Nerd Journey 027: Ramzi Marjaba Interview

Welcome to episode 27 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two VMware Solution Engineers who are hoping to bring you the IT career advice that we wish we’d been given earlier in our careers. In today’s episode, we interview Ramzi Marjaba of the "We the Sales Engineers" podcast.

Original Recording Date: 2019-02-22

Topics – Ramzi Marjaba of the "We The Sales Engineers" podcast

6:54 Introductions

7:28 Why did Ramzi start the podcast?

  • To study the job
  • He’s gotten to talk to some of the thought-leaders in the field

9:21 How has your understanding of the role evolved over the course of the podcast?

  • Peter Cohan
  • Upcoming recording of a demo as a YouTube video

12:37 How does the SE role fit in with the sales organization?

14:29 Any way to shorten the learning cycle?

  • Avoid spray-and-pray
  • Should’ve asked manager to shadow good SEs
  • Forgot the SE skills for the product skills

16:09 What did Ramzi’s career journey look like?

17:05 Transitioning to the SE role; Did you feel yourself losing your technical hand? How about losing technical credibility?

  • Didn’t know the title acronyms
  • Relationship credibility vs technical credibility

20:36 Ever miss support role?

  • No
  • Paid on performance
  • Learning from variety of different customers

23:44 Advice for people who are thinking about changing role due to being under-appreciated

  • Start looking before you’re extremely unhappy with your current one
  • Finding a new job takes time; Learn new job skills while on your current job
    • Get better at presenting by presenting to informal lunch groups
    • Or do demos
    • Practice interviewing
    • Apply before you feel qualified

27:16 How do you distinguish between companies you do and don’t want to work for?

  • Tech might not be interesting, though people being interesting might change your mind
  • Bad communication during interview process

28:40 Is it fair to judge a company by how they treat you during the hiring process?

  • Yes, it’s fair
  • Speed of responses shows how interested they are
  • Remember you have the power not to take the offer

31:40 Ever seen the stall or delay during the process?

  • Could be a committee process
  • Could be some other internal process
  • Perhaps they didn’t see your value; OR you didn’t show your value
  • They might just be slow; Follow up with the hiring manager
  • You’re just interviewing, not hired; Keep looking until you accept an offer

34:54 What does your view of the SE career path look like?

  • SE coach, mentor, manager
  • Most SEs stay SEs forever
  • SE Management is an option
  • Product management seems like an option, but they also seem to be paid less than SEs
  • Maybe it’s worth it if you see lots of advancement in the PM role

36:43 Decomposing the things you like about the role and finding that role that does that

  • Most SE soft skills are done outside the company
  • Ramzi starts turning the tables and asking John what he’s seen
  • John’s experience matches that, except for straight sales skills
  • SEs who are good at the soft skills tend to get pushed into sales roles
    • Though SEs with technical and soft skills are way more valuable

39:56 How has your appreciation of the pure sales role vs. the SE role evolved

  • Used to complain about them
  • Had to cover sales for a territory once and hated it
  • John – finding the right people to get the meeting with is a skill
  • Repeated inspection by sales management at the end of the quarter
  • John says he tells his sales team he won’t ask at the end of the quarter

44:30 Ramzi asks John about how common career and retirement/financial planning is

  • Most people don’t plan careers, they only have emergency reactions
  • There are some jobs which have a clear linear path, but most jobs aren’t like that
  • Breaking people out of that blinder is a major goal of the Nerd Journey podcast
  • We need to overcome the blockers like feeling disloyal, feeling unlucky, fear, and discomfort
  • Financial planning is more common

48:00 Ramzi’s experience coming out of University

  • Didn’t know about the various job roles coming out of University
  • Didn’t know about paths once hired
  • Expecting people to stay in the same role for 20 years is … delusional
  • John thinks positive organizational culture values people to the point of keeping them in the company, rather than the role, emphasizing career path
  • Ramzi hasn’t seen that

50:28 Ramzi was in a role where the manager lost 6 people, and was surprised every time

  • If the manager had actually invested in the team, they might have been more invested in finding/training their replacements

51:41 John talks about his positive experience

  • Career path as an entry discussion, Chad Sakac impact radius, and IC career and compensation path
  • Ramzi asks if the company actually followed up after that entry discussion
  • Discussion of great 1 on 1s

55:41 John’s observations on how Product Management seems more of a mature, set, career path

  • Ramzi hasn’t seen that at his orgs
  • Ramzi observes that not having a traditional background shouldn’t stop you from applying
  • We discuss the fallacy of feeling the need to meet every part of a job description before applying

59:27 Not so lightning round

  • Most important tool for career planning
  • Invaluable book for career
  • Most important time management tip
    • Calendar follow-up time
  • Most important piece of career advice
    • Own your career

57:38 Wrapping up

  • Link to the episode that Nick and John were on


  • Correction on The Last Samurai

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