Learning the Novel
While the merits of being a laggard or an early adopter of technology are beyond the scope of this article, it has certainly been observed that someone working for a technology consulting company probably will get more exposure to novel technology, on average, than someone who works in corporate IT. Of course, this is not always the casesome corporate IT organizations are early adopters, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
Companies whose business is not technology have no motivation to jump to the latest thing. There is very little upside for them in learning emerging technologiesand plenty of downside. Early adopters find bugs and problems, and new technologies frequently never get past early adoption at all. In fact, it's the stated policy of many IT organizations to remain one or two versions behind the latest technologyif only to avoid risk.
On the other hand, technology consulting organizations have a motivation to embrace technology very early in the cycle. Understanding what's coming nextand being able to provide advice about itis a competitive advantage for a consultancy. As a result, the culture of consulting tends to embrace learning the ins and outs of technologies even while still in beta. This practice creates the set of conditions in which the consultant's company culture embraces new technologywhereas, in most cases, the corporate IT culture tends to shun it.
The real risk for corporate IT relative to consulting is that, in a downturn, when there's no money to invest in technology, you might find yourself not just one version back, but three versions back when the recovery starts. For example, some companies that run on the Microsoft platforms are still at .NET 1.1 (or even Visual Basic 6) and are unlikely to move to something newer until at least .NET 4.0 arrives in 2010. Corporate IT employees still writing code on those old .NET 1.1 systems are likely to have much greater career risk than a consultant who is expected to be fluent in the latest release of his or her chosen framework.