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My reply to: 'The price for CF troubleshooting consultants is a joke. They're taking us for a ride'

Note: This blog post is from 2014. Some content may be outdated--though not necessarily. Same with links and subsequent comments from myself or others. Corrections are welcome, in the comments. And I may revise the content as necessary.
Ok, so that's clearly not my sentiment but rather that of a certain "Simon" (no other identifying info offered) in a blog comment in one of the recent CF team blog entries.

After complaining about how poorly he felt CF had responded to his seeking help, he threw in additionally that "the existing private consultants prices are a total joke - they are taking us for a ride!".

Well, I just couldn't let go his comment go unremarked.

I started to write my reply there, but it grew long (as is my wont). So rather than post there (where most comments are brief), I decided to post it here instead and point to it there. Perhaps some of my readers here may appreciate it as well, as I also talk about some thoughts on CF troubleshooting in general.

Just some brief context

In case you've not yet read the blog entry and its comments (over 50 on all kinds of matters related to the recently updated Update 3 for CF11), I'll just note that after I had offered help a few times to folks raising various issues (as I often do in such online resources), someone complained about not being able to get Adobe CF support, even when willing to pay for it.

To that I pointed out that there are many CF troubleshooting consultants, myself included, who could help as needed.

And a few days later (today), Simon chimed in for the first time on the thread and lobbed his comment, along with saying that he and his company were moving away from CF. Of course, we hear that from folks occasionally. Some may have due justification. Some may be overreacting to challenges or giving up too soon if help may resolve things, even thorny challenges.

So I just couldn't stand by and let him lob that grenade against CF troubleshooting consultants. Here's what I wrote (but posting here instead):

My response to Simon

@Simon, to each his own on their opinions of CF and Adobe.

As for the reference to private consultants and their prices being "a joke", I'll assume that refers at least to me and mine, since I'd spoken up here previously mentioning the availability of such consultants.

Apples to apples?

And I'll just say for myself that if my rate seems high, you may be comparing that to developer rates, which is not fair. While you may pay a developer for 10, 20, 40, or 60 hours a week, for weeks, months, or indeed years, you may pay me for 1 hour (or less) to solve a problem, even a thorny one. And you might never need me again, or not until you have some other problem. My clients can tell you I do that with them every day, sometimes going years between their need of help (as happened twice just this week alone).

And assuming your problem is not some clear bug but does have a solution that you may ultimately find on your own, how much was the time worth for you and perhaps colleagues to have spend hours if not days poking around trying to find solutions? I may have the answer and can implement it while showing you the ins and outs, again often in as little as an hour for most problems.

And my clients are getting an education for that "price" at the same time. I don't just come in, wave a magic wand, and leave. Instead I educate them as I go (via a shared desktop session), and no it generally does not take much more time, especially compared to the several hours or days they may have spent trying to fix/find things on their own. (I then often blog about the issue with considerable detail for those who may come looking for the info.)

So the rate is not a "joke", whether you were referring to mine or those of the other CF consultants I pointed to. It's really a small price to pay for a solution, if not also an education.

About bugs

Now, sure, if the problem is a bug in CF, you have every reason to want to blame Adobe (and to expect free help from them), but I can tell you that many times what people say are bugs end up not being so. Indeed, only maybe 5 out of the few thousand hours I've billed the past few years (for example) have ended up being problems due to bugs in CF (that's not an exaggeration).

Many, many times when people report they have have found a "bug", I help them find out that they just have failed to properly follow the steps given to do a certain thing. For instance, many people in CF10 or 11 do updates, but then miss that they must rebuild the web server connector. That can lead to what seem bugs, but they're fixed as soon as the connector is updated (I got an email from a client just this week thanking me again for helping solve that.) Or they may update the connector but on Windows fail to "run as admin" (like the technote for the updates say), which can leave both their CF and web server configuration in a mess. When I help sort that out for them, seeming bugs just "go away". I do it about every week.

And that's not because "CF is so buggy". Usually it's that the folks I help are just not familiar with managing CF servers. That's understandable, of course. They may be developers even with a decade of CF experience but who just don't focus on server troubleshooting like I do. Or they may be server admins with strong skills, but who are just not savvy about CF (or Tomcat or JRun or Java). Or they may just have been in a hurry (or too casual, or under stress) and missed the steps right on the screen in front of them.

That's where troubleshooting consultants like myself and the others can be so helpful, often quickly. I've even helped solve thorny problems in as little as 5-15 minutes, because I can readily connect the dots since I see certain problems over and over. (And I have no minimum time myself, while others may. I also offer a satisfaction guarantee, listed right next to my rates, on the consulting page at carehart.org. You won't pay for time you don't find valuable. That should also negate a concern over "cost". Either the time is valuable for you and you pay for it, or it's not and you don't. What have you got to lose in trying?)

