IT consultant with a passion for sailing
How can immersion in complex IT issues be combined with the urge to enjoy the great outdoors on a sailing boat? Freelance consultant Søren Andersen has cracked this code. Read his fascinating story and hear how he got the courage to go his own way.
Interviewing freelance consultant Søren Andersen for ConsultantNews was not an easy task. When the interview took place in the early spring of 2015, he was on a boat with his family somewhere in the Mediterranean. One day, he was out on the open sea, eating up the sea miles on his way back to Copenhagen. The next day, the mobile phone connection was so poor that we had to give up the conversation after shouting "What" to each other for a few minutes.
Yet finally we succeeded, while Søren Andersen and his family were berthed for a few days in the French town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, because the wind was too strong for them to continue further north.
"Last summer, we covered the first stage from Copenhagen and down to the Mediterranean, where we sailed around, calling at Corsica and other places," he says. "We left the boat for the winter in Barcelona, and started the second leg of the trip a few weeks ago. Our aim is to sail up along the coast to the Rhône, and then inland along the rivers to west of Paris, where we will take the sea route home to Copenhagen. This will bring us home when our eldest child starts school at the beginning of August."
We will get back to Søren Andersen's passion for sailing and life on the open sea, and especially how he combines seafaring with the role of IT consultant.
Interactive holiday centre in 1999
But first we should zoom into Søren Andersen's first real meeting with programming on the computer science degree course in Aalborg in 1997. Looking back, Søren Andersen remembers how at that time he was most interested in the analysis and design subjects. The programming subjects with Delphi and C++ did not appeal to him much. But in a concluding exam project there was suddenly something about web programming in ASP – or Classic ASP, as it is called today – that appealed to him.
"It was a project for a holiday centre in Northern Jutland, where we were to create their website, with presentations of the holiday homes both on video and as images. It was actually relatively interactive, even though this was back in 1999. Users could visit all the various cabins and see how they looked. I don't know exactly what happened during this project, but somehow the penny dropped and I discovered that programming could be fun – working with some fellow students who were really ace at the graphic content, so we ended up putting together something really good," says Søren Andersen.
Talking the B&O lingo
On completion of his computer science degree, Søren successfully applied for a job in Copenhagen with Mærsk IT. In his own words, he was lucky enough to be part of a major customer project for B&O, developed in Microsoft's product package comprising ASP, VB6, SQL Server 7.0 and Transaction Server.
"At that time, these were state-of-the-art tools. This was before the .NET framework came onto to the market. The actual project was a Retail Order System, which was to be used by B&O's dealers all over the world for configuration and order placement, integrating with B&O's ERP system. It was really great, with the chance to work with a lot of really bright people," says Søren Andersen.
"Three days a week, I worked at the office in Copenhagen, while I spent two days a week with the customer in Struer. I grew up in Nykøbing Mors, so I spoke the local dialect and knew how to act. This was a really good introduction to the professional IT world."
Six months in Australia and New Zealand
After a few years with Mærsk IT, followed by a short stay with a small start-up company, Søren Andersen was hired by the former Mondo A/S. He did not know it, but this set the stage for his a later career – and lifestyle – as a freelance consultant.
"While working for Mondo, I had started at ITU (the IT University of Copenhagen). But after a while I took a sabbatical from both my studies and Mondo, as I had the urge to try something new. I had sailed a lot as a child and a week at sea with a good friend had rekindled my enjoyment of sailing. So in 2004, I and my friend spent six months in New Zealand and Australia. This was an amazing experience, and when I got back to Denmark, my wanderlust was still strong. So I spent another year at Mondo before I quit to spend three months on a vessel crossing the Atlantic to the Caribbean. The plan was to try to make sailing my living, by crewing on sailing vessels. But when I finally got to the Caribbean, I really wanted to travel home again and plan my next move. This was when I seized the opportunity to start freelancing," says Søren Andersen.
Drew up an action plan
This decision also included balanced consideration of the types of IT assignments that Søren Andersen would like to work on. When you are young, you often end up building up your technical skills in the field in which work is currently available, or on which employers focus commercially. For Søren Andersen this meant that until then he had primarily worked with database technology.
"But I actually wanted to move into SharePoint development, because I seemed to be stagnating, with the same type of assignments, and could feel how my drive and motivation were declining. SharePoint seemed to be an exciting platform, with a lot going for it. At that time, a lot of companies were moving in that direction, so there were many assignments to be had, especially for large companies. So I drew up an action plan, and took some courses and certificates and supplementary training via blogs, books, screencasts and programming. I went to a conference in London and got lots of tips from friends and acquaintances. I also took the risk of saying no, with reasons, to assignments that had nothing to do with my new focus area," says Søren Andersen.
"My plan succeeded, and later I got my first SharePoint assignment, and more soon followed. The longest was via ProData, who were really good at presenting me as a candidate. They were very open about my relatively limited SharePoint experience at that time, but I had loads of experience within web and CMS systems on the .NET platform, so I got the assignment, which lasted one year in total. Later I have expanded my focus again and am currently handling general development on the .NET platform within web and integration," says Søren Andersen.
Sense of freedom matters most
For a number of years, Søren Andersen switched between working and shorter or longer sailing trips. This was his life, until he met his wife and they started a family.
"Today, my life is primarily lived behind a computer screen, like everyone else," Søren Andersen laughs. "But once in a while, we manage to get away, as we are doing right now. My wife also freelances, so this works for us," says Søren Andersen, going on to sum up his greatest motivator.
"The sense of freedom matters most. The freedom to pick your own assignments, as a consultant, and the sense of freedom out on the open sea. When I'm sailing, I switch off completely from the rest of the world. There's no noise and all you need to think about is sailing the boat. It's a great way of relaxing and recharging your energy depots," he says.
Søren Andersen's tips for other consultants
As a freelance consultant, you should not shop around too much between agencies and companies. "If I'm working on an assignment at a customer's site, and get offered an assignment at the same place via another agency, I'll always decline."
- Make it easy for the employer to hire you again. "Act professionally, become part of the team and do what you're paid to do. Most of the companies I work for have hired me before. This means that they know me, and what they are getting."
- Do not be afraid to interrupt your career for a while and do something completely different. "The first times I did this I was quite worried about what would happen when I got back again, and whether there would be any work for me, but there was, of course."
- Stay updated. "To be able to take a break once in a while, you need to keep yourself updated on the latest technology. It's important for me to spend time on going to conferences, sparring with my network and self-study behind my screen."