Friday, June 18, 2010

Do You Want to Be a Coding Consultant?

I’ve had a few novices ask me how I like being a consultant. Well, I love it. But it’s not an easy job. And I certainly don’t recommend consulting to anyone until they have several years’ experience under their belts. So if you think you want to travel the nation (or region) or even stick locally consulting clients, make sure you have practical experience first – it’s the absolute best preparation for giving advice to clients.

Let me stress this about consulting – many people want to be consultants because of the salaries. It is true that most consulting firms pay well. But there’s a reason – it’s the price you pay to be away from home so much. If you haven’t seen the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney yet, I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to be a traveling consultant because it is an accurate depiction of what it’s like to be away from home so much. So before you offer to be a consultant, think about what it really means to be away from home 4-6 days per week.

The Coding Career Path

I had my career path all planned out in the 90s. I would be a hospital outpatient coder and then move to inpatient. Then I would become a coding supervisor and then a coding consultant. I hit all those goals by the time I was 27. I didn’t really think beyond that and I certainly didn’t think there would be a time when ADD would over take me and I wouldn’t be able to sit at a desk for 8 hours (or more) and do nothing but code.

Newbies often ask me about the career path for a coder and these days, there are so many options, I can’t think of a clear path. My best recommendation is to get your foot in the door and see what kind of opportunities await you once you’re there because I never would have dreamed I would end up where I am. And if you want to see the country and don’t mind living out of a suitcase for awhile, then by all means, be a consultant!

My First Consulting Life

My first consulting job was exactly what I thought coding consulting was and always would be. I traveled 100% of the time and spent long days as a backlog coder, interim manager, or coding auditor. In that job I learned the difference between giving my opinion versus quoting regulation and how to (most of the time) be objective with my advice. Along with that I learned a lot about traveling – how to pack a suitcase, the most efficient way to get through airport security, and probably my proudest accomplishment – how to find my way in a strange city with a map (this was before GPS really caught on!).

My New Consulting Life

That first consulting job was 7 years, 2 jobs, and about 300,000 airline miles ago. When I landed into a consulting position where I got to do coding education, everything changed. I spent more time working from home (travel was cut to 50%). I won’t bore you with the details of how I got here, I’ll just say it involved thousands of hours of research, writing thousands of pages of coding text books, and writing and presenting hundreds of Power Point presentations in person and over the web. Now I work for a small company where I have a lot of say in the projects I take on and travel only about 25%.

Paving the Way
I looked long and hard to find this job. As a matter of fact, the job didn’t really exist – it was essentially created for me when a friend and former coworker half-jokingly asked me if I wanted to be their ICD-10 trainer. Paving your own way out of the gate is not the norm, but with perseverance, hard work, and passion about your chosen career, it could be a future possibility. When I began my career, I knew I wanted to be a trainer or educator and I made that fact well known to my supervisors over the years and job opportunities have presented themselves based on that passion to teach.

So find what you’re passionate about in the coding field and make it known. It may take time to land that first coding job, but someday, you may be in the driver’s seat and you may be able to design your dream job.