Today – Celebrating 25 years as a full-time consultant…

Monday, October 19, 1987… the day the stock market crashed… was also my first day as a full time consulting engineer with the company I confounded. The crash was scary, but we obviously survived. Now we just reminisce that the first day in business was the worst day in business. It has been better ever since.

After consulting part time for nine years, it was time to take the plunge. At age 41, the time seemed right. I didn’t want to wake up at 60 regretting that I had not even tried. Besides, the worst possible outcome was not fatal — it just meant having to crawl back into the corporate world again.

Since we didn’t want to sink the business right away, I stepped out first. The original plan was to for me to work on projects while drumming enough additional business to support both of us. We thought this might take six months or more, but we were wrong.

In spite of the market crash, my business partner was able to jump in a few months later. We had done a lot of planning, and it paid off. We also had socked away enough money to sustain us for several months with no business, and a year with moderate business. That let us focus on building the business, rather than worrying about paychecks.

Looking back, there have been quite a few adventures that most likely would have been missed in a regular job. These include several interesting foreign assignments:

  • Korea – Two trips to teach classes to about 100 engineers. What a pretty and gracious country!  And who knew there were so many types of kim chee?
  • Kuwait – One trip to teach a class for the Kuwait National Petroleum Company. This was after the Iraq/Iran war, but just before Kuwait was invaded. Met a bunch of fine young engineers there, and I hope they all survived the Iraq invasion.
  • Singapore – Ten days working on an experimental plasma incinerator. Boy, did that ever cause some interesting electromagnetic interference issues. Fixed it though, and enjoyed the multicultural influence on this very interesting city-state.
  • Alaska – OK,  technically not a foreign country, but spent two weeks teaching classes at Prudhoe Bay, the wellhead of the Alaska pipeline. This was a treat, as my brother (a civil engineer) was responsible for many of the buildings in the oil camps. Also experienced -50F, even colder than Minnesota.
  • Others – Several trips to the UK, Germany, Amsterdam, Canada, and Mexico for both teaching and consulting projects. Enjoyed them all.

There have also been a number of very interesting engineering projects across a wide range of industries. Here are some memorable ones:

  • Diesel locomotives. A highlight was sitting in the cab, looking for the cord to blow the whistle.  Disappointed, however, when I discovered it was jut a button on a console. Oh well…
  • Airplanes. Worked on a lot of avionics projects, but another highlight was sitting in the cockpit of a Gulfstream pretending I was a pilot. My client even said it was OK to make airplane sounds.  Now do engineers know how to have fun, or what?
  • Spacecraft. Worked on a bunch of these too. A highlight here is knowing one of those projects is still orbiting overhead gathering scientific data, and well in excess of its expected life.
  • Nuclear power plants. One time when I asked where the reactor was, I was told it was only a few feet away through solid concrete. No, I don’t glow in the dark, but the real disappointment was that I didn’t start regrowing hair.
  • Medical devices. Probably among the most satisfying projects, realizing that my efforts have helped improve products that save lives.

In total, I’ve worked on a couple of hundred projects across a wide range of industries (details here), yielding several lifetimes of engineering experiences. In addition, my business partner and I have trained over 10,000 engineers in our technical specialty — sharing what we’ve learned with a new generation of engineers — a reward in itself.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.  It has been quite the adventure!

Incidentally, this post was not meant to brag, but rather to offer an example and encouragement to anyone considering their own JumpToConsulting.

What will the next 25 years bring you?

P.S. – Won’t be posting for a couple of weeks – time for a little vacation. But, like the Terminator, “I’ll be baaack..”

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