Faster and more effective than digging around on your own

As for those who do try to go it alone (reasonably so), they often get in trouble by relying on a tweet here or a short blog entry there, from well-meaning folks trying to help each other, but often they end up digging themselves into a deeper hole, trying this and that to see if it may "help". (Again, I have so much experience with these sort of problems I can often easily "untangle the wires" as well.)

Often those who share brief "solutions" fail to give the details needed to understand/resolve a problem, or they don't help understand the implications of available choices (if indeed they know of them). Or if they're complaining also of a bug that they're helping "fix", it may be that they themselves may also not have properly followed the needed/documented steps (and didn't know to warn folks about that).

Or those looking for answers online may end up reading something that really applies to an earlier release, or before a bug was fixed, and so on.

That's why I try to help with the elaborated answers I do, both here on the blog comments (and in forums and mailing lists) as well as for my clients, of course--without adding substantially to the time (and the solution) they're paying for, believe it or not.

So I'm here to help people get their CF servers going well, however I can. If they can do it with the info I share online for free, great. If not and they want help, I can tell you that I have several hundred very happy customers who do appreciate having someone they can turn to when they do run into problems, with confidence that a thorny problem can usually be solved very quickly. (And FWIW, I have to credit/refund perhaps only a dozen hours a year, when perhaps some problem has eluded me completely, or the client didn't value the info I shared.)

Frustration is understandable. Experienced help can ease that

I know CF server problems can frustrate people. Folks are under pressure, their bosses and/or clients are breathing down their neck. Again they may have been plagued for days or weeks, or just minutes or minutes when the server is down. I deal with such folks under stress daily.

Thankfully 99.9% of the time I can not only solve their problem, but leave them happy and more confident not only about their ability to understand and resolve whatever issue they had, but also more confident in CF's ability to serve them. I've often helped forestall expensive hardware upgrades, or platform changes, or a move to clustered servers, etc, because I've helped resolve what was the real root cause of problems.

And nearly always I hear back from clients weeks later saying that all's well, the server's been up ever since, and they're grateful to have had to pay such a relative small "price" for all that. See the references page on my site for just a few such comments.

And Simon, if you really still think rates from CF troubleshooting consultants are a "joke", have you looked at those providing similar services on other platforms? They're really not out of line with each other.

Consider also that we're not generally billable 8-10 hours a day like a developer may. We have to manage our business as well as find ways to market our services (whether blogging, speaking, writing, participating in blogs/forums/mailing lists, etc.), and all that (and the client work) on top of enhancing our own skills (including staying on top of changes in CF, new security challenges, updates to Java, etc.)

Anyway, I do hope you may be able to find equally skilled consultants in whatever platform you do move to. And if you end up sticking with CF, I'll still be happy to help if you if you ever reach out! :-)

In conclusion

Again, sorry if this seems a sales pitch. Since Simon lobbed the grenade, someone had to fall on it on behalf of "the existing private consultants". I for one am never taking my clients "for a ride"--unless you want to use the analogy that they're on a plane that's going down, and I'm like a remote pilot guiding the flight attendant to a safe landing!

Finally, I'll throw out here that judging from my extensive experience working with folks and watching the community in several venues, I think it's important to note that there seem far more folks happily using CF (and resolving issues that affect them as needed), than the relatively few vocal folks who are sometimes suffering so tremendously.

That's not to diminish the pain felt by them, but just to say that sometimes in blogs like this all we hear from is those with problems, and occasionally those saying they're leaving CF out of frustration. It can leave some dejected.

But we don't hear from the folks who either have no problems, or have them but get good help to solve them, and then they get back to their work. Now let's all go do the same.

Comments welcomed, whether here or there as you may choose.

For more content like this from Charlie Arehart: Need more help with problems?
  • If you may prefer direct help, rather than digging around here/elsewhere or via comments, he can help via his online consulting services
  • See that page for more on how he can help a) over the web, safely and securely, b) usually very quickly, c) teaching you along the way, and d) with satisfaction guaranteed
Thank you Charlie. This is the money quote "clients are getting an education for that "price" at the same time". I know this is true for our clients too.
Charlie, one thing I can say is that people like you, spend more unpaid time helping in forums and such. Anyone who has been on the end of your posts, should know how detailed you try to be, to cover most bases.

I also didn't fully read the post TL;DR...

