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My life in Accenture before startups (swombat.com)
214 points by swombat on June 9, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 118 comments

I spent a number of years working as an employee of one of the big IT outsourcers on a Australian government department (better not say which one) contract. During this time I was required to assist a team from Accenture who had won a contract to write some software that needed to be integrated with a number of systems.

Accenture had "all their best people" on the job. This meant almost an entire floor of staff; managers, project managers, BAs, god knows what else. Oh, they also had two young devs, you know, to actually do the work. These two guys were nice, seemed pretty smart, but fresh out of uni had no experience at all and were just so far out of their depth it was embracing. I tried to help them where I could, but didn't get much opportunity.

Accenture originally gave a timeframe of three years for this project, but when I left they were two years in and still not even a working demo in sight. I have no idea if it was ever completed or what happened

> Accenture had "all their best people" on the job. This meant almost an entire floor of staff; managers, project managers, BAs, god knows what else. Oh, they also had two young devs, you know, to actually do the work.

As a dev/architect in Professional Services (not at a big 5 consulting firm), this is way off the mark. PMs and BAs do a ton of work that I either would not want to do or am not good at and while the end product is a bundle of code there is a LOT of work that goes into building it outside of straight development.

I tend to write in a hyperbolic way to accentuate the point I'm trying to make. Obviously the BAs et al do a lot of work, but I was trying to contrast the number of non-developers to developers (yes, there were only 2).

I should note that my opinion of BAs is not very high, based solely on the dozen or so I've had to work with. The job sounds worthwhile, and I'm sure there's excellent BAs out there, but the company I used to work for didn't employ any of them (or perhaps the culture was such that the good ones left)

I totally agree that non-coders contribute mightily to a project...especially good BAs. However, if there were really only two developers (which is admittedly unclear from the description) then it sounds like the staffing was absurdly out of whack. Unless this is a tiny floor and we're talking one PM and BA for the two devs....

I left Accenture (Italy) this january, after 3 years, and just like you I was hired right after graduation thanks to my 'mad' java skills, after about 1 year I wasn't writing much code anymore and SQL, Word & Excel became my only daily companions.

Negatives/things I didn't like during my experience in Accenture:

  - Working 10-14 hours a day (^). If you were to leave at 6pm your supervisor 
  would joke about it ("hey, did you get that part-time thing?").
  It's alienating and can be done only if you're young & single. 
  You are supposed to immolate yourself for the company.

  - Procedures & timetables to fill: I were required to follow the 
  most cumbersome procedures even for the simplier tasks and file every 
  single small detail of what I've done in a form somewhere for monitoring 
  While this is a good practice in general, what was going on there 
  was beyond absurdity. I spent more time reporting what I was doing 
  than working on the actual task.

  - Dressing code = compulsory business attire, Suite + tie (!)

  - Managers overlydramatic speeches. Laughable attitude.

  - Strong pyramidal scheme. If your non-technical supervisor closed a deal 
  with the client on a specific feature, it didn't matter if it was technically 
  unfeasible and risked to put in jeopardy the whole system, you were -ordered- 
  to do it. obey. Reworking was then very common.

  - What matter isn't the quality of your work, it's the amount of time 
  you spend on it. You're consultants and your company charges the client by 
  the hours you do. The more you stay in the office, the better is for the company. 
  Optimization? who cares.

  - Most of my coworkers there were really, really, really bored. 
  Their life was sucked into the office, and the only thought they had on a 
  typical monday morning was how to make it through the next weekend.

  - I found some truly talented people, and I learned lots of both technical 
  and people skills.

  - You get to learn some self-discipline, especially when it comes to schedule 
  your time to reach specific goals.

  - On a professional point of view, I grew up a lot, it's a good 'gym', 
  an eye-opener.
Anyway, in all honesty, I'm glad I've been working there and I do not regret it at all. If I were to run a startup right after university, I would have bit off more than I could chew, probably.

(^) I don't mind working 10-14 on my own stuff, things that I'm crafting with my hands and that I find exciting. Pretending to work 14 hours on a bi-monthly report just because you've got to leave at the same time as everybody else is another thing.

"What matter isn't the quality of your work, it's the amount of time you spend on it."

So what is the motivation for employing good developers then? If you make more money by taking longer then the sensible thing to do would be to hire less skilled people who talked a good game but were poor at actually doing stuff.

The problem here is that considering how these consulting companies are structured, how they work and their size, the capability to hire good developers imho is not even there.

Also, are companies like Accenture chosen by their clients for the incredible quality of their work? I'm also from Italy, so i could have observed something peculiar to this market, but the clients of those big consulting corps (usually from the financial sector or similar) just pick one of the biggest players as a "safe" bet, technical considerations are not part of the decision.

Which big player do they choose and why? I remember a discussion here on HN about "golf course software", that could be the methodology.

Client pay for predictably mediocre. It's a scale: pay $X and get Y% probability of the project being done by D date. Of course they don't even get that; in practice, Accenture are as unpredictable as any large-scale software development effort. So rather than mediocre yet safe, you get mediocre, and late, and over budget. LOLZ on you! Or on your poor shareholders/taxpayers more like.

