John Got Hired

Welcome to episode 221 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_) – two technology professionals with backgrounds in IT Operations and Sales Engineering on a mission to help others accelerate career progression and increase job satisfaction by bringing listeners the advice we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode we walk through John’s hiring process after being laid off, the options he considered, the questions he asked in interviews, his mindset, and the end result of the offer he accepted.

Original Recording Date: 04-22-2023

Topics – Focusing on What’s Next, An Unexpected Call, Points of Consideration, Attitude of Openness, Reflections on the Interview Process

1:11 – Focusing on What’s Next

  • If you missed Episode 220, go back and give it a listen. John discussed what it was like to get fired and how he processed the event. This week John is going to tell us about getting hired and things he did to land the job.
  • When you’re coming off the shock of being fired there is a great deal of processing to do.
    • One advantage John had was being fairly emotionally even. He didn’t have an existential crisis over the whole thing. He was able to process the question of what’s next fairly quickly and easily.
    • John had options. After being a sales engineer for several years, he considered sales engineering management (managing a team of sales engineers) as one option and felt he could be good at it.
      • And let’s not forget that John needed to learn about saying smart manager things as part of this.
    • Another option was to expand into being a sales engineer in a different area of technology that would push John’s knowledge boundaries. Possible areas of expansion could be analytics, business intelligence, machine learning, or artificial intelligence.
    • John could also look for sales engineering roles that focus on a different industry or type of customer such as healthcare solutions or ERP solutions.
    • Should John have considered starting a media company called Nerd Journey?
      • John certainly had some relatable experience but discarded this idea pretty quickly since he and Nick didn’t get into doing the show to make it a business.
      • Monetizing the show through paid coaching or something like it was not really what John had set himself up to do.
    • John could have moved to another hyperscaler like Amazon or Microsoft.

5:33 – An Unexpected Call

  • Before the layoff happened, one of John’s former managers reached out to him about a sales engineering manager role in the bay area, so in many ways it was top of mind and heated up even more after the layoffs happened.
    • John says he would always take a call from this specific former manager (highlighting a previous very good experience).
    • John had let this manager know while still working for her that he would be interested in pursuing sales engineering leadership roles. There were no in-depth career discussions about it, but it was something John brought up in conversation.
    • And when a slot opened up, this manager remembered the conversation and reached out to John.
    • This is the position (sales engineering manager) at Nutanix that John applied for (and landed). He’s about 7-8 weeks into the role at the time of this recording.

7:13 – Points of Consideration

  • There were some things John had to consider when coming to a company like Nutanix.
    • Nutanix competes with VMware, a former employer of John’s. John still has great relationships with VMware personnel in his area and needed to consider where he might overlap those people, if it would cause competition with them, and whether it would cause friction in personal relationships.
      • John keeps in touch with former co-workers and has good relationships with them. Once he knew the direction he was going to go he reached out to let those people know.
      • It might have been different if John was to be the one directly involved in competition with former co-workers, but in this case he would be slightly removed from direct involvement and only assisting people in that competition as a sales engineering manager.
    • Making the move to a different company was potentially a cut to the high end of what he was making.
      • John was working for a company that was paying at the higher end of the pay band for individual contributors at Google Cloud, and almost any other company where he could work was a potential pay cut.
      • Nick mentions Don Jones shared in Episode 137 that managers at lower levels may make the same or more than individual contributors at higher job levels. See also Episode 138 for the rest of the interview with Don Jones.
      • John says a manager may make a higher base salary than an individual contributor but likely would have a variable part of their compensation that isn’t going to go as high as in the case of an individual contributor.
      • Sales engineers are incentivized to help their sales counterparts sell more but are not the primary commissioned people on any account. Sales engineers normally have a small percentage that is variable compensation (could be 70% base salary with 30% variable compensation, 75% base salary with 25% variable, or even 80% base salary with 20% variable). If you have a high enough base salary, you will be comfortable no matter what happens.
      • It’s very possible in this scenario for the individual contributor to out-earn the manager unless everyone under the manager was over achieving. John as a sales engineering manager is mapped to two sales managers’ pool of quota.
      • This is very much like what Don Jones said about the success of the manager being determined by the success of the team. You might not know if any given day is a good day for perhaps weeks / months.
      • Nick says you could look at the compensation through the lens of companies who have bonus structures that are MBO (management by objective) with the individual contributor and manager each having specific targets that affect their bonus. If each individual contributor has to complete 2 trainings to hit a specific target with more than that being overachievement, the manager has the target for the entire team added together (i.e. a team of 10 people would need 20 trainings completed to be on target).
    • Another aspect was the mixture of maturity on the team itself.
      • John was not walking into a gimme situation where everyone around him that he would be supporting and working with was tenured and high performing.
      • "Opportunity comes with a little bit of uncertainty." – John White
      • here is a flip side here in helping a team mature and helping with strategy and execution. It was a chance to grow something.
      • The sales engineers that would be reporting to John in this situation were mostly tenured and performed well.
      • John says he could see opportunities to grow but did not find anything that would rule out the opportunity.
    • John has had some relatable experience in the primary solution area for Nutanix (hyperconverged infrastructure).
      • John worked with solutions in this area from VMware as well as compute and storage abstractions at Google Cloud.
      • John felt he could enable himself fairly quickly on the Nutanix technical solutions, keeping in mind the job of the sales engineering manager is not to be the best technical person on the team. He was relying on his team to be technically excellent and would be in a role to support them.
      • Nick says the manager of a team like this isn’t supposed to be by default the most technical person on the team. John says a team may have a technical lead who is in charge of being the ultimate technical escalation point. That’s different job than the manager’s role.