But, in case it wasn't mentioned, that you do/or used to offer a non payment if the problem could not be fixed. Which in any Service orientated job, is extremely rare to find. Especially in my country!
Where rates are high, some maximum ceiling would be reassuring.
# Posted By me | 12/7/14 7:20 AM
Having used Charlie before for troubleshooting an issue, I can confirm that he does take pride in educating the client so they can completely understand the cause of the issue and be able to better troubleshoot similar issues themselves in future. Charlie doesn't take the "black box" approach. He explains everything. It's almost like "give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day, give him a net and he'll eat for years". Okay a slight exaggeration, but giving a client some education around diagnosing a problem is like giving them a tool which will help them in future. (Can I have a freebie now, Charlie? Just kidding!)

As there's not a huge pool of CF gurus around they can charge more for their time as they tend to be veterans in demand. But it's not "a joke" it's just the market place - supply and demand. For those who can't afford consultants there's always blogs, mailing lists and forums which have helped me 9/10 times.
# Posted By Gary F | 12/7/14 7:03 PM
@Wil, thanks. I suspected that was so for you guys, too, as well as for some others on that troubleshooting consultants list I keep.

@Andrew, thanks so much for your kind regards. And yes, I do indeed still offer the satisfaction guarantee (and did mention it in the blog post, but yes I realize it was long. It's how I roll. :-)

@me, a max ceiling would be nice, but I never know what I'm going into (even if people say "i just want to do x"). It could be influenced by versions of CF, number of sites, etc, as well as by what sort of things people have done before I got there. I'm often having to help clean up from the many attempts people have made on their own by googling for answers ("dialing for disasters", i might call it). So I just can't know how long even "something simple" might take.

Still, I tend to let people know that if all's well it should take x minutes, and some good news is that if things go amiss, at least if I'm with them I may help them recover far more quickly than they would on their own (googling still more, and getting only further into trouble often). So as I said above, I might help solve most problems (even seemingly knotty ones) in an hour or less--and as I noted also, I offer that satisfaction guarantee, so that you won't pay for time you don't feel is valuable.

Finally, @Gary, thanks to you too for the kind regards and support. And it's great to hear that 9/10 times you can find stuff on your own. That does indeed work for many, but again it's led some down only more rabbit holes, but fortunately I do know how to crawl into those and help recover things (like the TV show pest exterminators).

So whether the analogy is remote pilot, "billy the exterminator", harbor pilot (an experienced guide to get ships through a channel), smoke jumper (firefighters who parachute behind the lines of a forest fire) , or Batman, I'm just here to help! :-)

I see our friend Simon has dropped some another bomb on the Adobe blog, and thankfully some folks have chimed in with kind regards. I'll try to follow up on his and their comments later today also.
Your rates aren't unreasonable at all. We're paying consultants rates like that now who are functional knowledge consultants on a piece of software who are way outside of the expertise of development or server management even. Far less experience and capability.
# Posted By Nick | 12/8/14 2:14 PM
@Nick, thanks so much for the confirmation. That's been my observation as well, but it's great to hear it from someone who has looked into it for their own needs, CF or otherwise. :-)
The seasoned repair professional walked into the furnace room. He walked around, listened a bit, then took out a hammer, tapped 3x and the system started working again. He then handed the astonished customer a bill for $150.

"$150! You have to be insane! All you did was tap it with a hammer!"
"You're mistaken, the tap was free. Knowing where to tap it was $150."
# Posted By Sharon | 12/8/14 4:18 PM
@Sharon, amen and thanks! :-) I'd long known that story (a variant about a plumber and the turning of a pipe), but they both make a great point.

That said, I will point out again that unlike that plumber or furnace guy, I'm actually also helping educate my clients as we go--and trust me (not you, Sharon, but all readers I mean), if you ask such a typical service professional to teach you as they go, they will double their rate (if indeed they even would be willing to take the time)! :-)

But great point, and thanks, Sharon.
Don't get me wrong when I say this, as much as I know Charlie is good at what he does, as is many others. I do also agree where the OP was coming from as well.

Last year, my washing machine knob stopped turning. The technician comes out $150 service call, then he says its a specific part and will need to get it and come back. But get this, the piece of plastic is no more than around 10 millimeters in size and the cost of the part was $45. I felt like asking who the hell had a 3D printer so I could print the part out myself. This is highway robbery, but it also indicates how services are out of control.

Just saying!
@Andrew, fair enough! :-) But a difference with me is that I'd not only point out that there might be a 3d printer to create the part, but I'd show you how to use it (and where to get one), and I'd point you to a hidden gems article I did on using the 3d printer. :-)

Anyway, your point is fair enough with respect to some service providers. As we grow to a service-based economy (the world over) we will see the very sort of supply/demand tension that others have mentioned above. Where there is adequate demand, the market of suppliers should increase (in a perfectly elastic economy).