When I dealt with Accenture (back when they were Anderson Consulting), they were quite predictable - always late, always over budget, and always producing an unmaintainable mess.

The developers were good or bad in about the same percentages as other companies, but the management structure was designed to suck money out of the client. Work product was secondary (or, whatever) and it showed.

That's actually what they do, but a consistent number of consultants on a specific project is necessary to justify their high prices. And they can do it because once they've taken control of most of the client's backoffice, so that he can't stay in business without them, they can ask higher fees.

I think I got lucky as far as working hours went. I was in an account and with a client that didn't seem to care so much. Even at that client, some Accenture teams worked long hours, but the teams where I spent a lot of time were never the 12-hours-a-day workaholic types. I'd say that for 98+% of my time at Accenture, I arrived at work around 9am and left work around 6pm, with a decent lunch break in the middle (30-60 minutes).

Had similar experiences (i guess this is the norm) in my first years as a consultant and yes, while is often frustrating working in a big corporation (consulting or not) is really an eye-opener and can leave a positive mark on how you approach your profession (as in becoming completely intolerant toward: bad use of time, useless bureaucracy, inconsistent planning or design/architectures, etc... ).

I'm the same - worked myself to death while there, but don't regret it now. I truly learnt some amazing skills and life lessons. Now I earn more than I ever did there (10 years!), have far less responsibility, have far less time pressure to work under... and am bored stupid most of the time :(

Just for anyone wondering, not all consultancies operate this way. I've been at ThoughtWorks for 2 years now and it's nothing like this. It's quite literally the opposite on every negative point mentioned above.

As opposed to being metaphorically the opposite of every negative point above?

LOL. your boss knows your HN id?

My story is nearly identical (US, NY). I left after 5 years. No kool-aid drinking here.

Accenture is a culture you either fit into or you don't - a very 'up-or-out' mentality.

Some of the problems that commenters have noted are definitely attributed to the internal culture: an over-emphasis on face-time, long hours with no real work to do, and occasionally selling work that was undeliverable (technically unfeasible, impossible delivery schedule, etc).

Some management was good, a lot of it was poor, and generally the focus was on selling and looking good rather than delivering a viable product. At all levels, you're ranked against your co-workers for a very small number of promotion slots, particularly in recent times. This creates a strange dynamic: you're both trying to work with people at your level to create something useful for a client and prove that you're better/smarter/faster than your peers, some of whom are on the same project and most of whom you've never met.

Many of the complaints, however, are an effect of having large numbers of stakeholders on a complicated project. Clients are often unpredictable, and incented by a completely different set of goals. There's generally a lot of money and a lot of management involved, and people have their careers staked on these projects - disagreement is normal. Rework was extremely common due to constant spec changes, and I had to go to bat for my developers numerous times.

It's not a great work environment. Low and mid level people are generally dropped into a project with no background and the client has been told that they're experts on whatever giant, 30-year-old legacy system that the client is running. They fake it and learn on the job. There's often a hostile reception from the client employees - the perception is that you're a highly paid consultant coming to take their job or fire them. Travel is the norm, and you're expected to work long hours since you aren't going home to a family - just a generic hotel room.

Ultimately, what drove me out was the lack of interesting and rewarding work, the internal politics, and the isolation. Wish I had left sooner, but I hadn't figured out what I wanted.

A few years ago I quit my job in academia to go work as a field delivery consultant for a large ERP firm. This whole thing was a ridiculous culture shock to me. I quit because I wanted to try something different -- it was different, all right.

For the first year or so I was doing some development work on the client side as well as requirements gathering and dealing with integration. I was cool with this, because I was doing something technical but wanted something that would flex my people skills as well.

At one point I was tasked with requirements gathering for a customer who wanted some custom work done to their installation of our product. They bought two weeks of my time to draft a spec, and no development -- my deliverable was basically to draft the SOW for the next consultant who was to write a technical design for someone else who was to write code.

I finished the spec, in spite of a client who really was extremely hard to deal with. The client sat on it for a few months and decided they wanted to revisit the issue, so I got on a plane again and spent two more weeks trying to tease some answers out of them so I could revise things.

The final specification amounted to approximately 95 pages including screenshot mockups. The spec went back to the home office, where our development team reviewed it and quoted something like three or four months' time to develop it, test it, and hand off back to the customer for acceptance testing. They planned for the invariable back and forth on that as well. This was in February of that particular year; they were looking at taking the feature live on January 1 of the following year.

The feature they requested? Four simple web forms, the code to validate their input, and a report generator to dump back out what was put into the form.

After we finalized the spec for this I turned in my two weeks and went straight back to academia, where four web forms and a report is something you write, wrap automated tests around, and deploy before lunchtime.

> he feature they requested? Four simple web forms, the code to validate their input, and a report generator to dump back out what was put into the form. After we finalized the spec for this I turned in my two weeks and went straight back to academia, where four web forms and a report is something you write, wrap automated tests around, and deploy before lunchtime.

I think this is a very uneven comparison. Comparing what a decent coder can do as to what is spec'd, negotiated and sold is wildly different.

At the heart of the problem is that consulting agencies and ISVs like Accenture benefit from more "work" being done, so they sell more "work". The product delivered is a consequence.

