Did I help them in the long run?

According to plan, I will finish my PhD somewhen next year. This is great, because it means I close another chapter in my life and open the next one. I like both, finishing something, because it gives me a sense of accomplishment, and starting new things, because it’s exciting and challenging. However, one question remains to be answered:

What will this next chapter be about?

I could imagine to go into coaching or consultancy in software projects. Although I do not have much industry experience, my workshops, talks, and discussions on industry conferences show me that I do have valuable advice to offer. It’s no secret that I enjoy coaching, if only because I learn so much from it myself. And I would certainly enjoy getting to work in completely different projects and settings in a relatively short amount of time. My PhD taught me to dive into new settings quickly, which probably is a useful ability in this area of work.

Now, I’ve being thinking and talking to people, pondering questions such as:

  • Can/should I, who never worked full-time in industry, consult industry projects?
  • Can I do this without frequent long-distance travelling?
  • Is it possible not to work oneself to death in this job?

Yesterday, I realized that there’s something else that bugs me:

Would I get feedback about the impact of my counsel?

By happenstance, I found myself at a dinner table with a self-employed consultant, who currently works with unemployed people, helping them prepare applications and job interviews. We talked about what he likes and dislikes about the job and eventually came across how often he learns whether his counsel actually led to success:

“Almost never,” he said, “and if, then only by chance.”

I heard this message before. Independent of the type of consulting or coaching one offers, it seems invariant that one rarely learns about what happened after working with a client. Now I ask myself: If I never hear about success or failure of my counsel, how can I be confident that I give good counsel?

What do you think?