September in Palma, a great month not only weatherwise but because it is time for the annual „WebEngineering Unconference“ #weuc on our beloved island.
This year on the 23rd and 24th of september software engineers from all over the world – not only Europe – met at the lovely situated Innside Bosque hotel in Palma and … geeked out only occasionally and talked about all aspects of software engineering incl. mental health the other times. A perfect occasion to get myself updated on the topics that are really moving the development crowd. I keep myself updated on the latest technologies and trends via various channels, but one should never forget that the actual adoption in „the real world“ is slow and takes a really long time.
As it is an unconference the audience is creating the programm – it is not fix but pops into existence at the beginning on Saturday via presenting and voting. Everyone should bring in a topic or 2 they want to talk about or get information (contribution or interest topic) and then the crowd indicates their interest via show of hands. A brought up a session called „What is the best job in IT – and how to become a sales engineer“, which got some laughs during the 30 second intro – and some risen hands. There were sessions about AI in general and specific for developers offered, various frameworks in various languages for dicussion or living hacking as well as discussion about value selling and mental health. The complete schedule can be found here: https://weuc.eu/#schedule
A non technical session at a tech (un)conference?
Why did I offer a session about a non technical topic at a developer conference? Why not? Sales is often considered „the dark side“ by developers but someone needs to sell the stuff they build – a little enlightning is never wrong. And the best SEs are the ones that understand that techies don‘t like to be sold to, they way it is described in so many movies and TV series. Additionally I have very good experience with IT consultants turning into SEs as they bring in a lot of understanding and empathy for the development department.
I wanted to go through the requirement list for a complete SE – on the one hand to highlight that it is a very faceted job and sales is just a part of it. On the other to give them a feeling if that role could be something they have the necessary skills and desires for. One thing is clear though: If you don‘t like to work with people then presales is not the right role for you. Also a SE role requires experience, it is never a 1st job after uni but a step after you gained some experience. It ended up in an interactive session with many questions from the participants – my choice to answer or postpone according to the value it brings for the rest of the group there. Communication and facilitation practice at its best.
A customer facing job for example, sharpens your communication skills – at least it should. That and a passion for your product are two intangible success factors that are easily overlooked. Which lead to a small section about motivation and drivers. Curiousity and passion are definitely two big drivers important for a SE, but there are many more.
Value and the customer
Another topic which was talked about in sessions and at the bar was: value. Either how to price your value as a contractor and how can you make a customer aware of the monetary impact of a software or a project rather than the time used for it. Value is also something at the core of the sales engineer discussion. But often enough your prospect has no idea about how to price a value to help secure the budget from the economic buyer. Occasions like this unconference are perfect to train your sales senses and muscles. Not to sell something but to get a feeling what questions you need to ask to make a connection between the work that you and others do and the outcome in terms of money. That can be money saved, projects closed faster with less errors which then saves on someone’s budget, etc. For employees in bigger organisations the costs or benefits are often not transparent or even known at all. And colleagues don’t cost a thing, they are there all the time anyhow. Those types of discussions is best managed when you practice your communication skills regularly.
Networking and party to foster understanding
The session was well received and as it was just 45 minutes long there were many chats with participants that I had in the afternoon and the event party on Saturday evening – though I didn’t went to the traditional pub after the official event – but I could tell that it was a blast for a couple of people: Body language 101 on Sunday morning 😉
The vibe was great and talking to participants from Asia widened my view, especially on things like AI and how it is approached outside of the EU. The talks and chats you have outside of the sessions are what makes the magic happen. Sales engineering, especially in startups, needs empathy and understanding of the customer side to succeed – talking to techies in a relaxed environment where everyone can just withdraw from a conversation if they are not feeling comfortable is a great way to foster that. The next time you are talking to a customer you probably understand a little better how they roll.
Attend (un)conferences if you can
If you have a chance to attend any tech conference or unconference that is loosely connected to your market or your field of expertise -> attend it. It is one great way to not only increase your social skills like empathy and communication but also to keep your tech knowledge up to date, find out what is really going on in the IT departments and broaden your business network.