I know a few friends who worked for Accenture (back when it was called Andersen Consulting). I always thought the most fascinating thing (aside from the instant credibility of having the company on your resume) was their training program which was designed to take mostly liberal arts majors and teach them C programming (with unknown long-term success but at least enough to not totally drown at a first client engagement). The training program was very intensive and immersive, and I wonder what became of it and if the basic principles of the program could be applied to retraining willing liberal arts graduates.

My information is 4 years old now, so perhaps someone else can pitch in something more up to date, but back then:

- They switched to Java

- Solutions Workforce, being engineers, were expected to already know how to program, and only got a day or two of induction (which was lame)

- Consulting got a 2-week induction (Core Analyst School) + 2 weeks of programming classes, iirc

- Back in the Andersen Consulting days, consultants did do some (generally considered dreadful) programming, but by 2003 they launched the "Solutions Workforce", which was designed to be made up of people who actually knew how to program for longer than 2 weeks

I don't know if they've since dropped the programming classes.

That was one of the reasons why i politely declined when i was asked if i was interested in a interview for the consulting branch. A place where people with zero experience are hired, trained in a few weeks and them sent to some client as a "consultant"? No, thanks...

This is what I love about consulting companies. They get the contract by talking up their experience with the client's business, but once the deal is signed they just scoop a bunch of warm bodies off the street to do the actual work.

Not a single one of the projects I worked on or was directly aware of, in 4 years, ever used a subcontractor.

That's anecdotal evidence, but it should clarify that though it no doubt happens (and happened more before there was a Solutions Workforce), it's by no means the norm to hire subcontractors to "do the real work".

I'm not talking about subcontractors. Most consultancies, including Accenture in my limited personal experience with them, staff up with new hires (preferably cheap new grads) whenever they get a new contract. When business slows down enough that people are lingering on the bench, they get fired. They are essentially high-end temp agencies.

Nope. When business gets slow, they fire the experienced people, who are much more expensive to keep around idle.

True. That is the "up or out" model at work. The few that survive such attrition are partner material, meaning they can put up with the lifestyle, enjoy the role of digging through other peoples business, and have potential as sales people.

Exactly, those clients should simply learn to do some background checks on these companies verifying their projects log(un/successful). But as said somewhere else, if the project is "golf course software" common sense doesn't apply.

When I started with accenture 10 years ago, I was the only coder in my startup group and part of the induction was basically to see how well I could help out my team and get them to finish their work.

My experience (off and on-work) with Accenture was horrible.

A small anecdote (out of many):

I visited a good friend of mine, a true math and programming genius, who was in the middle of his PhD at the ETHZ. An acquaintance of my friend started to tell bullshit stories about his "heroic" job at Accenture. An untalented money whore if I ever saw one. If you know nothing and have the moral integrity of a human trafficker, it looks like you end up in consulting @ Accenture.

Buzzwords. Check. "Play the game or get lost" mantras. Check. "People making less than 100k are lazy bastards". Check. "All companies are rotting from within, our external consulting work is basically a gift of god". Check. Blah blah blah. He got a hard on from riling us up, the "naive idealists" we are.

Get real, son.

I'm sorry but this isn't an anecdote it's a rant. The only hard quantifiable information in your post is that you've worked at Accenture and that you visited a friend who was in the middle of his PHD. The rest is just emotions and yelling at people you don't like.

The fact that this is the top comment [1] on this story is quite frightening to me. It adds nothing to the conversation, and is an open invitation to an unsubstantiated but emotional argument about whether employees at large companies are all assholes that only care about money. Surely enough there's now a whole thread that doesn't add much to the conversation, and from which I've learned nothing.

This is a prime example of the decline of HN.

[1] Since we can't see points it's of course impossible for me to be certain whether this post has many upvotes, or whether it's at the top based on one of the other ranking parameters. (please let us have our points back!)

Example of the decline? What would have been more appropriate in your opinion?

Any company with 100k+ people is going to have its share of idiots. I worked there for 4 years and, in my experience, this type of person was definitely a very small minority.

I'd blame the person rather than the company for this kind of terribly flawed character.

Agreed that any company is going to have it's share of idiots, but isn't it the principle job of a company like Accenture to hire competent people? Their business model is to lease out intellectual talent so their principle job is to create talent.

I, like most people commenting here, have worked with a lot of bad Accenture people and am shocked when I do actually meet a good one. Yes, they do exist, but most good people don't stay long (much like yourself) because they realize opportunities outside of Accenture are much more lucrative.

Also, their model is fairly obvious now (like other big 4) - huge margins on Jr Consultants that are lead by competent seniors. When the senior people are incompetent and the juniors are not fast learners then the whole model is broken and thus the assumption that "everyone is idiots".

No, theyre only interested in hiring billable people. They're not interested in creating talent or nurturing competencies, they provide numbers (or better, warm bodies to fill the client's chairs) and often subcontract to smaller consultancies when truly competent people are needed on some project.

The subcontracting thing alone should be enough to never have anything to do with a company that does it, but usually the clients don't even know/suspect.

