The message below is a snippet from a conversation on the asterisk-dev mailing list, which I think might be useful outside that limited audience. The topic was (generally): “What does it take to be a successful consultant working with Asterisk?” and below are my ideas. For a more complete discussion, see this thread.
There are, I believe, three components to successful consulting with Asterisk:
There is no substitute for experience. Experience teaches you a set of solutions for particular problems, and the process of experience is to move from “not knowing” to “knowing” via being presented with a problem that you have to solve via trial-and-error. Often these experiences are very deep, meaning that you spend a lot of time learning the intricate behaviors and methods of a certain set of solution components. This is great, in that it also has byproducts of teaching you what does NOT work along the way which is just as valuable. Again: there is no substitute for experience. The good news is that anyone can start building experience – Asterisk is free and open-source, so building your own cases and solutions is possible at no cost.
Being well-versed in Asterisk requires knowing how the project is proceeding. Optimally it would involve your contributions back to the project in the form of code, documentation, white papers, testing, bug work, or anything else that allows other people to benefit from your now-growing experiences. The most successful people using Asterisk, and the ones who get the big jobs handed to them, are the ones who are “community leaders” by virtue of their involvement. This is not a coincidence – there is a direct correlation between involvement, expertise, and job size.
Knowing what is happening in the Asterisk community also implies knowledge of what solutions other people are building in the surrounding ecosystem. Who is doing what programs for Windows? Who has a decent log parsing tool? What is the best device to use for an attendant desk? All of these questions are asked and answered on a frequent basis on the mailing lists, IRC channels, and other forums. Getting involved gives you relevance, which is REQUIRED to continue in a consultancy business if you wish to be successful.
Getting a dCAP is 100% a good idea, and I’m not saying that just because I work for Digium. 🙂 The certifications get your foot in the door in many companies. Let’s look at it this way, as well: as the number of Asterisk-capable installation and integration shops increases, the number of criteria necessary to compare them against each other becomes more important. Just like having a good grade point average gets you to the interview step of University applications, so might the dCAP certification get you to the next step of an evaluation process that allows your experience and community involvement to be considered as the next decision factors.
The dCAP certification gives you a broad range of miniature experiences, and the instructor can tell you what does not work. Learn from THEIR experience. The classes are not expensive (comparatively) and they are not long, but in my opinion they provide more than their time/money investment in the form of the actual learning that you do – it is not merely a rubber stamp. You end up not only with the piece of paper, but actual knowledge to go along with it. This does not replace experience, but provides a great foundation for building experience, or proves that you have experience to someone who might not otherwise be able to determine your skills.
If you have a first step you want to take that gives you the most return in the shortest amount of time, get the certification. Then get involved – write code, author some white papers, put up some demonstration dialplans. Experience is the end result of involvement, and certification is the first big step you can take and is a bonus for those potential customer companies which deem it higher than some other things. The combination of these three elements is what will win you business.
P.S.: Everyone who thinks they know a lot about Asterisk should talk to Jared Smith in our training department about a few questions on the dCAP test. There is a lot you probably don’t know, and that would take you a while to Google the answers to. I’ve talked to a few Asterisk experts who have taken the dCAP and they’ve all been somewhat surprised at how difficult some of the test questions were, and what they didn’t know (and a few with good experience even have failed when they thought it would be “cake”.) This isn’t because Asterisk is difficult; it’s because Asterisk is a toolkit, and some methods of combining tools are not always obvious.
To learn more about becoming an Asterisk consultant, visit our website!