A Consultant's Guide to Traveling
by Brian Dunning
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life of a computer software consultant often involves travel to
customers' locations. Such business travel requires a careful
balance of family and professional life. It also demands a mastery
of thinking on one's feet, often in unfamiliar surroundings, while
separated from your own office and coworkers by a great distance.
Some thrive under such circumstances, but all too often, many
of us find ourselves at a loss.
And so, with nothing in mind other than the public good, I have
compiled a brief tutorial for the technology professional whose
work takes him on the road. My own experiences have spanned many
years, during which I've sometimes been forced to cope with difficult
situations with only minimal resources. Hopefully, some among
you may find the following instructive guide to be useful, and
help prepare you for what you might face abroad.
Lesson 1: Arriving On Time.
Always begin by scheduling a plane flight that will get you to
your destination with plenty of time to spare; the night before,
if possible. Choose an inexpensive flight, such as one in the
middle of the night, that saves money as well.
Get extra work done while the plane sits on the runway for 45
extra minutes due to a lightning storm that, although you don't
know it at the time, is shocking the guts out of your main production
computer back at the office because you were too cheap of a bastard
to buy a decent battery backup system.
Next, miss any possibility of making your connecting flight due
to the delay. If you've chosen a good airline, the plane will
inexplicably pull off the runway and taxi back to the gate amid
a chorus of protest from your already-late-enough fellow passengers.
When the attendant comes on the PA and requests that "the
passenger bound for Eugene, Oregon please get off the aircraft,"
stand and collect your things from the overhead compartment, and
return the angry, accusing stares with an apologetic smile. Apologize
again for bombarding the head of a passenger with several bags
from the overhead compartment.
When the airline's customer service staff explains that they
removed you from the aircraft because there were no overnight
accommodations available at your stopover airport, thank them
pleasantly. Always remember that you will catch more flies with
honey than with vinegar. Accept the coupon for a free cab ride
to catch the first flight in the morning.
When the taxi arrives at your house at 4:00 AM later that same
night, try to catch some shut eye so you'll be looking and feeling
your best to meet with the client in six hours. Be prepared to
wake up quickly when the cab driver almost immediately drives
off the road at high speed, wiping out half the bodywork and getting
the car stuck in a ditch. Keep one eye on the clock as you assist
the driver in rocking the vehicle free by bouncing on the bumper
in a cloud of tire smoke. Take caution when you discover that
he's flooring it in forward while you're pushing on the front
bumper, and again when you discover that he's flooring it in reverse
while you're pushing on the rear bumper.
Once you're back on the freeway, try not to listen to his stories
of killing babies while serving as a British commando, until the
large steel plate in his head ended his career.
Upon arrival at the client's office, act as if nothing interesting
has happened, and that your work there with them today is the
only thing on your mind.
Lesson 2: Arriving Prepared
Once on board your aircraft, get a seat beside one of those passengers
who is mandated by the FAA to purchase two seats. Wish that she
had purchased all three.
Feign mild interest as she shouts, in a voice to raise the dead
in cemeteries 30,000 feet below, about her fancy water bottle
that has a built-in filter, how she is a distributor, and can
offer you one at a discount if you give her a call (wink wink).
When she gets to the part of the sales presentation where she
inverts the bottle to demonstrate its resistance to leaking, quickly
lean forward to protect your laptop, which is open because you're
trying to watch a DVD that she is interrupting. Be just a fraction
of a second too late, and watch several ounces of water quickly
filter down through the keyboard. Watch in stunned silence as
the movie pauses, then fades away, then shuts down permanently.
Upon arrival at the client's office, quickly fabricate a reason
that it's important and beneficial that you arrived for this costly
onsite visit without bringing the finished software to install.
Try something lame-ass like "wanting to gauge expectations
to insure satisfaction."
And when you discover that the service guys stole your DVD that
had been imprisoned within the laptop, smile. You'll catch more
flies with honey than with vinegar.
Don't call the water bottle distributor for your promised discount.