Edit: What about the downvotes? is subcontracting a good thing for the client (or for the small consultancies, that could become completely dependent on the contracts from the big players) or something that should be encouraged?

I'd blame the person and not the company myself if it were not for

a) Witnessing the havoc Accenture consulting unleashed upon a couple of businesses personally b) Knowing, albeit superficially, a load of people who currently work or had worked at Accenture. With the exception of one they're the poster jerks nobody likes.

Perhaps the culture is different in other countries. This was in Accenture UK.

Edit: I hate to suggest it, but perhaps there's also a bit of a perceptive bias going on, in both directions. I look for the good in people, and I found plenty of awesome people in Accenture. If you expect Accenture people to be arrogant idiots, probably every Accenture person you meet will look like just that.

Individual people I judge on their merits, same as anyone, but Accenture's involvement with the UK govt has been a disaster for everyone but them. What did they charge the NHS, and what did they deliver? Ripping off a healthcare provider is pretty low.

Accenture's involvement with the NHS was a major disaster for Accenture too. I can see why they went for it - it was the kind of huge contract that a company like Accenture can't resist - but unlike the other providers, they pulled out when they realised the whole thing was doomed (and took a very hefty financial penalty to do so).

FYI, they cancelled one of the twice-yearly promotion points because of the NHS debacle (which resulted, iirc, in a $450m write-off by Accenture UK, and basically wiped out the profits for the year). That pissed off a lot of people and caused a lot of their best people to leave the company. So, yeah, they took a big hit!

> Accenture's involvement with the NHS was a major disaster for Accenture too.

It still amazes me how many major disasters these large firms can absorb. A 450mil write-off would cripple most businesses. Not picking at Accenture specifically but I've seen Cap, IBM, etc all get doused by law suits and/or write-offs that are absolutely massive.

I would very much like to see a windfall tax on all those companies, to claw back what the last government wasted on them.

I actually read the contracts whilst in a non-programming role. There was about 6 inches of paper, all of it utterly terrifying and mostly contradictory. The NHS deal had so many things wrong with it.

When Accenture finally caved and gave up, the share price increased significantly.

When, 9 out of 10 experiences with a company turn out to be negative, it could be argued that you build up a negative bias. I'm not saying that there are no decent people at ACN, there definitely are.

Either way, Accenture has an awful reputation within the technology sector imo.

They are still in business and still profitable so they must be doing something right.

On the other hand it took GM decades to burn through their reputation until they had none to salvage. Now they apologize profusely for being a shitty car manufacturer. I still won't buy one btw.

Perhaps this is also internal vs. external insight. It seems like from swombat's and other commenters who have worked there, the consensus is that there are many talented people who work at Accenture (and other big consultancy firms). However as an outsider, when looking at some of the work by these types of firms, you generally don't gain a sense of confidence in the people working there.

His peers probably think the same thing of him. It's rare to come across someone like that, but unfortunately they are sometimes around.

I can vouch for this. I never worked for any of the big 4, but worked with them on many occasions, when I was a consultant with a much smaller firm (<50 employees when I started, >200 when I left).

Consulting really is a great way to learn the ins and outs of business while earning a good salary and getting to travel. Combine it with writing lots of code and its a fantastic real-world education for a multitude of endeavors.

When you put it that way, it sounds exciting.

Sometimes I wish the world had forced me to go and do other things in between my undergrad and my PhD. Once you're on an academic career track it's hard to take a few years off to do something else.

Also once you are on an industry career track, it's hard to convince yourself to take time off to get a PhD.

You should make sure you get an internship.

I hated school by the time I had my undergraduate CS degree. I took two years in industry, realized I hated it far more than I could have ever imagined, now I am very happy in a PhD program. You need to work to get the perspective (and also to find the useful problems to solve).

My typical day working for a Big 5 firm:

   7:00 - drive to client in Redlands
   8:00 - arrive in Redlands
   8:42 - client arrives for 8:00 meeting
   8:51 - client leaves for emergency
   8:52 - review project with programmer - still 18 months behind
   9:15 - daily email to 6 bosses about dire status
   9:38 - take call from boss #4 - debate "strategic direction"
  10:20 - coffee, snack, & bitch session with lead programmer
  10:45 - drive to client in Century City
  12:20 - arrive in Century City, everyone at lunch already
  12:30 - have hot dog at sidewalk cafe, look for Christina Applegate
   1:15 - meet with client for daily status
   1:22 - client leaves for emergency
   1:28 - review project with programmer - still 18 months behind
   1:40 - daily email to 5 other bosses about dire status
   2:15 - take call from other boss #3 - debate "strategic direction"
   2:28 - referee dispute between contract & employee programmers
   3:20 - coffee, snack, & bitch session with lead programmer
   4:20 - drive home
   5:50 - arrive home
   8:10 - take calls from 4 other bosses debating strategy
   9:20 - end day knowing tomorrow will be exactly the same
   Total work done: 0
My typical day working for an enterprise:

