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Re: AYT? Support network, anyone up to?

On Fri, 10 Apr 1998, S. Ryan Quick wrote:

> Exactly.  Currently, in our area (Washington DC Metro), we are the only
> company offering onsite contracts and support for Linux (that I know of
> - -- apologies to anyone else out there, let me know who you are).  Our 
> clients call us precisely because mailing lists, web pages, IRC, and
> exhaustive reading are NOT what they are interested in.  We want to
> be involved in this project, but have several concerns --  mostly with
> rates.  Some of our contracts require that the rates we charge be 
> competitive and/or listed when we get other bids (US Government for
> example).  If the rate structure for the list is too rigid, then we
> will not be able to help as we cannot afford to drop our rates.  And,
> from what I've seen on the Debian website and in the Consultants HOWTO,
> we are getting higher rates than most for Linux consulting.

I suppose now is the time to decide just exactly what we are doing here
and to try to formulate some sort of mission statement that is clear to
all about just exactly what debian-consultant is for.  Are we developing a
semi-official consulting shop here with standardized rates?  That will be
very difficult considering that we are world wide and that economic
considerations are different in various areas of the country let alone
different countries of the world.  Here in Silicon Valley people might not
bat an eyelash at $200/hour but a fixer-upper house goes for $500,000 
to $750,000. That might be completely out of the ballpark in Savanna,
Georgia.  Due to the competetive nature we have to, in my opinion, give
the regional operators the freedom to set their own rates within the
economic and competetive realities of their regions.

Are we to be a dispatcher of sorts giving the customer an email address to
write to and we do our darndest to get someone on site for them?  How do
we handle complaints?  If you recommend me and I have not shaved, brushed
my teeth or changed clothes in three weeks, insult the client's best
customer and trash the CEO's email ... twice ... does debian-consultant
become a sort of Getter Business Bureau?  Do we rate the consultants? I
tend to do things in a relatively consistant and somewhat methodical
manner. 1) Find out the what I am up against. 2) Decide if I want the job.
3) provide a plan of action to the customer. 4) Impliment the plan 5)
Admire the results 6) Bill them and get the hell out of there. I would
rather over estimate and turn in a bill below bid than lowball the bid and
overrun the estimate. I also like to get in and get out. Customers
appreciate a good job done quickly and will pay a premium for it.  My
hourly rate might be higher but I will 1) do the job in fewer hours and 2)
usually put in some hooks to make return visits even quicker.

The hardest part is learning to say no and knowing when to send a job "up
the road" to another consultant.  I will sometimes even suggest someone
else for a particular job if that person specializes in it and the job is
particularly difficult. 

> We do have some international alliances (IBM is a big one and has been
> very supportive in our Linux efforts) who can perform these sorts of 
> miracles, but I do share many of the same concerns.

I am interested in learning more about that.

> Likewise, we are
> worried about "ownership" and "culpability" for projects.  If I contract
> someone off the new list to help with one of our clients in, say, Brazil
> (seems to be a popular country for examples in this thread), then what
> sort of contractual guarantees for time, reliability, quality control,
> response, etc. am I to get from the list.  And, to be fair, if I commit
> our people to the list as well, what are other clients and consultants to
> be guaranteed by my people.

Maybe we need some sort of feedback/rating system.  If the end customer
rates the consultant and the consultant rates the customer, we should be
able to spot a pattern of shoddy work and still allow for the
personality/culture conflict that is bound to happen once or twice.
Software developers do not always make good consultants. I know a guy that
could code lead into gold but maintaining his code was impossible.  It was
completely uncommented and it invariably broke if you tried to modify
anything.  It got so bad that one guy had to WATCH him and try to convert
what the person wrote into maintainable software.

> Basically, I think that the idea is a great one.  It will help grow Linux
> (and the best distribution of it ;-) ) into the future and could become
> lucrative for the consulting firms and independent consultants involved.

I think some reflection on just exactly what we our mission is would be
helpful at this point. My job is to continue my father's service
philosophy (hey, I am pushing 40 but Pop worked on everything from
all-weather supersonic fighters to refrigerators) which is basicly, if you
do a good job and charge a fair price and don't rip off the clueless, work
will find you, you will not be searching for work. He was completely
against freebies and against under charging.  Many people will not feel
they got a good job if they are charged too little for it. I need to make
sure that I am providing a level of service equal to the value of the
hard-earned that the customer is forking over.  It is a matter of pride in
your own craftsmanship and reputation.  Nobody can give it to you or take
it away.  You build it or loose it completely on your own.

> However, I must concur with the opinions that claim that the corporate world
> (who have been using Linux for some time, but just now realized they
> need to SUPPORT it) is not going to be so happy with a "list".  They want
> people with names and faces, and when their nameserver is down or
> finance can't map their L: drives, they want their problems solved, onsite,
> and immediately.

Yes! Having someone that they can trust a phone call or page away sure
makes a difference in the comfort-level of the pointy-hair types. They
remember you too when they go to a different company. If you establish a
good relationship with someone they sow the seed of business for you
wherever they go. If you can keep the contract at the old company and get
one at the new company, you are on the right track.

George Bonser

If I had a catchy quip, it would be here.

Debian/GNU Linux ... the maintainable operating system.

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