|Perl Monk, Perl Meditation|
They also told us on multiple occasions that the most important skill for us consultants is managerial skill, rather than programming.
I think you should pay attention to that signal.
I will state my opinion but it is highly theoretical because a) I have worked mostly in academia and b) when that ended (a few 3-yr contracts) I prefered to lead a spartan life at home rather than joining them "private sectors" (my location being what it is, in bigger places you get wider choice, islands of different thinking must exist - and soon will die out). So,
be warned that "managerial" in their jargon means how to squeeze value from subordinates, the human team and add it as profit to the company. It does not mean to organise people and processes or conceive meaningful products in order to profit from and the customers. To manage the squeezing and the milking of your colleagues is what they are talking about. This is where competitiveness comes from. "Unique products" and "killer apps" are sooner or later copied, rebranded, altered and offered by others. Who has the most flexible, "agile" and backwards-bending "useful idiots" (aka human team) wins. I am talking about the trend, the average and not the few exceptions of garage startups or IBM.
My 2nd point is that there are only 24hrs in a day. Programming, as your own boss, even for 18hrs still does not give you enough productivity to win. Unless you build skills to work with tools which increase your programming productivity. E.g. UI builders, ORM, web framework, web scraping. If you go this way, it's a good idea to partner with someone who has complementary skills. There is also exciting new hardware: drones, 3d-printers, the PI. And zillions of good quality data, from government statistics to open-streetmap to market activity. For example, lately I discovered that wikipedia records world events on a daiy basis, correlating these with other timeseries can be very poweful.
I have noticed that non-IT people have very very low expectations from technology. They still don't believe it can have positive impact to their lives, other than their entertainment and shopping therapy trips. For obvious reasons, as believing this is the major step towards a totally different Society. That goes for business-decision people too. In industrial settings, small factories, local supermarkets. There is still a lot of automation to be achieved. Databases, document digitalisation, archiving, keywords extraction, spreadsheet manipulations, project management, gathering data/extracting information/making decisions/reporting. I see a need there (personal experience) and the opportunity to interact at a personal level.
This is what made me bitter: 4 years ago I was introduced to a manager whose business was to digitalise 3rd-party paper-invoices for accounting+tax purposes. I suggested experimenting with AI for text extraction, even suggested providing invoicing hardware to customers (like signing packet delivery on a UPS ipad). He said, "I am a comp-science person myself but my business is making a huge profit by just shipping these invoices to Vietnam where they do manual text extraction - even in a foreign language and (!) unicode alphabet. It costs me 4 cents per sheet and I charge 25 times that much. I even found that mailing the actual paper to Vietnam rather than scanning-and-emailing works even cheaper." Speachless. A few months ago I went to a bank and saw a huge stack of boxes with his company logo, they contained the new terms&conditions and address details, signed by each customer, awaiting digitalisations. Innovation? Management? Technological solutions for cheaper costs and cheaper services? Surely a joke.
At these times it is unimaginably easy to take the wrong turning, on a whim, and destroy one's life. Totally! Living in the streets! Homeless. So, perhaps a more useful advice could be "shut up! and keep swimming" (warning 80's bad-taste humour). Either way, may I stress the importance of Political Education alongside the Technical.