   7:30 - drive to work
   7:50 - arrive at work, turn on Windows workstation
   7:51 - get coffee, greet co-workers
   8:10 - workstation finally up, check overnight logs
   8:15 - check email
   8:30 - resume programming on current project
   9:15 - take calls from 6 customers, changing scope
  10:00 - go to daily status meeting
  10:12 - everyone else arrives at daily status meeting
  10:48 - drop current project, work on daily emergency
  12:10 - go to lunch at mall foodcourt
   1:00 - check email
   1:10 - resume programming on current project, drop daily emergency
   1:40 - take 4 calls, give project status
   2:00 - go to Special Planning Session for Project #127
   2:12 - others arrive at Special Planning Session for Project #127
   2:48 - candy bar break, bitch with other programmers about code review
   3:10 - resume programming on current project
   4:00 - go to daily stand-up meeting for project status
   4:08 - others arrive at daily stand-up meeting for project status
   4:45 - email project status to 8 bosses
   5:10 - drive home
   5:45 - day ends
   Total work done: 2 hours

My typical day working for a start-up:

   6:00 - code
   8:00 - breakfast at desk while coding
  10:00 - coffee break outside
  10:10 - code
  12:00 - lunch at desk while coding
   2:00 - break outside
   2:15 - work on everything else except coding
   4:00 - review & print code
   5:00 - exercise
   6:00 - dinner with SO
   7:00 - visit mother, watch Jeopardy & Family Guy with her
   8:00 - code
  10:00 - turn off monitor, review code, plan next day
  Total work done: 8 hours

Silly question, why do you eat at your desk? And do you actually type in any code, or do you just look at your code and think about stuff in your mind?

It seems like you take breaks outside, but for me there's nothing like taking 30 mins to have lunch _at_ a table to clear your mind.

I find one of the most important functions of Lunch is to take a break and clear my head. My hands tend to be occupied, so if I'm home I'll watch an episode of something on Hulu or read HN. If I'm out with someone we'll just chat.

It's really quite refreshing and I love the feeling of having solved something over lunch that was frustrating me all morning, without having to think about it directly.

Every one of my colleagues and me find the couple of people who eat in the cubicles next to us incredibly rude.

Both are either managers or team leads so there's not a lot of volunteers to inform them of this. Although there have been subtle hints, but no one has picked up on the clues yet.

And both are very proud of giving it 110%, hence the eat and work at the same time show. Which is a joke, because one of them often eats with a knife and fork. How much coding is he really getting done while doing that?

But we do have the noise of the utensils and the glass dishes to enjoy, along with the smell of the food and the other noises which tend to accompany eating.

So for all of you out there, eating at your desks at work. Please stop!

I guarantee you, your neighbors don't like it. It's a mess. You're not fooling anyone into thinking you're working extra hard because you're eating at your desk. An office is not a lunch room. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and take a short lunch break.

    7:50 - arrive at work, turn on Windows workstation
    7:51 - get coffee, greet co-workers
    8:10 - workstation finally up, check overnight logs
You know you can just leave your windows computer on all night too, it will eventually enter sleep mode anyway (takes a few seconds the next day to "wake up") :)

That's against policy where I currently work. They also push updates that require a reboot overnight. Lots of big companies I've worked for do that as well.

I wish this were true everywhere, but as it stands, I am jealous that it only takes twenty minutes for his machine to boot.

This is an enterprise. So they probably use a AV product like McCrappy that takes 3 hours to scan for stuff.

Interesting. Can you elaborate on review & print code?

You know, printing. How do you back up your work?

Clay tablets, man. They last thousands of years, we're still finding them from Babylon.

His HN comments collection: http://edweissman.com/53640595 , search for "bed".

tl;dr: He likes to review his code and make notes on printouts in bed.

"All the code is now on the new platform." (points to code print outs sitting on top of the new computer).

  10:00 - go to daily status meeting
  10:12 - everyone else arrives at daily status meeting
   2:00 - go to Special Planning Session for Project #127
   2:12 - others arrive at Special Planning Session for Project #127
   4:00 - go to daily stand-up meeting for project status
   4:08 - others arrive at daily stand-up meeting for project status
If you know everyone else is going to be reliably late to a meeting, why show up on time and waste 32 minutes?

I considered commenting on how familiar this sounds.

Personally, I can't help showing up on time. It just comes naturally to me. It used to irritate me that other people don't show up on time, but I'm trying to get used to it.

If everyone could just show up on time for meetings, we would probably be done earlier and have time to get real work done.

Oh well.

But did you find Christina Applegate?

Nice. The first one sounds like Officespace, "I'd say in a given day I do about 15 minutes of actual work".

  10:45 - drive to client in Century City
  12:20 - arrive in Century City, everyone at lunch already
From what little I know of LA, that drive time sounds pretty short.

Writing software != Selling software

I remember when I was at university in the UK (a Top 10 one, and Top 5 for Computer Science). One of my graduating friends got hired by Accenture. When he told on of the (well-respected) professors, the professor literally laughed in his face.

I decided not to apply to Accenture.

My two favorite quotes about Accenture are:

"Accenture is a great place to be from" <-- not a great place to be at long term, but your learn a lot, you get to see how the enterprise world works, you make connections with other smart people who will help you for the rest of your professional career, and it is great on a resume.

