has come in. My To-Respond list is at 14.

10:30: The environment meeting. The tens of environments that the project needs for development are all up and running or are there any issues in any of them. More often than not some or the other modules will be down in one or more servers causing a long troubleshooting time.

11:00: Thankfully today is one of those rare days when the root cause was identified quickly: it was a junk value in one of those obscure reference data table, where data never changed. And today the coordinator of the change is not me!

12:00: I keep playing catch up with my inbox but never quite get there. I have cleared all the older emails but have ended up with 3 more. Each of them would require quite a lot of explanations and I am sure would result in back and forth communication. I am considering whether setting 3 meetings up would be better instead.

12:15: In the past 15 minutes I have replied two more IMs. And a team member is coming down to my desk to clarify his queries which he keeps calling as doubts. And the context switching and multitasking continues.

12:30: I finally have sometime, ninety minutes precisely, to get some actual work done. I buy my lunch – a burrito and come back up to my desk. I block all channels of communications, set my status as “Do not disturb” and roll up my sleeves to start to tackle my To-Do List.

2:00-4:00: More of the meetings, emails and IMs. Help the team members resolve priority issues.

3:00: A quick coffee break of 5 minutes

4:00-5:00: Close all channels of communications and dive head down on to answering the questions from morning and replying to all the ignored emails.

5:30: Go home.

6:00: Log back in to check emails. There are 4 new emails from the team in West Coast. Reply to those and mark for follow up tomorrow.

6:30: Work on the presentation that the boss asked for the new proposal.

7:30: Tally the to-do list. Not even half done. Add them to the backlog for tomorrow. Review the priority tasks. Review how the team members are doing. Send one set of last emails to team members as needed. Log off finally for the day.

I now have till 11 (my bed time) to do yoga, make dinner (the husband helps), read a book or watch some movie and call home.

So that is my Monday. Tomorrow I am sure, there would be new problems, and new challenges, for my days are never typical. But still it would be more of the same: more emails and meetings, more conceptualizing (and then delegation, never having time to do it myself) and more looking for answers of others questions.

Hmm. So my friend was correct, I do only email and chat and go to meetings, mostly. And it kind of sounds cool when you say it that way. Job Description: Go to meetings and reply to emails. Very attractive salary! But it is not half as glamorous as he made it sound (I wish it was).

Slogging is a common thing because the delivery timeline is always always tight. The email overload is a real problem. I am forever worried about missing out on important emails requiring my attention. Too many meetings is a real emoticon on our office IM software. Never once back at desk for an entire day – happens! Getting calls in the middle of the night, happens! Escalations for no fault – happens. Being made a scapegoat – happens. Being hated by the team members – happens. In addition, the commitment towards a lifetime worth of nomadic lifestyle is also a must have for the job.

So next time you talk about the glamorous perks of consulting, think again. It may not be your cup of tea after all.

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