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For a programmer, two of the most common terms that seem to be overloaded are contractor and consultant?
Is there a difference between the two?

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closed as not constructive by Adam Lear Dec 21 '11 at 20:46

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From experience it seems Consultant extends Contractor except sometimes Consultant overrides some Contractor methods with: throw new UnsupportedOperationException() – Jeremy Heiler Jan 21 '11 at 17:37
Consultant overrides some Contractor methods with: throw new UnsupportedOperationException() ? Really? From the discussion below, it seems Contractor does not support some emthods that only a consultant can do – Kaushik Jan 21 '11 at 21:52
According to Google fight Consultant beat Contractor, but tractor beat sultant ... go figure!…… – Job Jan 22 '11 at 0:04
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Consultant: Subject matter expert, often steers and guides projects, anticipates customer needs even before the customer anticipates that himself, is supposed to be paid more for obvious reasons, a must need for domain intensive projects

Contractor: You assign the work, you decide the rates, you provide the specification and you better have a consultant who guides the contractor(s)

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You don't specify the rates to a contractor. You tell the contractor what you're willing to pay and they either take the job or not. – Josh K Jan 21 '11 at 18:10
@Josh K: That's what I mentioned. You decide the rates. – Fanatic23 Jan 21 '11 at 18:12
is supposed to be paid more for obvious obvious reasons what do you mean? Subject matter expertise that is hard to find? It seems that consultant jobs require you to be in the same business domain(finace, health,media,energy) Otherwise 2 yrs for h$bc, 3 yrs for iBEEm and 4 yrs for some otehr company will never give subject matter expertise. – Kaushik Jan 21 '11 at 22:04
@Josh: in US probably. In Europe the contractor propose himself along with his rate. Same for the consultant. – user2567 Jan 22 '11 at 21:55


Does work assigned, can design and choose implementation but often the end goal is to produce a product specified by the client.


Is hired to solve a problem and provide a solution. This solution can be implemented by the Consultant, or taken and implemented by the client.

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Sometimes the contract becomes a consultant when he must be blamed, but a consultant becomes a contractor when he has to shut up ;) – user2567 Jan 21 '11 at 17:37
@Pierre: Very true. – Josh K Jan 21 '11 at 17:44

My definition would be:

  • Contractor - someone hired to produce a specific output or deliver a project. This may be on either a fixed price or time & materials contract.
  • Consultant someone hired primarily in an advisory role. The advice could be quite technical (how to optimise assembly language) or more general / organisational (how to implement TDD).

The two are typically somewhat interchangable however (you can regard advice as an output, so a consultant can be regarded as a contractor, and likewise a contractor may reasonably be expected to provide advice as part of their work).

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Typically a contractor would be consider for lack of a better phrase "Another peg in the wheel". They get hired to do a specific task with little or no say in how it is done.

A consultant on the other hand is usually hired to provide insight, direction and expert advice. Frequently, that will lead to the production of some product, which the consultant will have a hand in creating.

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That tends to be a very heated topic at times. To me a contractor is someone who comes in and performs specific tasks directed by the client. This could be coding, design, support, whatever. A consultant is someone that comes in to advise on higher level subjects such as technology direction, platforms, etc.

I certainly know some contractor/consultants that are very offended by being called a contractor. Me personally I prefer to be thought of as a contractor but I don't feel particularly strong about it either way.

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