Software Developer's Dilemma: Is Being A Sales Engineer a Cop-Out?

Sure, the die-hard developers snigger at the idea, but the upsides are enormous. (How does $130k sound?)


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Posted November 17, 2008

Eric Spiegel

Eric Spiegel

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Times are tough and about to get even tougher for software developers. The latest headlines say that 2008 could end up being the worst for tech job losses since 2003. So this a great time to switch careers, right?

Well, maybe.

Let me even go more out on a thin limb. How about switching into a career in sales? That sound I just heard was collective laughter from techies worldwide.


To be completely frank, most engineers I know have few kind words for sales people. When a sales person complains they can’t sell software for whatever reason, the development team cries foul, convinced the sales person must be incompetent because the software should sell itself. From a techie’s point of view, a sales person is viewed as an impediment to selling software.

Well, now is your chance to help bridge this gap by becoming an intrepid sales engineer! You too can be a savior in the world of software sales who is worshiped by sales people and potentially appreciated by developers. Any sales person worth their salt would tell you they couldn’t be successful without a solid sales engineer. Any developer would tell you that they wouldn’t be caught dead being a sales engineer – that would be a cop out!

Remember, I wrote that sales engineers were potentially “appreciated” by other techies, but I didn’t write “respected.” You see, developers have paid their dues with many all-nighters while getting their computer science degree and then – again – in the working world, as they built software that some of them consider to be works of art.

They slaved for these accomplishments, which resulted in the techie badge of honor – solving problems that were deemed insurmountable in the wee hours of the morning, usually the day before a deadline.

You may ask: what honor is there in helping sell software?

Ask any executive responsible for revenue and they will say TONS! There are plenty of kudos to go around for anyone who helps close a deal. But forget about honor and kudos for a minute because there is a more important reason to consider this switch.

Sales engineers can make a bundle of cash.

Do I have your attention now techies? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, experienced engineers can make upwards of $130k in sales engineering. Granted, part of this compensation is commission, but the base is usually not too far off of a software developer’s salary. And, there are many fringe benefits.

Sales engineers may be granted the personal use of a company car. No, likely not a Porsche, but at least the gas and maintenance are covered with the extra bonus of no car payment.

It is true that you must be willing to travel, but the frequent-flyer mileage adds up quickly. In addition, some companies offer incentives such as free vacation trips or gifts for outstanding performance.

One sales engineer I know well has been in United Airlines Platinum Medallion club for years and as a result, hasn’t paid for a vacation in a very long time. Plus, he has traveled to many cool places on the company’s dime, including qualifying for President’s Club for exceeding sales goals, where you get an all-expenses paid trip to some swanky resort, sometimes in Hawaii or some other exotic location.

Not to say there aren’t local territory types of sales engineering jobs, but it’s safe to say that if you are more of a home body that enjoys coding in your cube all day, then you can stop reading now and go back to grinding out code.. Still reading? Good. Then let’s assume the potential for more lucrative compensation and interesting benefits has kept your attention.

Continued: The advantages of a sales engineer job

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Tags: developer, software, IT, jobs, executive

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