One Year as a Google Cloud Engineer Part 1 with John White

Welcome to episode 98 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 check in on John’s lessons learned after one year as a Customer Engineer at Google Cloud.

Original Recording Date: 10-24-2020

Topics – Google Cloud 1 Year Check-in

1:48 – John’s Role at Google Cloud

  • John is Customer Engineer at Google Cloud (the public cloud provider part of Google), which is a Pre-Sales Technical Engineering role.
    • This type of role can be called different things at different companies – Pre-Sales Engineer, Sales Engineer, etc. Sometimes this is called a Solution Architect (depends on how the company defines it).
    • John acts as the technical front line of the Google Cloud portfolio for a couple of salespeople. He helps with customer conversations about the technology and with territory management.
    • This is similar to the role he had at VMware but has its differences.
    • John supports two salespeople (account reps they are sometimes called) as a stateful technical resource.
    • As for his customer base, he has about 15 ranging in size from startups born in the cloud to extremely large healthcare customers. All of these are in what Google classifies as the Enterprise space (again, may be defined differently than at other vendors).

4:34 – Potential Career Paths and Differences from VMware

  • As John progressed at VMware he focused on excellence in Solution Engineering, but he did not take steps to setup for a career in Technical Marketing, People Management, Product Management, etc. When the opportunity came along to pursue a different role, it made sense to stay on the same path.
    • The customer mix, the organization, and the products are different even though the role itself is quite similar (i.e. difference in the execution of similar tasks).
  • Differences from VMware
    • The Customer Engineers under John’s manager operate in a pooled model. Each person has strengths and weaknesses, and teammates can provide additional support to their peers with some additional freedom to take primary responsibilities when it makes sense.
    • The set of specialists overlays (product specialists) available to engage for help is roughly the same but are specific to Google Cloud products.
    • John gives examples of overlay teams for specific products such as AI, a Security Center of Excellence, G Suite, and others (recent acquisitions like Apigee).
    • John has assimilated to G Suite after initially being hesitant about a move away from Office 365. He does, however, miss Visio.
    • In roles like this, an Engineer is assigned from a compensation standpoint to the quota of a territory which is the same as one or more account representatives.
      • The Engineer is there to act as a technical resource without regard to Sales attainment (compensated differently from a Sales rep). John shares some minor differences in percentages of variable compensation.
      • Quotas at Google Cloud are very different. John’s quota is aligned with his manager’s quota (as are all members of the team), which means there is no disincentive to helping someone else on the team (no variable compensation misalignment among team members).
        • This model promotes collaboration, and it made John feel freer to ask for help.
        • John mentioned in some models, a manager’s compensation could be aligned with an Engineer helping a teammate, but that is not the case for the specific Engineer.
    • The VMware portfolio was always growing and seemed to have expanded to over what someone could expect to know at a 200 level across the board.
      • At Google Cloud it may be larger than that already. To be able to demo every product in the portfolio is probably expecting too much. John gives the examples of Machine Learning, Data Analytics, Data Lakes, and Data Warehousing as areas that were pretty new to him.
        • There are 8 different database engines to understand (type of storage, use case, etc.).
      • It’s tough to compare. The depth of knowledge required to gain proficiency / excellence in each area is a steeper climb at Google Cloud.
    • When he first started at Google Cloud, John had moved from a 100% field role at VMware to working in an office each day.
      • Previously, he had the luxury of visiting the VMware office here and there (maybe once per week), but at Google his commute became 40-50 minutes daily.
      • The benefits were getting face to face with colleagues, which encouraged camaraderie and collaboration. With the need to work completely from home for now, John misses these benefits (especially eating meals together and just talking with others).

24:19 – Industry Experience without Organizational Knowledge

  • The ramp time to really understanding the Google Cloud organization and its processes took longer than John thought.
  • Structures and roles
    • It was difficult to learn which teams do what and when to call them in. It takes time to understand.
    • The Solution Architect role, for example, is more code driven and usually has some kind of product overlay focus (working on product integration, much like a Product Manager at VMware).
    • Google has an Enterprise Cloud Architect role with a very subtle difference from a Customer Engineer.
    • The need to be humble was extremely important as John had to repeatedly ask for guidance from others.
      • He’s documented the rules of engagement to provide for others joining the Google Cloud organization to help them ramp quicker.
        • With enough iterative work here, maybe this document could be something presented to people during orientation.
      • New types of positions within the company are constantly being created (a Solution Manager, for example), adding to the list of things to know.
  • A different customer base
    • There seem to be many more cloud native customers in the Google customer mix. It’s quite different from what John saw at VMware. Some of these companies were born in the cloud (i.e. never bought physical servers, etc.).
    • Many customers are greenfield (not current Google Cloud customers). At VMware, John worked with existing customers throughout his tenure and managing their growth.
    • Some customers may have existing relationships with Amazon or Microsoft as it relates to cloud technologies, but Google Ads may be the only relationship the customer has today with Google.
    • John has to help his customers understand Google’s capabilities and that they are more than just a search company or a company that develops Android.
    • This working with greenfield customers is a muscle that someone in Pre-Sales should practice exercising (i.e. talking to customers about a new line of business your company has is along the same lines).
  • The segment of healthcare
    • At VMware this was a specific vertical segment for healthcare. John is sort of working in the vertical but not in the actual vertical. John’s manager does not focus only on managing Engineers in the healthcare and life science space, for example.
      • The learnings from the healthcare and life science vertical can still be applied as a help in this customer set.
    • Learning the healthcare industry, buying patterns, motivations, etc. was very new for John. With 80% of his customers being in this industry, he is required to bring an opinionated stance on how to use Google’s technology in the space. This is a tremendous growth opportunity.
  • A new product portfolio
    • John was nervous about this at first. It has taken a year to get his head around it.
    • It was extremely important to remain humble. In the first 12 weeks, an architecture certification was required, but John was given focused time to train for it.
    • Each product has a certain depth of complexity.
    • See Episode 23 from John’s 3-year check-in at VMware. He mentioned it took a year to get competent in the job, and then he had to work to get proficient.
      • It took the same amount of time at Google with the same methodology.
    • John had to be ok with being humble and unafraid of asking questions in front of peers.
      • He offers new hires the opportunity to ask him questions as they ramp in a safe space.
    • Can someone get a job at a technology company without knowing the portfolio?
      • John thinks the best bet is either 1) deep domain knowledge of the technology (implement, sell, or maintain the products) or 2) deep domain knowledge of the role (technical sales, product management, etc.).
      • In the Pre-Sales field, there is a talent shortage. Many companies will look to recruit from colleges and train graduates to become technical sales professionals. This helps build the talent pool.
        • John’s father was in technical sales at Eastman Kodak many years ago. Even then, John did not know the role existed or exactly what it was.
      • If there is another way we left out, please let us know! We want to hear the story.

49:47 – Some Parting Career Tips

  • For those trying to break into Pre-Sales…
    • Identify what you want to do early on. Be open to nontraditional roles. Listen to podcasts on pre-Sales technical engineering.
  • Get educated on the different jobs out there. Look on company websites for different technical roles (analyst role, systems administrator, database admin, project management, etc.).
  • Spoiler alert…there is a part 2 coming!

Contact us if you need help on the journey.

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