16:07 – Attitude of Openness

  • John knew there was no single perfect opportunity for him and was open to any number of positions at any number of companies (keeping an open mind). He applied for sales engineering manager positions and sales engineer positions and felt those roles would be the ones in which he could succeed.
    • Nutanix happened to move the fastest for the most part. John disqualified opportunities in areas of technology where he was not passionate.
    • John feels like the breakdown of applications for job was about 75% individual contributor in sales engineering and 25% sales engineering management.
    • John got aggressive and went to LinkedIn, reaching out to people at interesting companies who did not have open positions and inquiring if they were looking for sales engineering leadership or high level sales engineers who could progress into leadership as the company grew. There was nothing really to lose by doing this. John got some responses from companies with no open positions but who thought it sounded interesting. These folks suggested having an informal conversation.
  • Did John communicate the intent to progress into management when he interviewed for individual contributor sales engineer roles?
    • John says no. He wanted to be "all in" on a specific role because it was interesting on its own. John would not apply for a sales engineer position and then tell them up front what he really wanted was a sales engineering manager position. He would apply for a sales engineering management position if that is what he wanted.
    • John approached this from a place of having the opportunity to do many interesting things and not just trying to get something to leverage it as a step up toward management.
    • As John mentioned last week, there were 3500 open roles with a title of sales engineer or systems engineer. There was no perfect opportunity but rather a spectrum of opportunity across a number of different roles. Some folks in an early stage startup might need a sales engineer that also does tech marketing and maybe also pure sales (i.e. some sort of hybrid).
    • Nick thinks John was channeling Jason Langer’s attitude from Episode 219 in the openness to either a management role or an individual contributor role.
    • John didn’t feel like management was a requirement. He just felt it was interesting. And he accepted that it might mean making less money.