"At Accenture the great employees leave, the weak are fired, and the mediocre become partners"

Have to disagree with the second comment. My experience was that the partners were exceptionally good at their job, which is essentially sales. Perhaps they are mediocre along other measurements? Every single one of them was a workaholic, which I don't find to be an admirable quality, so there's that.

Off topic from this comment thread, but the best part about working for Accenture is the extremely transparent career ladder and laddering process, (at least in the consulting workforce). It's something you only appreciate once you don't have it. I was able to look out 10 years and see that I would gradually be transformed into a workaholic sales guy that makes huge amounts of money. As soon as I figured that out I was out of there.

The first one seems spot on, but I know a number of people who have staid at Accenture, and some who were or are partners, and they are far from mediocre... Anecdotal evidence again, I guess...

This post really hits home for me. I have friends in consulting and I join a small tech company in bay area instead. I cannot believe when I hear about their experiences with consulting and how miserable they are in their jobs.

The struggle with consulting is that you never get to 'own' any decisions. There is not much accountability between conception, design and implementation. From my experience with big three consulting firms, they are brought in by execs to either 'validate' a path that was already determined or to get contract work done for short-term. In both cases, there is very little impact you can have on the overall business.

In my experience, if you want to be a good entrepreneur, get a job where you can own decisions and implementation. You will make mistakes, but you will learn from them and can implement those learnings in your startup.

Interesting discussion here. A few things spring to mind:

- Consulting training still has an element of programming, but I suspect that will go when Core Analyst School moves to Bangalore later this year. The value is not that those guys will ever code, but to give them a feel for the types of problems that the engineers face.

- Solutions delivery (offshore or on) has pretty much taken development work off the plate of a consulting analyst.

- Consulting recruitment is swinging to favour engineering and technical disciplines more than it has historically.

- This group naturally favours high risk/high reward, deep technical competance, and engineering as a craft. This is antithetical to firms like Accenture that favour low risk (imply your own corrollary), relationships and business knowledge, and engineering as an industry. This is also favoured by our clients, which is why it's a very successful business.

- I've seen some projects in pretty dire straits, and I've seen over-committments. I've also seen some very effective cross-discipline teams dealing very well with difficult client situations. I've met a lot of very impressive people, and I've learnt a great deal from them.

- It's a truism that Accenture wouldn't be there unless there was a difficult business problem that the client felt that they couldn't solve on their own. Sometimes they couldn't have, but more frequently, in my experience, they could have done it themselves if it weren't for a paralysing fear of change.

- Internally, the firm changes org structure most years. This results in a very strong culture of personal network above business organisation. People are astonishingly willing to help someone they've never met, even when they are on the other side of the planet, and there's absolutely nothing in it for themself.

- I've never seen behaviour that I would regard as remotely unethical.

- The comment about NHS is right - Accenture UK took a massive financial hit, which resulted in a promotion freeze, and pay rises of less than inflation that year.

- My feeling at the moment is that Management Consulting will become much more distinct from Technology, which in turn will become more like a "normal" technology company.

Finally, it strikes me as a bit ironic that no one has yet highlighted the similarities between a "classic" Accenture project team and a startup. Both arrogantly believe that they can change things for the better by working very hard, learning a lot as they go and blending a variety of hard and soft skills. Sound familiar?

It sounds like you work for Accenture, out of interest, have you ever worked at a startup?

[Edit: I'm not asking to be snarky, just curious as I know a few people who have worked for big consulting firms and who now work for early stage companies and who relish the difference in environment. I was curious to see if anyone has gone in the other direction.]

I worked at Accenture for 10 years and am on my second yC-funded company after leaving there. While I would never go back to that environment, I praise it for what it is to this day. I strongly believe more than ever you just need to understand yourself and "how you're built" and choose the environment that is most appropriate for you. And that may change over time like it did for me. But some people don't like the risks inherent in startups, or they need more structure to their day and know they don't do good with minimal direction and if that's the case, a place like Accenture is a pretty good place to work.

I wouldn't give back the skills I learned at Accenture and they've been invaluable for working on Inkling, our first B2B business. From day 1 I knew how to deal with large corporate cultures, understood the procurement process, how to manage projects, create a budget, write proposals, deal with various personalities, run a meeting and conduct workshops, conference call etiquette. It may sound simplistic, but I can't tell you the number of deals I've seen blown up simply because people don't really understand the business of business. Those skills are a lot harder to pick up in a startup.


I've done what I'd call an "internal startup", which was successful, but with which I no longer have a great deal of involvement. I used a few hundred k of seed funding and a team of 4 to build a web app over about 4 months. It's in use at about 20 customers internationally, and is now delivered as a service model, sold internally through cross charging. i.e. we deal with internal partners and they do their own deal with the customer. I like to think it gave me a feel for some of the issues faced when doing a startup, but without many of the risks.

As a current Analyst (1 year out of college now) at Accenture, I have a few points to add:


- Accenture greatly helps develop one's people skills and networking skills which can help prepare you for a startup. Building these skills in college is difficult, so jumping into a professional setting right after college helps.

