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Re: AYT? Support network, anyone up to?

George Bonser <grep@oriole.sbay.org> writes:

> 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?

I think the debian-consultants list is just a list for all the Debian
consultants, regardless of their affiliation.

The trouble-ticket thing that Bruce announced he was going to organize,
and now the co-op idea I'm pursuing, are attempts to link a bunch of
individual consultants into something more cohesive and global (which
would really help in dividing the work more along skill lines).  That's
something completely different.

> 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.

Silicon Valley is expensive, yes - but I think you'll find that rates
for high-end technical work don't really vary that much all over the
world.  A top tier Oracle consultant will make roughly the same amount
working for a big company in Moscow as they would in Silicon Valley.
Things just seem distorted because there are a lot more high-end
Oracle consultants in Silicon Valley (including many who came from

I've never heard of any successful companies that do all their
software development using $1/day programmers from Bangalore.

> 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 can talk about Debian consultants in general, but the co-op idea would
work like this:

For starters, I think we should start out with a small group of people
that we can get to know.  That's fairly important.

I already have a feel for some of the people, since they are Debian
maintainers.  We'll collect alot of information such as resumes and
references - to assist in marketing, and also to distribute to the
other consultants.

Each consultant in the co-op is basically independent - we're mostly
sharing marketing.  Whom you choose to subcontract work to is entirely
up to you.  Hopefully there will be enough work that you can try
working with several of the other consultants, and you will be able to
develop trust relationships.

I guess the main reason I'm interested in this is so I can develop new
working relationships with new people.  That way, I can take part in
doing bigger, better jobs.  Otherwise there is no reason to do it.  As
an independent in a small town, I'm somewhat isolated.

If somebody is really a bad apple - we can kick them out.  The co-op
definitely won't be "open membership" (vs. the debian-consultants

> 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.

For the co-op idea, there will be a private mailing list and a private
IRC network.  That should provide enough feedback amongst the consultants.

If a consultant is continually botching jobs, and giving the whole
marketing network a bad name, then it is time to dump him/her.

I hope this won't be a real big problem.

> 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.

I agree.  I hope the co-op can market a range of services - from
$20/hr to $500/hr and beyond.  The consultants that aren't that good
won't be working at the high-end stuff, and the consultants that are,
will be (and not working on the low-end stuff).

If somebody is just out of high school, they shouldn't be providing
high-end systems architecture consulting.  There is a certain amount
of restraint that some people will have to have.  On the other hand,
the website will have lots of information on everybody's skills and
experience - so a client isn't going to be asking an inexperienced
consultant to do high-end stuff.

Personally, I can do a lot of high-end stuff - but there isn't a lot
of that work flooding in my door since I moved to Penticton
(Pop. 30,000) from Vancouver (Pop. 2,000,000).  Also, the high-end
stuff tends to involve big commitments, which can be a drag.  I'd like
to do a mix of high-end and low-end stuff, and find a natural balance.

> > 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.

I think the DConsult co-op might work for the corporate types (which I
once was).  Obviously, if you are possibly going to think about doing
a large scale deployment or product of Debian - you need somebody to
back you up.

Previously, you had three options:

 * scan the debian-consultants list, and pick 10-20 of them, and try
   to stitch them together into a working relationship

 * hire 10-20 people who have Debian experience

 * hire a company like Cygnus at exorbitant rates (Debian support isn't
   really their bag)

Obviously, none of these make sense economically, or logistically.

With the co-op, we will provide something of a solution - as a company
will be able to hire 10-20 independents from the co-op (probably via
one coordinator), but not have to build that working relationship.

Eventually, some of these working relationships may become strong
enough that some of the independent consultants may feel the urge to
merge - and there will finally be a big firm with alot of Debian
experience on hand.

I'm sort of in the position where I might like to hire somebody at the
end of the year (if all goes well).  But it's a pretty big leap going
from a 1 person home office setup to 2 people in an office.  Perhaps
the co-op would be a good tool for me to expand - rather than just
interviewing people from out of the blue.  I'm sure quite a few of the
other independent consultants are in a similar situation.

I'm rambling...  :-)


 - Jim

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