Monday, December 27, 2010

On Consulting

I promised more details on my new job and so here we are. I work for CSC as a Senior Consultant for their Federal Consulting Practice (FCP). In some instances, I may consult on projects the FCP has negotiated directly with the US government, but typically I am asked to step in on federal govt projects that CSC’s North American Public Sector (NPS) is already managing.  This means at a practical level that I consult to one division of CSC on behalf of another division of CSC.

CSC is a very large company (92,000+ employees) and it has fashioned itself into several divisions to handle different market segments. For example, it has a large division devoted to commercial work both domestic and abroad. It also has a major division devoted to US government work. This division or entity provides services to the US government under contract. The FCP division was created to maintain a pool of expertise to drop in to NPS projects as needed. This benefits the company to keep a supply of techie-geeks on hand at all times and benefits the consultants because our employment is not bound to any specific contract. Instead we are permanent CSC employees who don’t have to worry about finding a new job when a contract concludes. A win-win for everyone involved.

Currently I am consulting on a project CSC NPS manages for a government agency. They’re utilizing my SAS admin skills and I am learning a lot along the way. The implementation version on this project is SAS 9.2 whereas previously I’d learned and worked the ins and outs of 9.1.3. There have been a lot of changes to the application but nothing so far I cannot wrap my mind around or keep up with. My first few weeks on the job I’ve managed to resolve a pressing issues that was previously deemed “unsolvable” by SAS so I am feeling pretty confident.  And while it’s a bit tricky as a consultant to manage three circles of influence (the govt client and the CSC NPS employees I am consulting to along with my CSC FCP managers) I am enjoying the pace.

I live in a cube farm in DC during work hours.  While it was a rough transition in terms of managing my daily schedule after working from home for the past few years (see my previous blog post) it’s actually more enjoyable then having a big office all to myself (which I had when I first starting working for my last employer Orizon). The amazing office with a beautiful view was exciting for the first couple of weeks- look at me, I have an office!- but when the pride wore off it was just lonely. I am a social creature and cube farms are lovely. I enjoy the neighborly interaction and the quiet murmur (sometimes not so quiet) of work and conversation going on around me while I work.

One thing that has been vastly different about working at CSC versus any other previous employer: their attention to detail. There is a formal written policy for everything: even the fridge clean out schedule/rules is codified in policy. It’s not bad; it’s just very different and super organized.

CSC invests heavily in career planning for their employees. Every year there are two main career building activities. The first is KRA objective planning. This is sort of like your standard ‘work goals for the year’ section of your typical employee review, but on steroids. It took me a couple of hours to watch the instruction videos, learn all the lingo and understand the methodology CSC uses for the process. In the end, an employee ends up with approx 5 ‘Key Result Areas’ that they commit to accomplishing during the year on the job that should further their project, the company overall, and of course their own goals and interests as well.

Besides the KRA, CSC also requires all employees to complete an Individualized Development Plan (IDP). The IDP is designed to plot out your continuing education over the next year, keeping in mind your long range (greater than a year from now) career plans and goals. You have to conceive where you’d like to be in a few years (working the same job in the same division? working a different job in the same division? working the same type of job in another CSC division? working another type of job in another division?) and then plot out how you are going to work toward that this year. Deciding what I want to be doing in two years was the hardest part for me. I mean I freeze up when presented with 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins (so many choices! what to pick, what to pick?!). Imagine how hard it was for me to plot a course to set sail for the future in a company with nearly 100,000 job opportunities of all different kinds. As an employee, you also have to keep in mind (and work into the plan) skill development for any of your current job title competencies that you aren’t 100% developed on already. For example, one of my job title competencies relates to team management (even though I’m not currently managing a team on this consulting project) so I might elect to take some management courses. To complicate things just a bit, I have a job title description with competencies and I also have what equivalents to a seniority title description with competencies as well. For those familiar with the federal govt, think of a seniority title as GS levels. So you might be a programmer at GS10 or a lets say for illustration a programmer at GS11. You’d have the competencies expected of a programmer and also those expected of any GS11 employee, regardless of their job specialty.

As part of my blog audience you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed by now just reading about these complex processes, but just imagine how it feels to be the new employee having to work through them! The good news is that the story has a happy ending: I finished my KRA and IDP work before the deadlines and I was fortunate enough to still be on the bench (working for CSC FCP but not yet on a consulting assignment) during the tasks so that I could devote my full attention to them.

I’m getting along well with the govt client reps, the NPS staff and my FCP colleagues and it’s great to be back to work feeling useful and purposed again. If you happen to be job hunting (especially in IT) I encourage you to consider CSC as your next employer.

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