- The work enables you to understand real-world problems that clients are facing, so you have a better base of ideas upon which you can launch a startup (see http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2634665)

- In working with enterprise software, you gain an appreciation of how complex (and how messed-up) some of this software can be. Enterprise software is incredibly different from typical software created for the masses in some cases. It is also rarely user-friendly. Compared to consumer software, enterprise software has much less documentation and support available, so you learn to figure things out with missing information.

Negatives (or "Deltas" in Accenture terminology):

- The work is not always interesting and engaging. Since it's consulting, you sometimes have to work on the boring, but necessary things, and to deal with several levels of managers. Furthermore, working for someone else (vs. your own startup) makes inspiration or dedication hard to summon at times.

- Change is slow in enterprise software. Unlike a startup where you can think of a new feature and implement it in a day, it can take months or years to go from inception to roll-out for a new feature or innovation. There are so many stakeholders that must be satisfied, and so much red tape to break. These restricitions can stifle your personal creativity.

- Working hours are inflexible and excessive. Management sets the expectation that you must be in the office and working before the client arrives and long after the client leaves. This leaves little room for work-life balance, which gets very frustrating. On a positive note, however, everyone at Accenture in the consulting workforce (in the US at least) gets five weeks of paid time off per year (on an accrual basis).

Overall, Accenture is helping my professional growth and positioning me to later start my own startup company. It's certainly a worthwhile experience and a useful precursor to entreprenurialism.

Is it just me, or do all of the ex- or current Accenture people posting here sound like Amway salesmen or cult members.

It's funny you say that - there's a lot of Kool-Aid drinking that goes on at Accenture (or any other corporate consulting brand for that matter). Re-reading my post, it does look a bit sales-ish.

Regardless, from my experience, there are quite a few people in the company with cult-like loyalty. The majority, however, (myself included) maintain a pretty healthy dose of skepticism and pragmatism.

I'm glad to hear that. Most of the Accenture people I've engaged with on a personal level share that skepticism and pragmatism.

Being part of a large organization, the organization gives you the answer. It may or may not totally work for you, but you working for a profit-making MACHINE. Successful companies learn to indoctrinate(willing) their employees. A good employee at any company should be able to rattle of why they are there and what the companies believes in. The only difference for a corporation is that there are a lot of people using the same answer :)

If you are employee, work with Accenture consultants, and want to see them pull their hair out then work long hours. They'll try to maintain the work longer deal until they give up.

Other than that, they team that I worked with was great. It helped by having a great Associate Partner managing the project, but most of the team was very knowledgeable. I was able to watch several projects from a distance, and I know this wasn't the norm.

- Change is slow in enterprise software. Unlike a startup where you can think of a new feature and implement it in a day, it can take months or years to go from inception to roll-out for a new feature or innovation. There are so many stakeholders that must be satisfied, and so much red tape to break. These restricitions can stifle your personal creativity.

Not unique to Accenture.

And a huge reason is risk, scale and performance.

There was a good article linked on HC that was full of quotes from founders who were acquired. The difference between a startup experimenting with a new feature and a corporation is that if you F up it only affects a small number of people. For a corporation, an error could be millions of people affects and tens or hundreds of millions of dollars lost.

Great post! I came from consulting into start-up world also (although I'm non-technical) and while you definitely have to re-learn many things to adjust to building a company, there are many many valuable lessons from working in that environment that entrepreneurs are all too quick to dismiss.

But the bottom line of your post is definitely the right summary: Do what feels right when it feels right, and you'll be fine. You can't lose when you're choosing between multiple interesting options. And as soon as your current path becomes uninteresting, look elsewhere.

Thanks for posting.

I've looked into consulting as a potential career, not with a behemoth like Accenture, but with smaller more specialized boutique shops (Art & Logic) or mid-size ones (Thoughtworks).

All I really want is a wide array of domain experience in different verticals, and travel to lots of different places. However, everyone I've interacted with has painted the services business as a cruel and hierarchical (and underpaid) place.

That coupled with the fact that they seem to be so disorganized they never even get back to you has left me pretty discouraged about the space.

I'd be surprised if you heard about ThoughtWorks' professional services as cruel, hierarchical and underpaid.

I imagine we're more the source of the 'so disorganized they never even get back to you' part, right? If so, I apologize for that. If you really did just get dropped by recruiting then shoot me an email and I can rouse the right people.

Emailed you. Thanks :)

ok so this is in Asia, i can't say how we operate in the bigger offices: i feel that Accenture's one of the few companies that can provide you with maximum exposure and experience in the shortest amount of time...there are ups and downs but on the whole if you work well, you'll see great results...

I work for Accenture R&D in San Jose, CA. Everything I've read here is very different than my typical work day. We're hiring analysts (entry level) and consultants (experienced hires) to work in our research lab. Both on the Research (typically PhD) and Development (typically BA/MA) sides. Click on my username and you'll find my email if you'd like to apply.

The people I work with are doing things like studying NoSQL databases (Cassandra, Riak, HBASE), MapReduce (Hadoop, Cloud MapReduce), cryptography, biometrics, language/sentiment analysis, data visualizations, cloud computing (Amazon, Rackspace, VMWare) etc. We're not like the typical consulting arm of Accenture. We're also not like a typical theory focused research lab.

