Nick’s 3-year check-in as a VMware Solution Engineer Part 2

Welcome to episode 104 of the Nerd Journey Podcast [@NerdJourney]! We’re John White (@vJourneyman) and Nick Korte (@NetworkNerd_), two Pre-Sales Technical 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 have the second half of our discussion with Nick on his 3 years at VMware.

Original Recording Date: 12-18-2020

Topics – Nick’s 3-Year Check-in at VMware, Part 2

1:10 – Let the Grilling Begin

  • Last week we heard Nick’s reflection on 3 years at VMware. This week is John’s chance to grill him!
  • What has made Nick stay for 3 years?
    • He still loves the company, what it does, and the technology it makes. He still appreciates the time using VMware technologies as a customer and has enjoyed seeing the growth of the company since that time and since he joined.
    • There are many career opportunities inside the company not available to Nick when he worked as a customer.
    • The work is dynamic, which Nick loves. The people he works with appreciate what he does, are helpful, and the managers have been very encouraging and supportive.

3:19 – A Follow up on Feedback from the One-Year Check-In

  • See Episode 21 and Episode 22 for Nick’s first year reflection.
  • What about the adjustment from going to an office and working from home? What has this adjustment been like for Nick and his family?
    • Nick’s daughter did not like when he had to travel for several days. She now appreciates that he does not have to leave town very much.
    • Nick tries to communicate his schedule in advance (even during the times he only traveled locally to visit customers / go into the office) to ensure there’s no conflict with family schedules or that things can be adjusted accordingly.
  • What about the daily routine?
    • Now it is all work from home.
    • In the early days there were full days at home, partial days at home, entire days traveling (locally or in another state).
    • Just before the pandemic there was less travel out of state and more within driving distance.
    • There is still an element of catch up when you’re out visiting customers and traveling.
    • Now that he is 100% work from home, we plan accordingly to engage customers as needed.
  • How has Nick adjusted to the career strategy? He was so focused at getting into VMware in the beginning that he lost sight of what was next.
    • Nick has had conversations with each of his managers to get feedback on his strengths / where they think he should go.
    • Some of the advice was don’t specialize too early. Become very good at what you do not, and take that specialty into something more technical. See also Episode 26 on the differences between being a generalist and a specialist.
    • Nick has also thought about Technical Marketing since he enjoys blogging and presenting. But he also likes meeting with customers.
    • He likes mentoring others. Nick says his wife thinks he would be a great manager, but he is not sure that is what he wants (not sure if it is his Area of Destiny). Each manager has told Nick he could certainly do management if he desired with the proper training.
    • Right now, he is riding the track of staying on the generalist SE (Solution Engineer) path.
    • Nick is focused on deliberate practice in this SE role but also taking a step back to figure out how he can broaden knowledge about tech in general but also get deeper in certain areas of the portfolio. Perhaps certifications would be a good help here.
    • John says it sounds like Nick has a good philosophical basis for his career. The tactical next things to shoot for maybe are not as important. The concrete next step / short term goal of progressing up the SE ladder sounds like the way to go.
    • Nick likes the idea of staying fluid in future plans (allowing himself to fall into something new if it is the right way to go) but focus on getting better every day.
  • What did Nick have to learn about the hard way?
    • Some technical and business leader personas were very new to Nick. There were times when he got very nervous (and felt a lot of pressure) about having conversations with these folks. He eventually decided not to be afraid to mess up and make mistakes because he knows it will happen. Too much pressure before one of these conversations doesn’t help. Nick wants to define success in terms of something he can control rather than the outcomes.
    • John mentioned having to do research on what C-level folks care about and how important it was to know this going into the conversation. It’s not really products.
    • Seeking to understand is a great approach.
  • What has it been like to experience the growth and change at VMware over these years?
    • Some products are now SaaS and on-premises. Despite the same features, they have different license models. You have to know which one will be better for the customer. Each product is a wealth of information.
    • The experience of getting educated in each area is like spinning plates. It can be challenging to stay up to date in all areas.
      • Nick has probably studied up more than needed in certain cases.
      • John mentioned finding the right level of depth is difficult.
      • Some of the learning came from finding the answers to questions from customers (out of necessity). These can also be good opportunities to learn a customer’s business better.
  • What about the philosophy of training and balancing the internal skills training with external interests?
    • Nick points this out as an opportunity for improvement. There is still a quarterly week of enablement.
    • There are live trainings and recorded trainings, some optional and some required. Customer facing activities are the priority.
    • The balance is hard to keep.
  • What about interaction with the larger account team?
    • Think of Nick as the technical quarterback of the account. He works with other internal groups and pulls them in at the right time and for the right purpose.
      • This requires some kind of synchronization meeting with the specialist teams.
      • You try to make the right call for engaging these specialists.
    • Nick thinks of it like this…
      • Do the right thing for the customer.
      • Be helpful to internal teammates. One way to do that is getting them involved to help when valuable to the customer, the account team, and the specialists themselves.
      • Many customers don’t often realize how big their account team is.
  • How has the business of technology influence been for Nick?
    • Some of it comes from exploring the VMware tech and using it himself. Nick has, for example, shared his explorations with Azure Functions and Tanzu Observability with customers.
      • Having a body of work to support what you’re talking about helps provide credibility.
    • Influence can also come from pushing people forward in their career. This can come from helping others build skills and encouraging them to share with the greater community.
  • Nick initially had some discomfort in being perceived as being in a Sales role as opposed to being looked at as a technologist. How has that gone?
    • Nick tries to operate with integrity in all circumstances.
    • As John has stated previously, the Solution Engineering organization does sit within a greater Sales organization but is separate.
    • Nick has to be concerned about whether the technology will solve the problem the customer has, if it will work, if the right version and licenses were selected, etc.
      • Part of this is a due diligence to the company and the customer.
      • Being a truth teller is important.

