My First Consulting Gig In High School

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, February 20, 2012 at 04:00 AM with 2 comments

Most of my career has been in a consulting role. Whether working as an independent or for a consulting firm, I have had the great fortune to work with a wide variety of clients across many verticals.

But why have I traveled so far along the consultant path? Many people become consultants by choice, where others either back into it or take it as a second option.

For me, it began in high school.

photo of Mike’s high school class mug

There is a picture of my high school mug here, not because it is in remarkably great shape after all these years, but it shows when I graduated, and that is solely for the context of the type of technology I was working with when I took on my first consulting gig.

As I had been programming in BASIC since junior high (a story in itself for another post) by my senior year in high school I was not only quite good at it, but I was known as one of the few people with proficiency. This led to the assistant superintendent of my school system, whom I knew and his sons were also classmates, asking me to write a program to collect survey responses and generate a report with the results of the survey. Remember, this was the mid-80’s, and this is what you needed to do to get such a task done. And I used a Digital PDP-11 minicomputer to do it.

His request, however, was not a favor, as I would be paid for it. Sweet! So I went right to work, first writing the program to collect the data, which would be entered by another classmate who was also being paid for her time. Once that was done I went to work on the report itself – I had the desired format, then I mocked up the report with fillers, then added the computations from the survey data in the database. Knowing my work wouldn’t be perfect, I did many manual calculations of the data to ensure the report data was accurate. When all was done, the school committee got a 2-page report with the survey results. (I know I kept a copy of the survey, and if I ever find it, I will post a PDF of it.)

Of course there was a change in ownership of the project – what consulting gig is without that? The project started in the fall, but at the end of the year the assistant superintendent was leaving the school system. As the project was to be completed in the spring, he told me the superintendent would be my point of contact, and the one who would pay me. Where I didn’t think much about it, I did when it was time to collect my pay, as the superintendent, in his first year on the job in this school system, was a shrewd cost-cutter. He did things like take over the school buses and managed them himself, and after I graduated he even reduced the size of the nearly floor-to-ceiling windows by 80% to save energy. I was worried I wouldn’t get anything at all, especially as I had absolutely nothing in writing!

Shortly after the survey was delivered I asked to meet with him about payment. The conversation went something like this… keep in mind it’s a few years later:

Superintendent – “So Mike, you were promised to get paid for creating the survey?”

Me – “Yes.”

S – “ Well, how much do you want to be paid for it?”

M – “$250.00”

S – “Why that much?”

M – “Well, um, the girl who did the data entry got paid $50, and I certainly did 5 times as much as work as she did.”

S – “How about $200.00?”

M – “It’s a deal.”

Now there’s some negotiating, and not too bad for a kid who not only hasn’t ever negotiated anything more than staying up late to watch Saturday Night Live, going up against a man with w PhD.

It would me several years before I used my computer skills for profit again, and that was in college and in exchange for pizza (yet another story for another time). From thereon in, and with a college diploma, it was all about contracts, invoices and payment or salary. We all start someplace, and my place was very close to home.

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This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni, Founder and President of Web consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC.

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