North American Association of Sales Engineers

North American Association of Sales Engineers

European Association of Sales Engineers

No one said, “I want to be an SE when I grow up”

All right, stop whatcha doin, ’cause I’m about to ruin. Well, I hope I don’t ruin. When I was first approached to write an article about my career path earlier this year, I thought this would be easy. I’ve been planning on writing for a while, fueled by the extra time provided during the pandemic and what, in my mind, I think are some extraordinary Sales Tales. If the time it took to put together this article is a measuring stick, I should have my first book complete within a decade.

All right, back to the lecture at hand. Career pathing. This should be easy. I’ll talk about how I grew up fascinated by tech, inspired by the times, the rise of video games, and home computing. The thrill of being part of a generation that saw the rise and fall of MTV. How I leveraged curiosity and culture to land my first job at AT&T, where I designed websites in the late 90s and eventually moved over to supporting one of the largest Citrix environments on the planet. How, at a faithful dinner, I met the great Scott Lane, who said, “you ever thought about being an SE”?

Boring, I’d love to make this article a self-reflection and personal success story, but I’ll defer to a future book. I could cover an SE’s traditional or classic career path, which is well documented. I’m too lazy to cite references, but it goes a bit like this.

  • You probably didn’t know what an SE was; if you became an SE, you have a few options.
  • Continue being an SE, be the best SE you can.
  • You go to the dark side (I wouldn’t say I like this saying) and take more risks as an individual seller.
  • You go into leadership (this is what I did) for the love of the game and coaching opportunities.
  • Or you take the learned skills and apply them to another unrelated career. I may have missed a few, but this is the skinny.

So, I said self, self, let’s not make this about you, even though the majority to this point is, well, just that. Why not talk to folks? Individuals that found a career as an SE and then, in part of their journey, progressed and endeavored on to something great. That took the core DNA of curiosity, a relentless drive to solve problems, a scoop of personality, and a desire to help those around them. Individuals that found success in areas outside of where they started.

To do this, I solicited conversations with the best in the biz. I spoke with David Byerly, VP & Country Manager at Citrix. He is an incredible sales leader, mentor, and all-around captain of his industry. J.P. Smith, Director, Worldwide Technical Enablement at Citrix, has, for the past 18 years, coordinated and delivered some of the most technical and complex training known to man. Take booking a hotel room, times that by 5000 and must live up to the standards of professional geeks.

Inspired by these two, I continued my journey. I solicited the sage advice of Mike “Q” Quirin, Partner at Alchemy Technology Group, an award-winning partner group and one of the best strategic technology partners in the industry. In a word, inspired. Q deserves a separate series to delve into his incredible memory and ability to challenge your perspective of comfort versus opportunity. And lastly, I talked with Amy Goldstein, currently a Senior SE at Citrix. Amy is at the beginning of her career. A career in which I see no ceiling. I may one day work for her, and I’d love it. Slight disclaimer Amy reports to me: at first, she did not want to be an SE, but man, she’s incredible at what she does. Amy brings a refreshing dose of compassion, plus an intelligence that is second to none.

My goal in these conversations is to pull out common characteristics. To see if I can identify what and why. What led them to become an SE, and why did they choose the following path? Here is what I found in my conversations with all, a few universal truths presented.

No one said, “I want to be an SE when I grow up.” Not a single individual knew what an SE was. Dave came out of college as a D1 athlete at James Madison with a focus on business and aspirations to follow that path and pursue an MBA. JP started as a consultant building complex environments, participating in a baptism by fire, and learning technology on the fly. Q came out of The Baylor Hankamer School of Business, started as a consultant, and heard about the “best-kept secret” industries. Amy obtained a master’s degree from the Colorado School of Mines and left school looking for a “company that cared.” What led each of them to be an SE to start was an opportunity presented, and they took it. To quote Q, “opportunity is all around you.”

Curiosity and problem solving created the SE and, ultimately, the next role. I circled “curious” in every conversation. Dave, JP, and Q all had another element that drove curiosity. The impending collapse of society and Y2K. I’m half joking. There was a real opportunity for those curious to develop a foundation. Dave alluded to “why should I care” and “I can solve this challenge.” Dave began helping customers discover the infancy of digital transformation. A term that would eventually be the title of over 100 thousand professionals on LinkedIn. Disclaimer, I thought I was exaggerating here; according to LinkedIn, I see the 820K+ decision-makers from your search for “digital transformation.” Dave was on the cutting edge of technology. JP helped guide hospitals to certify systems would survive the clock striking midnight by implementing test validations and introducing new technology, thin clients. Q was on the beginning wave of cloud computing. He was working with terminal services in the early 2000s.

Amy may have missed Y2K, but something stood out.  Amy capitalized on curiosity to take technology and “define success for customers.” What I love as I recapped curiosity is the relevance then and now. To borrow a quote from Q, “what’s old is new,” I researched this quote; I know Q rephrased it. I like Stephen King’s “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” We still have digital transformations, consumer to enterprise device considerations, and cloud computing has been evolving to the point of inflection for decades. If you are curious, you can solve problems, and companies love a good solution to their problems.

Social butterflies with a touch of muscle memory. It doesn’t take long in a conversation with any of these individuals to see a level of thoughtfulness, charisma, and genuineness; I want to hang out with these folks’ness (I know not a word, but hopefully, you know what I mean). Dave can captivate a room while making you feel like the center of attention. JP, for god’s sake, has the job of coordinating content for an entire organization. You have to have some serious social chops to herd many cats. Q holds court with the best of them, drawing on look-back moments and a memory that is second to none. And my favorite from Amy is “I’m not the most technical, but I am a pretty technical social person” Social when it counts? I was asked once, “what charges you.” I think of myself as an introvert. My wife would disagree. What I’m getting at is that each person I spoke with strikes me as the same. Each can flex a social muscle, but you can tell by their empathy and abilities to grasp and articulate that considerable time is spent reflecting.

Teamwork makes the dream work. I’m getting long-winded for a blog. With that, I’ll pull one more universal truth. You take the curiosity, take the problem, take the social, take the team, and then you have the facts of life. These professionals take their work, yearning to solve and help, and couple this with compassionate teamwork, whether it’s Dave leading a sales team or coaching and mentoring the next sales generation. JP combining and coordinating training and enablement to help raise the tide for all ships. Or Q, building relationships and a partner company focused on developing extraordinary trust-based relationships with customers and creating transformative business outcomes (I stole his company motto). Or Amy, whom I recently had dinner with, and a potential opportunity. A dinner where she said, “I just really want the customer to be successful.” To quote Tenacious D – “that’s teamwork.”

Final, final. As I reflect on my career and the conversations with Dave, JP, Q, and Amy, I see no clear path. You can focus on a to b to c., or you can hone and develop the characteristics and skills that you will leverage regardless of your profession, aspirations, and goals to succeed. Curiosity, problem-solving, genuine conversation, cooperation, and a shared vision to combine success with everyone around you. There is no box; there is no path. There is, however, a path, a way that applies to any career or pursuit. Stay curious, stay engaged, think of others, and stay thirsty, my friends. Jesus, that was cheesy.

Special thanks to the author of this article Blake Chandler.

Blake Chandler

SE Director

NAASE Member

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