Of course, with CF seeing so many long-experienced people leaving, that leaves more companies in need while at the same time shrinking the market of available consultants. That does mean in the short term that rates for CF troubleshooting consultants could increase.

And I do plan to increase mine in 2015. I'm just so busy. Overwhelmingly so, recently, even as quickly I try to get from one customer to another in the day.

And trust me, I'd love to get someone to help me to do what I do. The skillset required is rather unique: not only must one have experience with troubleshooting CF (and Java and JRun/Tomcat, and web servers and databases, and networks and security and so on), but they must also have a real diagnostic perspective. Sadly, that combination, among those open to new work, is in very short supply.

I've talked with potential people in recent years, but they either are more pulled by interests in other work (mobile, or new languages, etc.) or they're averse to working part time (even if the rates are high). For now I can't offer a full-time role. The work is too variable. But if I could find the right person (who can get along with me, of course!), I could pass through to them a tidy rate and they'd learn a hell of a lot in the meantime. If anyone's interested, drop me a note (see the contact link on the right rather than comment here to express interest).
Which is why I didn't mention it in my first comment.

I don't subscribe to the notion of Supply and Demand, it's propaganda spread to justify their prices as far as I am concerned. It's called greed no matter how you look at it.
For what its worth I would like to add that professionals like Charlie are often generous with their time and take a lot of unpaid trouble to be helpful to the Cf community in ways that do not always get acknowledged. This careful attention to detail and support outside of any paid remit should be rewarded in some way and I imagine there is a lot of extra work behind the actual billed for time that goes unseen (as the hammer tap analogy makes clear).
Can Charlie answer Simon's original point:

"I appreciate servers are complicated things with finite resources and different usage patterns etc, but Adobe after DECADES of development, have never released a tool to help people "tune" their server or find the elusive optimal settings. Surely that is not impossible? Why haven't the CF consultants created such a tool I wonder..."

It seems to me that many CF consultants thrive on Adobe's non-existent support for connector and Tomcat tuning issues.
# Posted By Tony | 12/27/14 5:11 AM
@tony, so how would you *expect* me to answer his point? Sure, Adobe could and should make such a tool (well, we might say "make a better tool", as they do offer the CF Enterprise Server Monitor, but it may not offer the kind of recommendations for tuning that some may want, and of course it's only in CF Enterprise. Thankfully there are FusionReactor and SeeFusion to help fill that gap, though not for free.)

But that's nothing I can influence myself. (Actually, folks on the CF team will tell you that I HAVE in fact pleaded with them to help make the CF Server Monitor better for years, and/or to allow for a version in the Standard edition of CF.)

Still, I don't at all agree with the premise that consultants like myself "thrive on Adobe's non-existent support". Look beyond the CF world: plenty of companies provide 3rd party support in spaces where there are official support channels from the product vendors.

Indeed, even in spaces where the vendor offers tuning tools (like MySQL, SQL Server, and Oracle) there are still consultants who "thrive" on providing an additional support channel, by knowing the product as well a the vendor, and even sometimes better when it comes to certain aspects where they may choose to specialize within that vendor's product.

And really, that's how I myself "thrive". I read all the docs. I work closely with and dig into every new release (and I give sessions at conferences each release sharing the hidden gems that I learn). And I do attend those conferences to learn what others have to say, and of course I read blogs and follow mailing lists.

And in addition to learning from all those things, I also contribute back to them, sharing what I learn (sometimes so much that people complain I'm offering too much info, so I then often resort to a blog entry and point to that.) But the point is I do give away that knowledge, and only once in a while do I feel compelled to mention as well my services. Usually i just offer the info, just trying to help.

Now, in the course of my doing that, people find me and often come to me seeking help, because they themselves don't have time (or perhaps interest) to do all that digging. That's reasonable, right? (And I don't know if you or others reading this have even noticed, but you don't find me advertising anywhere: not at conferences, not as a sponsor of podcasts or anything, not via ads on the sites of others. You don't see me posting sales pitches on Facebook, nor do I send email blasts--even to my own clients. The fact is I'm busy enough from people finding me organically that I don't need to adopt traditional marketing techniques.)

I started to write more, but I realized I was basically repeating in brief what I've already said above, and someone reading this should by now have already read that, so I'll forego that part of my defense against his/your charges.

But in closing he asks why consultants haven't created a tool to help with optimal settings. Well, if we did, would Simon only be happy if we gave it away? Or would it be reasonable to have a freemium model with some free features, and some paid ones?

