This is the story of how I became a consultant and started consulting for multiple companies after working for one company for years.
In late 1999, I left Deloitte to join one of the first Mercury services partners. They were building a team focused on performance. This company (CommerceQuest), had what would become the hall of fame of performance testers, and I was lucky number 13! Within my first month or so, Mercury sent one of their hot shot consultants in to talk to us about performance testing, and give us a presentation that we were to learn and be able to give to clients on demand. It was known then as “The Chalk Talk”. It’s generally the first client meeting where the consultant uses a whiteboard to illustrate how automated load testing compares to manual performance testing (like my first experience), and all the benefits gained by replacing manual components with the load testing tool automated components. And who was that hot shot consultant? James Pulley. I still have those notes in a Word document somewhere, and they are still just as valid. It was my second encounter with Pulley, but we didn’t become friends until years later. I sometimes wonder how many times we crossed paths before we recognized we were on the same trajectory?
I went through a pretty rapid (but intense) training and certification process. The first goal was to achieve the Mercury CPT (Certified Performance Test Consultant). The certification was a list of open technical questions that had to be answered from your own perspective. No multiple choice. No “cookie cutter” answers. An example question was, “In relation to software development, what is a ‘hook’?”. I will never forget that question until the day I die. There was no easy way to cheat on that. Only a few people at Mercury could even grade answers for something like that! Both sides of the certification had to know their stuff. Ahh..the good ole days…
Let Me Ask Rich
My first engagement with CommerceQuest was under the wing of a senior consultant – Rich Cushing. I had never met Rich in person until the first day of the engagement when he walked into the front door of the client. We had 15 seconds to say “hello” to each other, and immediately the engagement began. I remember being so green, I could barely answer any questions the client would ask of me.
Client: What functions does this do?
Me: “Let me ask Rich…”
Client: Where is this setting in the Vugen Run-time Settings?
Me: “Let me ask Rich…”
Client: “Is the number value in the sleep() function in seconds or milliseconds?”
Me: “Let me ask Rich…”
They never asked me another question, they just asked Rich themselves. I remember how frustrating that was to not have the answers, even though I had studied so hard. I wanted to be the consultant with all the right answers! It became a game of “cat and mouse”. Anytime a question was asked that I did not know the answer to, I would write it down and go research it that night. I made sure I was ready the next time the topic came up.
Startup Life Is No Game For A Consultant
The next engagement was in the heart of Berkeley, California – and my first experience with the “dot com” startup boom. I worked alongside Jason Craven for an online games company. I cannot remember the name, but they were all JAVA based. The company was bought out multiple times over the course of a few years as that segment of the market grew on the Internet. I remember walking in and seeing cots under all of the desks. There were 30 towels hanging up in the bathroom with one shower. None of these people were ever going home. They lived in the building and worked all the time, 24X7. At that first client meeting, I was actually able to do “the chalk talk”, and Pulley would have been proud. We had to set everything up from scratch. Everything was very informal and work was accomplished on the fly by whoever was available. It was pretty chaotic. After scripting, we were ready to run the first load test. We could not get the Controller to connect to the Load Generators to save our lives. We tripled checked our installation, ran network commands, and did everything we could. Nothing. We were beyond frustrated.
Odwalla Consultant Life
After 12 hours of banging our head against the wall, a network guy walks in the room and sits down at a PC. He opens a command prompt, types in three commands, and everything starts working. “Firewall was blocking you guys on our main circuit. Sorry, I forgot to make that setting change this morning.” This was like 8 p.m. at night, and we still had to complete tests! Downstairs they had a refrigerator full of drinks. That was my first time drinking Odwalla fruit juices. At the time they were like $5 a piece, but they were supposed to be healthy. I think Jason and I each drank about 10 a day. I don’t remember any workday for that engagement lasting less than 12 hours, and most were up to 18. It was 12 days of that. This was the norm for the startup life. You would think a maker of games would be a fun place to work. It wasn’t for me.
Third Time’s A Charm
The third engagement was in Dallas, Texas. I worked with Prashant Satoskar on the Travelocity project. They put us in the corner of a server room, running 900 fans and a room temperature of 62 degrees inside. Outside, it was 105 degrees and nothing but sunshine that would bake your skin. The look on the face of the lady at the register at Walmart as I bought a sweatshirt on my lunch break before heading back to work was priceless. It was at the end of this engagement that Prashant contacted our manager (David Torrisi) to let him know the new guy was OK, and could be trusted to handle engagements by himself. He signed me off! I was officially a consultant. Prashant and I remained good friends. Ten years later, we would merge our individual companies together and form Northway Solutions Group. What a great journey that was! We are still good friends today.
All of these initial experiences put me completely out of my comfort zone. However, that is where I encountered the most growth as a consultant – and a human being. Some of the work was hard and necessary, and that is when I developed skills through repetition and experience. Some of the work was hard and UNNECESSARY. That is where I learned to be efficient, and prevent a repeat of that experience. Over time, you learn how to navigate around the proverbial mine fields. Becoming a consultant for me was a combination of learning to “read” people quickly, communicate effectively, and being able to pivot whenever the unexpected arose. Failure is part of the process, too. Keep learning, and eventually you will find your way. This is what led me to eventually form Loadtester Incorporated.
By the way: It’s milliseconds in Vugen, which adopts the Win32 standard because it runs on a Windows OS. In Unix, sleep() is in seconds. https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/C_Programming/POSIX_Reference/unistd.h/sleep