I am proud to be a business and technology consultant. There is nothing more satisfying than to be able to help a client solve a knotty business problem or achieve a new opportunity. And I am not alone. I am part of a large and vibrant consulting community that is integral to the economic health of the global business community.
One of the little-known facts is that our profession has a rich historical tradition, one that dates back to before the early Wild West days of the great silicon rush. Many figures loom large in our folklore as spiritual founding fathers, giants, and pioneers of our industry. I thought that it would be a refreshing change to look back at some of our seminal folk legends and take inspiration from their examples. I have chosen three from the pantheon of immortals for your pleasure and edification.
<major satire alert>
Buffalo Bill Coder
William “Buffalo Bill” Coder was born of humble roots in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. He began writing software at eleven, shortly after the death of his father, in order to help feed the family. He had to work on old computers borrowed from friends and relations. At seventeen, he lied about his age in order to book passage at the Windows Company, where he worked his way up from Intern to Senior Analyst. His rapid rise was attributed to an arcane subroutine he wrote that he called the Borgia Function. Bored with learning, he jumped ship at nineteen and made his way to the Silicon Valley where he took a series of brief jobs with large companies.
It was during this part of his life that he earned the nickname “Buffalo Bill.” Coder wrote programs and procedures of great complexity, frequently departing from established rules and practices. When his colleagues questioned him on it, pitched battles would erupt but Coder would always gain the upper hand by pistol-whipping his opponents with the phrase, “I couldn’t possibly expect you to comprehend.” As often as not, though, this would make the town too hot for him and he would move on once again.
Eventually, Coder opened up his own Wild West Show, traveling throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Captains of industry and seats of governments welcomed him with open arms, paying huge fees for his work. His audiences became dependent on him, commanding repeat engagements for years. Coder was one of the first to cash in on the Monumental Health Law, securing the contract for several of the mandated web sites. His celebrity was stellar.
It was only a fluke that his career came to a bizarre and untimely end. While visiting his safe deposit box, the time lock on the bank vault malfunctioned, causing the vault door to close prematurely. Ironically, Coder himself had written the software some years earlier, and the Borgia Function, a feature of all Coder’s implementations, had executed unexpectedly. It took a team of eleven programmers more than a week to open the vault. When they finally succeeded, they found Coder alive but hopelessly insane. He died in an asylum several years later. But to this day, software professionals around the world are still trying to unravel the Byzantine secrets of Buffalo Bill Coder.
It is said that Paul Bunion was larger than life even from the cradle. Bunion’s mother was wont to say that he was so full of hot air as a baby that they could heat the entire fifteen-room house during the coldest of Minnesota winters. Throughout his school years it was clear that he was destined to become someone of monumental proportions. Gregarious and companionable, he made friends easily, but his hearty back slap left scores of his playmates in traction.
Bunion’s gift for talking was profound. If a teacher made the mistake of calling on him in class, Paul would still be talking when everyone else had gone home to dinner. Legend has it that a hapless tutor committed such a blunder early on a Friday afternoon. When Monday morning rolled around and everyone returned, Paul was still there at the front of the room, blathering away.
Bunion’s parents began to worry that their son might not be able to make it in the world. There seemed to be few honest professions (which excluded politics) where a person could make a living from mere yakking. Salvation came in the form of a mail order catalog, on the back of which a correspondence course in consulting was advertised. No experience was necessary and the entire course took place by mail. It was ideal. They enrolled Bunion the next day.
Three weeks later, Bunion was a consultant. Instead of a diploma, the correspondence school shipped him a box of business cards. Bunion packed up his clothes, wished his parents farewell, and headed for the Golden State. And while business was slow at first, he began to pick up clients rapidly once he realized that he could talk them into submission. Nonstop jibber jabber and a hearty handshake were all that he needed.
Bunion was most famous for his two big contests. A man once bet him that he couldn’t out-talk ten different people. Bunion smiled from ear to ear and shook the man’s hand, accepting the bet. On the day of the contest, Paul started talking along with the first of his ten contestants. When the first contestant tired, the second took over and so forth until they started all over again. Paul just kept chattering away, holding his own against all ten of them until they had gone through their rotation some twenty times. They finally conceded. Paul had won hands down, blathering nonstop for thirty-three straight days and nights without stopping for a breath or saying anything worth paying attention to.
Another time, a man bet him that if enough people talked at him all at once, that Bunion would have to stop and listen. He just shook his head again, smiled, and accepted the bet. They held this contest in an arena and they say over a thousand people paid to go up against Bunion. The louder the contestants talked, the louder Bunion talked. The more people joined in, the bigger Bunion’s smile. No sir, he did not hear a word of it. He might as well have had his ears stuffed with ground mackerel.
Paul Bunion is still out there talking, and people are still paying to listen. I don’t know where he is today, but it is comforting to know that there is still a living legend among us. I look forward to the day I can shake his hand and listen too.
Wild Bill Hiclock
James Butler “Wild Bill” Hiclock was a trailblazing consultant and gambler from the heyday of the industry. The young James was bright and had an entrepreneurial mind. He discovered early on that he had a gift for appearing useful without doing anything particular. When he was thirteen, he started a lawn mowing service in which he employed two of his buddies. They could spend an entire day on one lawn, looking for all the world like a swarm of bees, and only get the bare minimum accomplished by sundown. “Tough lawn, Ma’am,” he would reply when questioned about his fee. “Dangest thing. We had to work extra hard just to get it this far.”
Like many things in his life, Hiclock never finished college. Instead, he began a consulting firm, rounding up his childhood friends to help. They specialized in long-term technology projects requiring months for discovery and design. Hiclock and his team would disappear into a closed conference room for days at a time. At the end of each week, Hiclock would present a detailed progress report that had all the transparency of a Chinese puzzle box. He began to be called “Wild Bill” soon after his first clients received their invoices.
What transpired in those conference rooms was never revealed, but as Hiclock’s firm gained new clients, the list of his employee’s technical certifications burgeoned inexplicably. Hiclock’s legend grew even larger when it began to be whispered that the same consultant team could keep three clients on full time billing simultaneously. Their apparent productivity was almost magical.
The firm closed its doors shortly after Hiclock’s mysterious disappearance. Hiclock was only thirty-nine at the time. It was during a late night poker game with his partners. Hiclock had just dealt himself a full house of aces and eights when a man appeared from the darkness behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. We have only the word of his confederates as to what happened next. Their story is that Hiclock and the mysterious visitor simply vanished. Poof!
To this day, nobody knows what actually happened. Of course, his partners were suspected in the beginning of being the instruments of Hiclock’s destruction. Everyone soon realized, however, that they had no actual skills and would be unable to run a consulting firm by themselves, much less mastermind their benefactor’s disappearance. They were totally dependent on his ability to bend time. That leads us to the most likely explanation. “Wild Bill” Hiclock had been whisked away to oblivion by a Time Lord, enraged by the man’s meddling in affairs of the clock. I wonder if he went well with “catch up?”
</major satire alert>
I hope you have enjoyed my three tall tales. There is no real message here or lesson to be learned. We have all met these gentlemen in one form or another during our travels, and if we squint we may also see a little piece of ourselves as well. I had hoped to share with you the legends of P.T. Blarney and Paul Severe, but that will have to wait due to constraints of space and time. And on that latter constraint, given Wild Bill Hiclock’s unceremonious departure from this plane of existence, it is prudent to simply leave it there.
Would any of you care to try your hand at spinning a yarn about your favorite consulting folk hero? Submit your manuscripts to me and if you are lucky, you may become a guest blogger on Parnassus Musings!