Sales engineer career path #3: Product development

December 31, 2018 Comments Off on Sales engineer career path #3: Product development

It’s time for the next installment in the ongoing series about career paths for sales engineers seeking new opportunities. This time around, I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of moving into product development. Before I begin, it’s important to understand that this is one of the more challenging transitions, largely because the skills necessary to be an effective SE can be so different than those that characterize the most productive developers. With that said, here goes:

Pros

  • Sense of ownership. SEs flit between opportunities; product developers stay involved throughout the lifecycle of the technology they’re building.
  • Better base salary. In general (but not always), product developers earn a higher base salary than SEs.
  • Less travel. If you’re tired of those 6 am flights to remote client sites, product development might be a welcome relief.
  • Less variability. There are fewer subjective factors – such as client whims and sales representatives who can’t sell – that can block your achievements when you move into product development.

Cons

  • Technically demanding. If your skills aren’t up to par, you’ll really need to put in the educational effort to meet the requirements of your new job.
  • Less upside. While product developers may have a larger base salary, thanks to commission SEs can really hit the jackpot if they have a particularly good year.
  • Risk of outsourcing. Don’t kid yourself: if your employer can save one dollar a year on your salary by moving your job offshore, they’ll do it. In contrast, it’s nearly impossible to outsource SEs.
  • Less interaction with customers. Plenty of SEs really savor the opportunity to meet with prospects and clients; product developers rarely get the chance. Some SEs find being ‘chained to a desk’ to be too confining.

Making the transition

It’s a big leap to move from the sales organization to the product development team. Here are some steps that can make this migration less painful:

  1. Find one or more champions in product development
  2. Discretely meet with them to learn more about what it takes to succeed in their group
  3. When ready, approach your manager and express your desire to make the change
  4. Once you get the go-ahead, work with HR to find a position in product development
  5. Work on a mutually agreeable timeline to switch roles

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