Even with all these incentives, finding good sales engineers is extremely challenging. As I alluded to above, this isnt a fit for everyone and one of the reasons some dont consider this career path is because some of the most talented developers have not considered moving to the dark side. And yes, the perception of sales being the dark side is half the battle for recruiters trying to convince techies to make the leap.
This perception may have you asking why should you consider the potential ridicule of your fellow developers and pursue such a position?
First, you will have more freedom to set your own schedule, so you can arrange time off when you need it. Many sales engineers have the opportunity to work from home because they travel so much.
Second, you will likely have access to a lot of training. You will have to be an expert on the softwares features and benefits, plus an expert on the competition. You will also have to maintain a strong grasp on general technology trends in your industry. All of this requires lots of reading and ongoing education.
Third, it will greatly improve your public speaking. I know, this isnt at the top of a lot of developers I must achieve greatness in categories. However, consider that youll be speaking about topics that you are passionate about.
I once had a developer tell me to never ever put him in front of a customer. Well, I had two sales engineers out sick and an important prospective customer on the phone with a question. So I called in this reluctant developer (much to his chagrin) and put him on the phone. He absolutely helped us close the deal because he was so knowledgeable in an unpretentious way that really sold the customer who was a serious techie as well.
Contrary to popular belief, you dont have to be a great people person. When it comes down to it, you would mainly be dealing with other techies speaking the same language. And that common bond helps sell software much more than some semi-technical person talking out of their behind.
Its true that there isnt much coding going on in this position, which some developers simply cannot deal with. You will likely write some integration code here and there or maybe have a side project you can work on, but when it comes down to brass tacks your job is to make the software look like nirvana.
Now considering these difficult economic circumstances, perhaps this isnt a good time to switch jobs. But if you find yourself out of a job, you may consider this move more seriously because you dont have much else to lose. And its not likely that sales engineering will be offshored or outsourced in anyway, so in some ways a move like this may offer more job security in the future.
If it doesnt work out, just think how youll impress your friends with those newly refined public speaking skills!
Eric Spiegel is CEO and co-founder of XTS, which provides software for planning, managing and auditing Citrix and other virtualization platforms.