I'll just say that yes, I have considered such a tool. I've even spoken with Pete F about doing it along the lines of his HackMyCF service. It's just a matter of finding the time. I work alone, and am so busy providing help that I haven't had time to stop and write such a tool/service.

FWIW, I'll say that I have started talking recently with a developer to help me with creating it. I do see value in such a tool, and not just to "create more revenue" for me but indeed to help people for free with certain vital things. I see plenty of ways that such a tool could help so many and yet still have separately paid-for features for those wanting still more.

But trust me, I'm not "holding out" on building it to soak up services revenue. Those who use my services know that I'm always pointing them to tools and resources to help them help themselves. It's just a matter of finding time.

Am I to tell the people who want to pay for my time now, to solve a problem today, that I have to say no, because I'm spending time instead working on a tool that some day in the future would help them help themselves?

Come on. Stop trying to make me out to be a bad guy for providing consulting help. I'm not doing anything that isn't done in all realms of the IT space, and indeed in the broader capitalist economy. (Even then, how many IT troubleshooting consultants offer a satisfaction guarantee?)

Finally, to your last point about connector tuning, Adobe has written two extensive blog entries on the topic (and I have myself written extensive comments there offering still more assistance and requesting that Adobe would INDEED create a tool to help with managing and diagnosing issues with the connector).

And as for "Tomcat tuning", I'll just say that of all the troubleshooting I help with, I can't think of more than a tiny fraction (less than 1 percent) that have been "Tomcat" issues. Nearly all that I help with are things that are not new to CF running on Tomcat. While some folks (perhaps 50%) are running CF 11 or 10, even then most things I help them with are issues that also happened on CF9 and earlier.

It's not for lack of knowledge, or tools. It's folks having a lack of time to specialize in such things. Even with tools (like I pointed out with other environments, like database servers--or we could say cars) there is just more that needs to be understood to make useful decisions even when given diagnostic data. That's why folks turn to others to help, but I do hope someday to offer such a tool, yes. And until then I HAVE pleaded with Adobe to offer such better tools. And when they make them, I'll help people use them, as I have helped people make the most of CF for 15 years.

And if some will want to pay me to help them, I'll gladly assist, and as quickly as I can, because I need to get on to helping still others. I do see that as thriving, indeed as abundant blessings by God's grace. I have and know nothing but what I've received from His Providence.
Charlie, seems I hit a nerve there lol. I'm not bashing you, and there's nothing wrong with "thriving" - all consultants thrive on knowing more than others. I was just saying that tuning CF servers is seen as a "dark art" almost. Adobe know nothing about it - they are useless. To sell a product for thousands of dollars without any way of knowing how to optimise it is such poor service from Adobe. We certainly would never purchased CF if we knew how little Adobe know about the system that their product runs on top of. They told us "we don't know" when I asked them a question. Great...
# Posted By Tony | 12/27/14 2:16 PM
@Tony, well, if it seems you "hit a nerve", that should have been apparent from the blog entry and my comments in reply to some others here. It is indeed a rather sensitive issue, though as much about me wanting to make sure to distinguish my perspective from one like Simon's.

And since you raised your point (wondering why I had not responded to something he said) without any additional context of your own perspective, I read it as if you shared his...and that's what led me to write all I wrote. So yes, from a defensive position, and therefore mounted as a "defense"--but a defense of something I feel is right and nothing to feel guilty about. So more like a defense in a civil dispute than one of a legal charge. :-)

Anyway, I just have to say again that I don't agree with any assertion that "Adobe know nothing about it - they are useless". That's just painting with too broad a brush. Even if one person you asked about didn't know the answer to something, there may be dozens or more others who would. Now, is it a problem if one person stopped the conversation at that point, if others might have known the answer? Sure. But maybe they really knew that for whatever you were asking, no one knew. I suppose that's possible.

Was it some obscure combination of factors, or some esoteric point? Or was it something that you think they should have known? Want to ask it here? Perhaps I or someone else reading (in Adobe or not) might have a thought. I don't want to open this blog entry to being a general support forum (and indeed, if you had considered asking your question on the Adobe CF forums and can point us to that instead, all the better).

But since it's come up in the context of this discussion, I'd like to hear about this mystery. I thrive on bringing light to seeming dark corners of CF (sometimes when paid, sometimes for free), so fire away.
Charlie, yes I do share Simon's view, and so do many other people I'm sure. I don't want to share the details of our problems here since it's water under the bridge and we have moved away from CF 18 months ago. Reading the forums and seeing the same old problems that people are still having with the connectors etc indicates to us that we made the correct decision, but that's only our opinion.
# Posted By Tony | 1/1/15 1:09 PM
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