28:50 – Culture Check-In

  • How has the change in teams, managers, and segments helped Nick’s career?
    • He likes to learn how others do the job, how they interact with their customers, how they interact with others internally, etc.
    • Aggregating the bright spots / what is working for others can be adapted to your own style so you’re still you.
    • These changes have helped build a support network of peers who are willing to help.
    • Big time collaborations have often get kicked off by sharing with teammates and getting to know one another on a personal level.
    • Nick shares the story of a teammate who vetted an idea he had for VMworld that was eventually accepted.
    • What about manager changes specifically?
      • It’s good to get those different perspective from leaders and hear what they believe is important.
      • The coaching methodology has remained the same from management. You just have to get used to the manager’s style, the metrics they want to collect, how involved they want to be, etc. Adapting to someone else helps you grow.

32:51 – Reflections from before VMware

  • Nick wishes he would have been able to describe the benefits of his projects to the company. He’s not sure he was as attentive to what leadership cared about as he should have been.
  • Nick was not reading a lot of books outside of work at that time. He wishes he had done more reading and been less consumed by tactical things.
  • He participated in the Spiceworks community, but he’s become better after job changes at connecting in the vExpert community, on Twitter, and in other communities.
  • Nick wishes he would have spun up a home lab back then, but he never seemed to have the time (or the resources for that matter).
  • How could Nick have made it to VMware faster?
    • Nick was not sure how much he was going to like IT when he first fell into it and definitely was not mindful of all the options available in the field.
    • The folks that Nick started connecting with outside of work most of the time did the same job as him. He didn’t have the kind of exposure to the types of roles that existed and should have spent time asking people about the career opportunities available.
    • He got so busy that he never really wondered if he was on the right path / if the job at the time was what he wanted to be doing.
  • Advice for the would be SE?
    • Talk to people who do the job at different companies because it does not mean the same thing everywhere. Know the full scope of what it is.
    • Make sure you are comfortable with the technical depth.
    • You need to believe in the products / services your employer provides.
    • You should like working with people. The SE job isn’t for you if you don’t like interacting with people.
    • Reach out to Nick or John if you need help / advice!
    • The life of a SE is hard to describe. No one can be told what the matrix is.
  • For anyone out there, take some time to step out of the day-to-day and spend time in reflection about what you do, what you like about it, where you work, etc.
    • John cites how important it is to have a written job description for the role you have.
    • These are all things we probably just didn’t take time to think about.
    • The best time to plant a tree is 15 years ago, and the next best time is today. It’s never too late to start.

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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