SPUG: Seattle Perl Consortium

Jonathan Gardner jgardner at jonathangardner.net
Tue Aug 3 16:01:25 CDT 2004

On Tuesday 03 August 2004 12:04 pm, Matt Beland wrote:
> Jonathan Gardner said:
> > I have a proposal that many of you won't like and frankly, I don't
> > think it will work in its current working form. I'd like some input and
> > ideas positive or negative. If we could get it working, I think it will
> > be a huge benefit to all of us.
> I don't know how much room I have to speak on this; I am a consultant,
> but Perl is a tool for the work I do, not the main focus of my
> consultancy. I suspect that is true of many of the "Perl Consultants" on
> this list, and so joining an organization focused on Perl wouldn't be
> very
> cost-effective.

Your comments are very useful. I didn't think of it that way.

> But frankly, this sounds like it has all the disadvantages of working for
> someone else with none of the advantages of being independent. I'm
> particularly uncomfortable with the idea of a "union"; as a technical
> consultant, I sell my services based on my skills and abilities, not a
> negotiated pay schedule based on seniority and dues paid. Unionized labor
> is a solution to the powerlessness of workers who are interchangable;
> that's not a problem we face. Look at the "success" of the engineering
> union over at Boeing; I know a number of engineers who nearly quit in
> disgust when the whole thing started, and since then have either left for
> other companies or are cynically amused at the problems the union is
> facing.

I proposed a bunch of ideas, and some of them I don't think are that good. 
But they had some merit, so they needed to be brought up, if just to shoot 
them down.

The "union" concept where we set payscales was one idea that I didn't 
personally like. You have explained why I don't like it.

So ignore that idea, and consider the other ones individually.

> Yes, there are advantages to collaboration, but they're best limited to
> specific areas and actions. For example, it's an excellent idea to pool
> certain common resources; shared office space, vendor-neutral advertising
> (e.g. the advantages of Perl in business, supporting local business
> through local consultancies, etc), buyer's cooperatives for services,
> even things like office supplies and printing services.

Office space - that's a good idea. I like the ideas of the office supplies 
and printing services as well. Heck, I'd love to have a secretary at times 
to keep people away from me while I work! These are all things that SPC 
could probably do better than you can do yourself.

I admit the big great idea is the vendor-neutral advertising.

My idea for how it would work is something like this. First, SPC marketing 
and sales convince someone to do their next big project in perl, and not C# 
or Java. Throughout the process, they had a consultant who was working with 
this particular client. Which consultant among the members? It depends on 
who is available and who is willing to spend time working with a potential 
customer like this.

When the client decides to go ahead and do it, the consultant gets first 
bid. He can "sub-contract" out parts of the project to other members of the 
SPC, or he can open up the contract for bidding among the members. The SPC 
will be careful that all the bids are reasonable and that the client won't 
make an awful decision in choosing the specific consultant to use.

>From there, the consultant or whoever gets the bid or whatever method we use 
has a personal relationship with the client. He keeps going, bringing in 
extra resources when needed, or using the other services (call centers? 
24/7 on-call?) of SPC to fill in where he can't.

I admit this idea is probably pretty unworkable.

> However, sharing of vendor-specific marketing, group proposals, etc. gets
> into areas of job allocation, hierarchies of consultants, and all sorts
> of cures that are worse than the disease. OK, the Perl consulting market
> is contracting. Is that because there aren't enough big Perl groups
> bidding for the available jobs? No, it's because there are fewer Perl
> jobs available. So, then, the best solutions are to increase the number
> of Perl jobs or decrease the number of Perl consultants. The first is
> something an organization can do; see below. The second is something an
> organization could only do by such measures as "certification" of
> "legitimate" consultants (a moment while I clear the nasty taste from my
> mouth) or forcing independents out of business. Meanwhile, as
> individuals, some will physically move to other areas, some will change
> their business to adjust to the changes in demand, others will fail. The
> organization as a whole may survive, but as individuals, the options are
> exactly the same within the organization as without, except that inside
> the organization we could have compensation adjustments and performance
> reviews and cake.

This is where the devil is.

I think, first of all, you have to segment out the market. There is the 
"tiny" market, where the jobs are incredibly small. There is the mid-sized 
market for jobs that are bigger. And there is the incredibly-titanic-huge 
jobs where the bids are in the millions or more. We are doing great in the 
tiny market, poorly in the mid market, and are absolutely unrepresented in 
the titanic market.

But you are right. How does SPC treat its members appropriately? There will 
be jealousy, competition, etc, especially when there are too many 
consultants. There would have to be some way to make everyone feel it is 
fair. The SPC would try to maximize the market, always trying to bring in 
more work than workers. This will raise the prices and cause all of us to 
get rich. But what if it can't? Maybe it should be extremely selective in 
its membership - you have to be voted in, or something. Maybe it could say, 
"Hey, I'm sorry, we can't support you so we'll refund your dues and send 
you on your way."

Maybe it can just get out of the way and let the members figure it out for 
themselves. It gives the client a phonebook of members and says, "We'd love 
to hook you up with a consultant. Choose one." or something like that.

> Though, if it's *good* cake, it might be worth it.

In other words, it's so crazy it just may work! ;-)

> > In the future, if this is successful, we can expand this into the
> > Seattle Open Source / Free Software Consortium, or maybe even a
> > world-wide organization with chapters in every major city.
> Maybe. Would that be a good thing?
> GSLUG started to create a Washington Linux Council last year; the effort
> didn't fail, exactly, so much as it fizzled out for lack of resources.

lack of resources = lack of money. If they had well-paid positions, there 
would be more than enough "volunteers".

> Something like that could be very effective; it's modeled after the
> advocacy groups who do so much advertising ("Behold the power of cheese",
> etc.) They don't advertise specific organizations; they increase market
> awareness of widgets and their capabilities, and it's up to the
> individual widget-makers to turn that increased visibility and interest
> into sales. Here, such a collaboration could market the capabilities of
> Perl in business, the advantages over other popular programming
> languages, and in general just get non-technical business people thinking
> of Perl (and Perl consultants) as people who can get things done for
> them. When we as a whole have business people (a.k.a. "clients") thinking
> about Perl as a possibility, individual advertising dollars will be much
> more effective for our own consultancies. With less money spent, because
> we won't be paying as much for accountants and offices and cake.

The only problem I see with this is the cheese marketers (and the milk 
marketers) seem to have everyone on board, almost like a cheese tax or a 
milk tax. "Oh, you sell milk? Well, you'll have to pay us for the right to 
sell milk, because we advertise milk for you." I don't see this happening.

We have to bring value to the consultants so that by paying SPC, they get 
something in return of greater value. They shouldn't be able to get this 
without paying.

I do think the generic marketing ("Behold the power of perl!") is the 
direction SPC would probably go. It would publish "studies" (that cost 
money) that show perl as being effective. It would show case studies of 
perl shops in the area or the country. It would bring in or advertise perl 
training and perl awareness workshops. It would probably devote some 
resources to make sure that government is supporting the perl community 
through perl contracts and such.

I'm just throwing ideas back at you, and soaking in what you have said. Some 
of the stuff is half devil's advocate type scenario.

Anyway, in summary, there are really two possible routes for SPC. First it 
could become a giant consultant itself, with huge resources that it can 
organize. The employees are well-paid because the company takes very little 
off the top (non-profit). But they are pretty much just employees.

Or, it could be the "I'm your marketing arm" type deal where it collects a 
tax and does generic perl marketing. (Think "cheese" or "milk".)

And then there are deals in between.

Jonathan Gardner
jgardner at jonathangardner.net

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