Ask HN: How do Sales Engineers evolve their careers?

9 points by kjellsbells 5 days ago

Sales Engineers are the people that keep product reality close to the sales pitch for a customer's benefit. But (especially in Enterprise B2B) they're not coders, and they're not product managers, and they are not quite salesperson "enough" to qualify for evolving to any of those career positions.

How do you evolve SEs in your org?

mindwok 4 days ago

Interested in hearing this. I’ve recently switched to SE from being a developer and prior to that more of an SRE role. I changed because I wanted more interaction with customers and to improve my communication skills and make me better aligned with customers, but I fully intend to move back into an engineering or product development type role.

For those of you in management positions, is engineering experience alongside the sales experience something you’d value in candidates?

p1esk 4 days ago

I went from SE to PM after about two years.

apohn 4 days ago

>But (especially in Enterprise B2B) they're not coders, and they're not product managers, and they are not quite salesperson "enough" to qualify for evolving to any of those career positions.

I was in PreSales for a long time and IME, this isn't true (excluding SWEs). Different SEs have different personalities and different inclinations. Some of these personality traits means they have to stop being an SE and do something else to maximize their career satisfaction.

A lot of SEs stay as SEs and simply grow as technical experts or industry experts and then go into a "Principal" SE role. I think these tend to be the type of people who like go deep into something and their strengths are in going deep. The ones who get tired of the sales part can go into developer relations, solution development, etc where they are part of building solutions, but they are removed from the heavy sales parts of it. You can certainly get paid enough as a Principal level that money is removed as a reason for changing career paths.

There's then the type of SE who is strong technically and is good at understanding what a customer is really asking for and translating that into a solution to a specific use case. These are the ones who can be good product managers. I put myself in this category and the product SWEs I worked with usually liked talking to me because I could frame a customer ask in a concrete technical way, which was something a lot of Product Managers struggled with. I had more than one instance where a Product Manager said if I wanted to switch to Technical Product Management they could find a path to make that happen.

There's then the type of SE who is okay technically, but who really cares about customers succeeding in the long term. They can do well in customer success roles, or even technical support and management roles in either of those areas.

There's then type of SE who is really enjoys the "educating" part of sales. They can go into the Training/Education side of things.

Finally, there's the type of SE who has a great personality, but they are poor technically and not very detail oriented when it comes to anything technical. I've seen these become sales people or move into account management.

I've worked with SEs who have moved into Sales roles, Product Management, Training, Customer Success, and PreSales Management, Developer Relations, etc.

Regarding SWE, I do agree with you that transitioning from SE to SWE is harder. I've worked with SWEs who became SEs but couldn't transition back. Once you've climbed out of the trenches and seen the big picture it's hard to say I'm going to go back in the trenches, especially at a large B2B company where there are 1000s of SWEs. It's easier if you were a specialist (e.g. in Data Science) and the SWE job is a specialist role.

>How do you evolve SEs in your org?

One thing I've seen is that many SE managers are sales people at heart, which makes them terrible at evolving SEs. They only reward and recognize the SEs who have the traits that overlap with sales people. So they can't even recognize how to evolve their SEs. Even if the SE manager gets it, the Directors/VPs, etc are all ex-sales people and they don't get the value of focusing on these other things.

IMO the way to evolve SEs is to connect them with somebody from a different org (that can use the SEs strengths) and have them work together. The SE will learn about how people do a different job, and that other person gets a direct line into what SES are seeing in the field. It's generally a net positive for the company.