You’ve read my blog posts or seen my webcasts, and you know I’m qualified to solve a particular SQL Server problem. You contact our company, and maybe you bring us in for an engagement.
But many of you don’t – many of you only want me for 15 minutes, or an hour or two. You’ve got one particular problem, and it’s not a really big problem, but it’s not a good fit to post on a Stack Exchange site or a forum. Maybe it involves private code that would be painful to sanitize, or maybe you need interactive help with a design, or you want to look at a production server together. You say, “Hey, could I just hire you for an hour or two to look at this?” and the answer is usually no because of my calendar, but that’s another story.
The real story here is that I know there’s a market for microconsulting: direct, short-term access to experts.
Imagine being able to look at the Stack Exchange user reputation leaderboard for a given tag – say, the SQL Server tag – and see which users are available for consulting help. They’ve already proven their expertise in public, answering questions and giving guidance. You wouldn’t care who they worked for or where they were located – you’d just love to talk to them for an hour or two, and pay a fair rate for their time. Experts would absolutely love it – for example, I bet Paul White would love to take $200 from you to hang out for an hour and answer questions about your execution plans.
I’ve been mesmerized by the idea of microconsulting for years, and I’m convinced that it’s the way of the future for knowledge workers.
TechCrunch wrote this weekend that in the future, employees won’t exist, but I think they misuse Uber as an example. The taxi industry hasn’t had employees in the past, either, so Uber isn’t really revolutionizing that industry the way microconsulting could revolutionize IT.
I’ve seen a few companies take stabs at it, including Google Helpouts, but none of them have taken off. In my opinion, the missing piece is real, definitive metrics about a user’s topical expertise.
That’s exactly what Stack Exchange has: reputation numbers.
Sure, reputation isn’t perfect, and there’s plenty of ways users could try to game the system:
- Microconsultants could set up fake questions and answer them, thereby amping up their own reputation
- Microconsultants could downvote their competitors in an effort to corner the market on a topic.
- Microconsultants could subcontract out their answering, hiring multiple people to staff the same account (and I’m not entirely convinced that would be a bad thing)
But I think these problems would actually be fun to tackle. Having people fight even harder to quickly answer free questions would be a great thing for the market – and easier, more affordable access to experts would be even better.
Ironically, it’s in my best interest for this to never happen, because it would devalue my expertise. Consulting would turn into a race to the bottom, getting the right answers as quickly and inexpensively as possible. It would wildly disrupt the entire consulting industry.
I’ve raised the idea a couple of times with Joel Spolsky, the Stack head honcho, and he’s not interested. I don’t blame him because the current direction of Stack is working out pretty darned well. I even thought about hiring someone to write a browser extension to do it, adding little “hire me” buttons next to Stack user names who had registered in a microconsulting database. I’m just not that hard of a worker.
So take that and run with it, somebody. You’re welcome. Get rich. Make us proud.
I think one of the concerns about basing this off reputation is that, frequently, SE reputation comes about by being able to be the first person to answer a question. Most certainly for things that are not overly complex. That makes it a kind of competition. You also have folks that, it seems, trawling SE to provide answers is a part of their actual job description. It leads to a very two-tiered situation. After all, who’s going to spend the time to answer a question that someone has already answered? Not that many people (unless there are glaring issues in the answers provided).
In thought, it’s a great idea, but in practice, it’s much more challenging to present a quality microconsulting candidate.
Nic – I think it’s actually not as tough as you think. If there’s money involved, the quality of answers will skyrocket, and the problem will fix itself.
It would be an interesting experiment to find out most certainly.
It looks like hack.hands() is doing something vaguely like this now. (I don’t have any affilliation with hack.hands().)
James – that’s an interesting service, hadn’t heard of that. Looks like they were just acquired by Pluralsight, too, so they’re probably going to face on the training aspect rather than the task-execution aspect.
Sort of related… how do you balance writing answers to questions on stack exchange vs when to consolidate the knowledge into a blog post?
I’m curious as I wonder of the value for future work on having a higher dba.stackexchange rank vs a independent blog where I’ve posted my own articles.
Curious how you balance that.
SqlBarbarian – I tend to put long answers on my site, and then refer to them in StackExchange answers.