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Peter Vogel        

My wife says that I whine a lot. I prefer to think of it as informed commentary on my life. Lately, for instance, I’ve been commenting that I haven’t had much opportunity to do any real coding. I’ve gone without serious coding for a month or two now, and it’s not a pretty sight: There’s nothing more pathetic than a code junkie in withdrawal. Jan woke up last night and I was standing at our dresser, staring into the mirror and typing on her jewelry case. Jolt isn’t helping. It might be time for a stale pizza intervention.


Part of the problem is that I try to give my clients fewer than 10 days of my time on any project. The idea is to do a knowledge transfer and then let the client carry on without me. This means that I tend to get involved either at the beginning of a project (during the architecture and technology planning stage) or at some critical point (when coding or optimization help is needed). Lately, no one has had any critical points. It’s a problem. I have "Born to Code" tattooed on my bicep, and I need a fix.

To make matters worse, my time has been taken up in a number of non-coding projects. Two of the professors from my MBA course and I are developing an article on managing your skills portfolio, for instance. Sitting on the editorial board for Pinnacle’s Information Systems Consultant newsletter involves a certain amount of time. I’ve started teaching Learning Tree International’s "Introduction to XML" course. I’m really excited about what XML’s enabled me to do for my clients, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to spread the news. But still, none of this is actually coding.…

I’ve also been spending some time improving my skills. Some skills, like my work on XML, are obviously related to developing systems. Others are less directly related. For instance, as a book and course author, and as a lecturer, I spend time creating graphics to explain things. I picked up a wonderful book (Beyond Words, by Milly R. Sonneman) that I’ve been using to improve my ability to create informative graphics. Prior to this, everything that I drew looked like a bad outline map of the state of Iowa. I’m better now (by the way, I’m still looking for good books on explaining things with pictures, so if you have any recommendations, let me know).

On the other hand, I’ve dropped some tasks. You might have noticed that the "Access World News" column was missing last issue and is absent again this issue. The News column was always problematic for me because of Smart Access’ lead time. As I’m preparing this editorial, for instance, it’s March. However, you won’t see these words until our May issue. What’s new now might be very stale by the time you receive this issue of Smart Access.

Fortunately, we have Mike Gunderloy. Mike is an Access guru from way back and a member of that hotbed of Access expertise, MCW Technologies ( Mike’s been providing Smart Access with great articles for years, as well as handling the "Access Answers" column every second month. By the time you read this, he’ll have already launched a weekly e-mail newsletter for Pinnacle, one aimed at Access developers. You can subscribe at In addition to tips and coding solutions, Mike will be providing "news"-related information. This not only solves a problem for Smart Access, but also enables you to get useful information in a more timely format, thanks to Mike.

We’re just following the lead of our sister publications, Visual Basic Developer and SQL Server Professional, which have been producing weekly e-mail newsletters for several months now. While you’re on the Pinnacle Web site subscribing, take a look at all of our e-mail newsletters. Tell your friends! All of the e-mail newsletters are free, and you don’t have to be a subscriber to any of our print journals to start getting our e-mail publications.

You can look at all of this activity on my part from a business point of view. You could say that I’ve been simultaneously diversifying (new projects, new technologies) and divesting (with Mike taking over "Access World News"). This reflects the process that I’ve been going through since I became a consultant.

When I was a full-time employee, my employer bought all of my skills. Some of those skills I was very good at (coding, training, writing, system design, and architecture) and some I was… not so good at (administration leaps to mind). Because my employers were buying all of my skills, they didn’t pay much for the ones that didn’t interest them (writing, for instance) no matter how good I was at them. They also discounted my pay for the things that they were interested in that I wasn’t very good at (there’s that administration thing again).

I now divest by hiring people to take care of things that I’m not very good at (meet my wife and general manager, Jan). More importantly, I also divest by not selling the skills at which I’m not particularly proficient. I sell my clients only the particular skills in which they’re interested and in which I’m up to par. As a result, I get paid more because my rates aren’t dragged down by superfluous skills. There’s a downside to those higher rates, of course: My old employers wanted me around a lot more than my current clients do. If I want any kind of job security, I have to do it through diversification.

One way that I diversify is by having a number of clients. I also diversify through exploring new fields in which to work. I explore these new fields by finding clients who are interested in developing those skills along with me. Those clients generally don’t pay much, but we both finish the project smarter than when we started. By diversifying in clients and skills, I protect myself against being unemployed. Ideally, it would require a complete collapse of the computer industry to put me out of work. Overall, it’s worked out very well.

But I really want to write some more code.


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