We're a fun bunch. Recent company sponsored trips have included sailing the bay, indoor skydiving at iFly, snowboarding in Tahoe, white water rafting, wine tasting, hiking, a vegas trip and behind the scenes tour of the SF Giants stadium. We're also known to throw some pretty wicked happy hours.

Oh, here's our group's website: accenture.com/techlabs

As a college student, I've been thinking about working as a consultant so I can survey a variety of different businesses in a variety of industries and see how they operate. Seems like it might be a good preparation for being an entrepreneur. (See this comment of mine for further justification: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2635564.)

Does this sound like a good plan? What would the best consulting firm to work for be? Ideally I'd like to see as wide a variety of businesses as possible, and ideally they'd be well run businesses I could steal ideas from. But even, say, seeing a bunch of poorly run businesses seems like it could be really valuable.

"The height of absurdity was reached, I believe, when I was asked to prepare the proposal for the preparation of a plan to produce a proof of concept for a module of a tool the client was implementing."

Wow, that sounds pretty inane.

The best part was my manager, at the time, taking me aside and giving me a little speech on how I should be honoured that the client was getting me involved this early in the project - that typically only senior managers and partners got involved so early in a project, and that as a consultant I should realise that this was a great opportunity to help the client define what needed to be done, etc.

In the meantime, I was busy working on not one but two startups on the side, so although I nodded agreement (you have to be political..), I wasn't particularly awed by the chance to work on this particular bit of work :-)

The rest of the project, once I got into managing the actual delivery of the module, was much more sensible. And of course it didn't quite follow the plan. Nothing ever does.

"Number 1.0: [waggling his finger] D-D-D-D-Don't quote me regulations. I co-chaired the committee that reviewed the recommendation to revise the colour of the book that regulation's in. We kept it grey. "


I'm glad you wrote this, Daniel! I applied to Accenture three times, in my final year of undergrad, a year after graduating and then again when I was doing my Master's. I only got to the final stage of interviews once, and apparently cocked it up simply because I didn't exhibit my listening skills (despite, as I was coached, being the whiteboard monkey in the group exercise).

I was devastated - I had felt challenged by the recruitment process and was excited at the prospect of working there. Somehow now I feel a little better about taking a different path in life. :)

Seriously, since when is Accenture considered Prestigious? It's not even a top consulting shop.


Big 3 of consulting: McKinsey, BCG, Bain - These are all strategy only.

Accenture was the consulting arm of Arther Anderson which was one of the Big 5 of accounting (Enron brought them down.)

Accenture is known for implementation/technology/strategy. Along with Deliotte, CapGemini, Booz, etc. These firms differentiate themselves with implementation from the Big 3 that are strategy only.

Accenture is more known for bungling giant contracts and sucking money out of nearly-bankrupt organizations.

Management consulting is very different than technology consulting. Accenture, IBM, Deloitte, CapGemini: these are the kind of firms that compete against each other for enterprise tech projects.

Interesting post. What was that bit about the three heads?

Accenture work tends to be client-facing, so part of the interview was, presumably, to check that I can present myself professionally and make a good impression on the client. In other words, check that I don't have three heads, or some other major personal presentation issue...

thanks. I enjoy reading your posts, keep 'em coming!

He's suggesting that the only qualification Accenture required of prospective new employees was having the correct number of heads.

The fact that there's not already some law against this can only be attributed to the weakness of the pushmepullyou rights lobby.

Actually, places like Accenture do tend to hire better looking people. Especially women. That goes into the whole "chicks making charts strategy" people joke about.

My friend is still working at Accenture (sigh) as a senior manager and he says the only purpose of the first interview is to weed out the morons.

but which I saw I could now do with almost all subject areas.

Mmm, but you can't tho'. No-one can. What consultants do is fake expertise, then actually learn it on the time the client is paying for an expert. Not that that isn't a skill mind, but don't confuse it for something it's not.

I never mentioned anything about expertise. What I said was:

I also gained a lot of confidence in my abilities to pick up and absorb new things and become productive quickly - something that I knew I could do with technologies, but which I saw I could now do with almost all subject areas.

I think you're letting a prejudiced opinion of consultants get in the way of the article.

I believe that you believe it, and can make others believe it, Accenture spent a lot of money training you to, but c'mon, you can be productive in any subject quickly? Really? Have you tried it in anything that was truly outside of your comfort zone?

I'm an ex-Consultant myself, like you right out of college, so I know about this from the inside.

Any topic that involves advanced maths or other hard science will be hard to pick up quickly (despite doing a Physics degree), but other than those, most business-related activities tend to be fairly straightforward to pick up, so long as you have the right "learning materials" (be it work samples, manuals, people to coach you, whatever makes sense for the activity).

Sure, there's a world of difference between "being productive" and "being an expert", but again, I'm not saying you can become an expert in a week, I'm saying you can be productive.

Moreover, I'd argue that with the right coaching/motivation/environment, most smart people can do this.

Out of interest, what business areas did you do projects in?

Financial services. In order of appearance in the movie:

- Investment banking (primary/secondary market issue)

- Risk Reporting

- HR / Performance Management

- Prime Brokerage / Hedge Funds

- Middle Office Reconciliations


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