Lesson 3: Dressing for Success
Be a gentleman in the hotel elevator and squat to assist an elderly
woman who has dropped some things. Apologize to her for swearing
when the rear seam of your slacks tears completely open.
Assess your options upon unpacking in the hotel room. Your options
will be limited to a shirt and tie, dress shoes with black socks,
and boxer shorts that might possibly, as a stretch, be interpreted
as Bermudas. Walk up and down the Ft. Lauderdale esplanade at
ten o'clock at night on a Sunday, wearing the boxers, hoping to
find an open clothing store. Hope that the sweat on your forehead
will be attributed to the warm weather.
The next morning, when you're already late for your appointment
and all options are exhausted, call the front desk to ask for
any desperate suggestions. Tip heavily when the bellman brings
up some utility Dickies coveralls salvaged from the maintenance
Go to the mirror and try all possible combinations of wearing
the long tailed dress shirt out over the coveralls, inside the
coveralls, not at all, or as a kind of decorative sash. Get in
your full year's allotment of cursing during the cab ride to the
client's office. Hope that either this is somehow in style in
this part of the country, that the client will turn out to be
a sewage treatment plant, or that they will simply expect this
of a Californian.
Lesson 4: Projecting Positive Vibes by Looking and Acting
The intrepid traveling consultant is on the road in all seasons,
all weathers, through thick, and through thin. Sooner or later,
you will be onsite for an important installation with a fever
in excess of 105, smashed on Benadryl, dizzy from cough syrup,
and stiff all over from last night's volley of double vodkas intended
to kill any and all viruses, bacteria, germs, amoebas, and the
horses they rode in on.
Smile pleasantly when you perceive the receptionist and your
client waking you as you sit in their lobby. Come up with some
line like you were working on their project all night on the plane.
Smile pleasantly again when the lobby fades out, your client's
office fades in, and you realize that your client has been talking
for ten minutes, then studying your unresponsive face for five.
Come up with some line like you've been "processing all the
interesting things he's said."
Start to perform some simple tasks on their computer system,
and then leaving things half done and in a state of disrepair,
curl up on the floor someplace warm and float gently off to sleep
to the soothing sound of your client on the phone to your home
office, speaking loud and critically about…something.
Lesson 5: Producing Effective Results
When performing an onsite software upgrade for an international
financial institution, arrive on time at the client's office,
dressed sharply, laptop in hand, and a spring in your step. Insert
a CD containing their latest software update, and begin the process
of logging in to the files on their server and importing their
current data into your new files.
Be sure to delete the old data from your new files in preparation
for importing each data set. Neglect to notice that the cascading
delete function is wiping out most of the client's original data
as you delete each old set. Discover this only after having completed
the process and running the backup function manually, to replace
the data files in their backup directory with fresh files using
the new data structure.
Do not sit in stunned shock for more than a few moments. Try
not to turn too white.
Instead, manage this situation by quickly packing, announcing
success, shaking hands, and marching sharply out the door, as
the clients wave and remark about your professionalism and efficiency.
Drive away quickly. Call a headhunter. Change your name to Ben
Lesson 6: Communicating Effectively
Some clients are personable, and some are not. But no matter
how rude or condescending a difficult client can be, always remember
that they're the ones writing the check.
It can be frustrating to keep complaints about difficult clients
pent up inside oneself. So, to relieve this tension, forward one
of the client's insulting emails to your coworkers, along with
rude commentary, where you believe the client should stick that
attitude, and exactly what the client can do with all that honey
you've been using instead of vinegar.
Make an innocent and common error with Outlook's forward, send,
and reply buttons. Realize too late that you've just replied that
email back to the client. Tear the Ethernet cable out of your
computer, dash across the office, stumbling over boxes and desks,
ripping the power cords out of hubs and switches as you chase
the email across your network. Remember the 802.11 network and
swipe wildly at the electromagnetic waves shimmering around you.
Call a headhunter. Try the volley of double vodkas again.