How to Become a Solutions Engineer
In the last decade, tech companies are looking for more and more for a new position, called Solution Engineer. The meaning or responsibilities of the role could change depending on the company.
Let's explore in this article which are the different faces of this role
Spoiler: I work as a Solution Engineer in a CPaaS company
Solutions Engineer? What?
A Solutions Engineer (SE) is usually part of the Sales Department, working with Sales (Account Executives, Account Managers), Product and Engineering team.
Yes, there is a lot going on.
Identify and Qualify
SE joins customer calls to discover the technical requirements, use case and which product best fits the business goals. SE identifies and qualifies the requirements from the customer.
Say no quickly and move forward
Unless your product or company can adapt to all customers, you will be in the position of saying NO a lot. You will get a lot of potential customers in your way, identifying the right ones and saying no to the others, will be the key to your success. Let me dig deeper into this one: browsing online the top companies, everyone is evangelising customer obsession. And I totally agree with them. I embrace customer obsession as a principle. Saying no to customers is not going against this principle, it's the process of identifying the requirements and understanding if your company's products can help them. If not, you need to move forward quickly.
Example 1: your company sells surfboards. During the discovery call with the customer, their requirement is to have snowboards. They think that your company can help because, you know, your selling surfboards, they have the same shape, they can do the same thing. Unfortunately, you know that's not the case. You know that for their requirement you would need to redesign the board with different materials and shape. You also know that selling snowboards is not in your company roadmap and goals. That's when you have to say no and move forward to the next customer.
SE feedback is vital for the Product Team, as the SE can translate business requirements to technical requirements from your company point of view. This step is incredibly valuable because the more precise is the requirement for Product, the more effective will be the actual benefit for your customers.
The Engineering team trusts SE feedback about the features they're building, documentation improvement or common pain points coming from other developers.
Being an SE gives you exposure to the complete lifecycle of the company product, from sales requirements to product and ultimately development.
Day to Day Responsibilities
So how is a SE typical day?
Discovery calls: discovery calls are part of the daily job of an SE. The goal of this call is to qualify the customer's technical requirements, identify which product can help design it and provide a solution. Most of the time, customers already know which product they want to use and how the solution looks like and most of the time they are wrong. Not because they don't understand the product but because they don't have the same knowledge as you of the product. You, as the Solution Engineer, have to guide them to the right architecture which has to be operationally excellent and cost-optimal.
Remember, being cost-efficient for the customer's solution is not going against your company goals. It's going towards company goals because you are building trust with the customer.
Discovery calls are stimulating because you get to learn new business cases, new implementations and new customers. Sometimes the products your company offers are not enough to solve the customer's needs. That's when your creative process makes the difference. It's time to build a Proof of Concept.
Building Proof of Concepts (POC): building a bespoke solution or a POC is the process where your technical expertise can be expressed. You would be asked to build a sample app, an API or provide sample code for a specific requirement. Keep in mind, you are not asked to build a product.
Your mission is to show to the business that the solution is feasible and, at the same time, inspire and guide customer's developers on how to integrate it into their product. This is where my inner developer spirit comes out the most. Having a developer background, I find that discussing, helping, inspiring other developers is one of the best parts of my job. Most of the time, it's a reciprocal collaboration. I learn from them and they learn from me. My goal is the same as theirs, building a beautiful product for their company.
Building new solutions boost your creative process. You are put in condition to create innovative software architecture for different products every week. And the most exciting part is that you will see your design taking life into your customer's product. You have a real impact on the final goal and you feel part of the project itself.
Continuous Learning: every company has different assets and technology stack: PHP, NodeJS, Python, ReactJS and so on. You, as the Solution Engineer, don't need to be an expert in each of them. Your attitude and problem-solving mindset will guide through the solution. Improvising is a skill you need to develop during your work experience. You have to learn to be confident even if you are asked about a technology that you don't know well.
Drive Product: listening to different new cases on a daily basis gives you an understanding of customer needs and pain points. You can use these inputs to influence products roadmap, discussing with your Product Manager which improvements could have the biggest impact on growth and customer experience.
How to Become a Solutions Engineer and Why
The Solutions Engineer group blends technical and business expertise together. Usually, there is not a preset path to become part of this group. I would say that having an experience in programming (such as a full-stack developer) gives a great advantage in terms of technical knowledge. Being a former developer, you don't get a lot of experience in speaking in front of a customer, presenting the company and the products, why and how your company can help the customer and stuff like that.
Personally, I was looking for a SE role exactly for this reason. I love coding, I love having a technical discussion with developers but I was missing the customer-facing interaction. I wanted to have the feeling to touch with my hands how the product that you are building transform your customers' platform.
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