So I Hear You've Joined the Dark Side

By: Wesley Dismore, Traffic and Transportation E.I.T. - Stantec

“So, I hear you’ve joined the dark side?”

It was true- I recently left my position in municipal government to try my hand in the private sector. I gave up a comfortable routine where I knew all the rules, lured by the potential to work on a wider variety of more exciting projects. But the public sector gave me my first job in this industry, and I didn’t really know what was waiting for me on the other side.

It turns out that everything is different, but everything’s still the same.

My average day in the office bears no resemblance to my old life. Now I create new plans and write new reports, rather than mostly reviewing work other people have done. I don’t speak for a city anymore, so my heart doesn’t jump into my throat when I see a contractor doing something dangerous in rush hour traffic. I feel the familiar joy of making it to Friday afternoon, but also the new and horrifying realization that I have no idea what to put on my timesheet this week.

Some days I miss the feeling of belonging to somewhere, of ownership over a particular piece of ground, and the struggle to improve it any way you can. Consultants are nomadic: we follow the clients, we call no place our own, and we’re always be on the hunt for more work. I’m still developing some of those instincts. In the public sector, work just piles up on your desk faster than you can do it. As a consultant, I’m learning that if you aren’t marketing while you’re busy you won’t be busy for long.

Life in consulting is definitely different, but this is still the same industry, the same characters, and even the same bad jokes. We’re here to deliver projects, and that still means concrete and asphalt on the ground. And so far, I’ve found myself relying on many of the same skills: technical skills, sure, but interpersonal skills are just as important when dealing with a stubborn client as they were for corralling a wayward consultant. And that makes sense- I didn’t realize until I made the switch, but tons of people have gone from one side to the other, and often back again. I still have more in common with an engineer in the public sector than with just about anybody else on Earth (like planners, for example).

I’m not sure yet whether I really belong in the private or public sector, and I probably won’t know for a long time. But I’ll never regret giving it a shot. After all, now I know the full power of the dark side.



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