22:26 – Reflections on the Interview Process

  • Nutanix moved the fastest, moving John through the interview process quickly and expressing strong interest.
  • The team shared the potential match for John and why they liked him, the challenges of the role, and the potential upside…all in very candid terms.
  • Before any of the other opportunities John was looking at progressed he had an offer in hand from Nutanix. It looked like a good fit in John’s eyes, and he chose to accept the position.
  • The interview process
    • John borrowed heavily from our guests who shared what it was like to interview for a manager position.
    • John thought a lot about adjacencies and relatable experience.
      • John had done between 20 and 50 interviews of candidates at Google Cloud during his time there. And he’s interviewed a few people on the air for the podcast to understand and learn about their stories.
      • John tells us when you are the lead sales engineer you are sometimes in charge of holding technical professionals accountable on an opportunity with only relationship power and not role power. This could be product managers, technical marketing, or specialist sales engineers and takes a lot of coordination and accountability.
      • At Google Cloud John had done peer reviews (assessing peers in an open and honest way to address growth areas for these folks and point out strengths).
      • John also acted as front line manager for a time for an individual straight out of college who was to be a sales engineer. He had to do a performance review of this person and help her grow into a more experienced sales engineer.
      • John also had a lot of mentorship activity during which he would help people grow through giving advice.
    • When applying to other positions John had other adjacencies.
      • In cases where John had not used or helped sell a specific company’s product he would talk about things he had focused on which were similar. Google Cloud had a data warehouse product called BigQuery, and he leveraged this adjacent / relatable experience when applying for a sales engineering management role at SnowFlake.
    • John also looked at weakness areas / places where he would need to grow.
      • Lack of experience actually doing the job of firing someone, managing someone out of the company
      • John had interviewed people but had not been a hiring manager. There is a difference between being on the interviewing team and being the person who is ultimately responsible on making the call on which candidate gets hired.
      • At Google Cloud John participated in interviewing an extended pool of people who might be qualified to fill a title and which level they would be placed (junior, senior, staff, etc.). The goal was to evaluate if there was a good fit between the person and the position. Generally Google had high standards, and they had a continuous process running to find qualified candidates to fill the openings.
      • John evaluated weaknesses for any given position to which he planned to apply. And they were different in each case.
    • How would he succeed?
      • This was more focused on the sales engineering manager position at Nutanix because he was in the advanced stages of the interview process for it.
      • John borrowed the Manager Tools guidance of a 30-60-90 day plan.
      • He would need to watch and learn for 30 days and gain context. Likely he should not change anything until the 60 or 90 day point. It is important to understand why things are the way they are and why things need to change.
      • The 30-60-90 can be thought of similarly from the individual contributor standpoint as well.
    • All of these topics came up (strengths, weaknesses, experience, places to grow) talking to the hiring manager and beyond. John talked to the sales managers he would be working with, a VP of sales, a sales engineering manager who would be his peer, and a VP of sales engineering during the process.
      • When you talk about adjacent experience, you can share what you have done and state that it shares some overlap with what somoene is talking about. "I’ve done this thing that is like it."
      • As an example, a help desk person has to sell the end user on the solution to a problem which may produce a better result. That is not the same as selling a product for money, but there is a lot of overlap with this and the technical sales process (understanding the root problem and whether the portfolio of solutions can solve the problem, etc.).
      • The hiring team knew John would be a first time manager. John asked when it makes sense for a company to hire a first time manager and when it is a challenge, wanting to know if he was stepping into the situation where the company would hire a first time manager.
      • Nick had not thought about this specific question. John restates it as "here’s the profile that I fit into and where I am in my career. What situations do you think would disqualify that profile?" This helps you understand the situation you’re stepping into.
    • Some of John’s questions in the interview process…
      • What is the culture? He was looking to work with really smart people who were smart in different ways from him, having different experiences and backgrounds to cover for his blind spots. And he could help cover for their blind spots.
      • John wanted a culture where growth is emphasized mistakes are tolerated because there will always be mistakes.
      • What is the team like? What are their personalities like?
      • Talking to the sales managers was important to see if there was a personality clash.
      • What is the path to success in the role? What is the baseline, where is it starting, and what are the actions that need to happen in order to get success broadly speaking?
      • Specific to Nutanix, John wanted to know how the business becomes a more strategic vendor and goes up the stack from infrastructure or what the plan was to do so. He answered it for himself ahead of time but wanted to hear about things not on the website from leaders.
    • Nick loves the fact that John is modeling for us all to bring questions to determine if something is the right opportunity for us.
  • John wants to acknowledge he had a privileged position in all of this. He was financially secure in this case and could have paid his bills for up to a year if needed (all based on prior planning).
    • John could make sure the position in which he would be a first time manager was something in which he could execute and be successful.
    • John says it was his job to figure out if this was true or not.
    • When the offer was on the table, compensation and benefits were discussed. John came to the conclusion that the role would be a good for him.
  • John felt the questions he asked were pretty direct and down the middle, but he asked them in multiple ways to ensure he was getting an answer that made sense.
  • Nick would love to hear John’s impressions of being a first time manager at some point.

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