By Soo Somerset, Green Mars CEO
Full disclosure: I have been a “one-woman-show” consultant, and so I speak with some experience from both sides of this particular fence.
Once upon a time, there was an engineer named Chris. Chris was a very smart and resourceful engineer, who knew the full stack and wrote exquisite code. Chris was hired by companies all across the land to create inventive, reliable software solutions and deliver right on schedule.
It’s the dream, isn’t it? That we can each find a Chris to come and work with us — but the reality is often a bit more disappointing. The code has more bugs than we had hoped for, or did not quite meet the original specifications. The delivery was late, maybe very late, without much notice.
In truth, it’s nigh impossible for one person to be excellent at everything where software engineering is concerned. Part of what makes it difficult is the genuinely chaotic nature of software. In the simplest of systems, inputs and outputs and states can be clearly anticipated, but as the systems combine and become more and more complex, testing one’s own code becomes an exercise in trying to successfully second guess oneself.
It is a common trait for an engineer to envision a solution almost immediately upon understanding the problem, but it’s far less common that that engineer can accurately anticipate the time required to complete the work. This is because it is not only difficult to predict with precision how long it will take to write the code, but nearly impossible to know how long will be needed to test and debug it. It is infuriatingly reliable that the testing and debugging stages are the wildcards for any project.
There are many talented resources who describe themselves as ‘full-stack engineers’, though in my experience, that means they can expertly design and develop in one part of the stack, and are merely willing to work in the others. This works out great for the right clients, but not for those that need both UX design and architecture in highly-regulated industries.
Take biotech, for example. At Green Mars, many of our clients are biotech startups, where their users are doctors who need highly intuitive screen design, but their IT support demands the rigor of HIPAA compliance. These clients hire us because we can offer the best of both worlds on a reasonable budget.
This is not intended as a knock against one-man-show independent consultants — they are out there, and they might be right for you, but, as with most things, they are not perfect for every case. A good consultant knows their own strengths; a great consultant knows their own weaknesses.
A simpler solution may be to hire a small group of highly talented resources on a managed part-time basis, where everyone can contribute their strengths to a collaborative solution. This is the approach that we have taken at Green Mars to serve our clients, and we’d love to hear from you to discuss your next project.