Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Moving away from Software Development


I'm an IT professional planning to move away from a development job to a more marketing/sales type of job. Being a geek at heart, I would still like to remain in the technology industry.

Is there anyone here who has made this move before? If so, would you be able to give some pointers to little old me about the best way to go about making this transition?

One of the obstacles I face now is seeing these job postings which say "Good xxx degree with at least 2/3 years of sales experience". I have a good xxx degree but 0 sales experience. How can a developer demonstrate these values and win the competition???


Thursday, April 8, 2004

Hi there

I made the move with mixed results. I worked for a small IT company (5 staff) where everybody got the chance to do a bit of everything. I found myself quite by accident doing quite a bit of sales stuff. Over the years it became a greater emphasis.

The mixed results I mentioned refer to my satisfaction. Deep down I am simply a geek, and I found myself longing for the development-centric work. It is tiring travelling, meeting with people, trying to persuade them. The computer, however, responds in a predictable, rational manner.

Herr Herr
Thursday, April 8, 2004

1. What makes you think that your're ready (or will be ready) to do a sales/marketing job?

(If you can convince yourself that you're ready, perhaps you can convince an employer)

2.  Have you considered something like a sales engineer?
I'm sure that the meaning of that differs from company to company. But the position I'm thinking of is someone who basically assists the customer in buying something.

For example, I have a neighbor who works for a fiber-to-the-curb company (broadband wiring to the home). They sell the stuff. He helps customers DESIGN their system. So, he's really an engineer with really really good people skills.

I suspect that you might be able to get that sort of job if you had good technical skills and very good people skills.  Or you might get a job *assisting* someone like that.

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, April 8, 2004

The best way to do it would be to make the move in the company you currently work for. You stand a greater chance of getting 'hired' with no experience if you currently work there.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

"The computer, however, responds in a predictable, rational manner. "

LOL...yeah, right...

Thursday, April 8, 2004

I'm not sure a technical background is even desirable for someone who wants to do sales/marketting for a technology company.

Where I work, they specifically hired someone for the main marketting role who knew nothing about the technology. The reason being that most of the customers are not tech heads. Therefore, if he doesn't know about the implementation details, he's going to be talking to them on their level, rather than slipping into geek speak.

I'd guess the sales engineer type role might be a better fit. Be the guy the marketting people refer the customer's IT guys to when they need tech questions answered, rather than the guy selling to the non-techs. It's probably a better fit if you're a tech guy at heart.

Either that or go into marketting for a completely different field where you wont know the details of the product and can be the "Joe Sixpack" for that industry.

Sum Dum Gai
Thursday, April 8, 2004

"The reason being that most of the customers are not tech heads. Therefore, if he doesn't know about the implementation details, he's going to be talking to them on their level, rather than slipping into geek speak.

Having a simple understanding of something means they probably can't give a complex answer to a customer, but it also likely means they can't give an accurate explanation either.

I have strong technical skills, but I've always been able to explain things to non-technical folks.

If you TRULY understand something, you can explain it in terms they'll understand.

Mr. Analogy
Thursday, April 8, 2004

I'd second the sales engineer suggestion.  Go to work in a mostly-technical role for a small company.  A small company because it's easier in that context to wear multiple hats.  Get into a position where you're supporting the sales group a great deal.  Show them you've got people skills and are eager and able to help them, and you'll find yourself getting pulled into sales calls, etc.  From there it's probably a pretty reasonable step to become a sales engineer.

I suggest this route because I've come pretty close to taking it myself -- I'm working at a small start up as a developer and have been effectively pulled onto the sales team an important deal a couple of times, effectively functioning as a junior sales engineer.  I worked hard to support those deals, volunteering to take on big chunks of the lead SE's responsibilities, when he got overloaded.  When the deal came came through, the sense of accomplishment I got was tremendous, as was the recognition I got within the company, both from the engineering side and from the sales side.  If I wanted to move into an SE role, I'd have a good shot at doing it, here.

And I thought about that for a while, but ended up deciding against it, just from watching the lead SE:  The guy worked like a madman.  I did a couple of 70 hour weeks leading up to one of those demos, but he was probably working 90 or 100 hours during those same weeks, and 60-70 is his average.  He makes more money than I do, but not that much more.

Thursday, April 8, 2004

Have you applied for the "Apprentice 2" show?

Thursday, April 8, 2004

I have been an SE at a couple of companies, including at Sun for 3 years. SE is definitely *the* job to have - you earn the $$ like a sales guy (I have a $100K base salary, and get a percentage of sales on top of that as commission), but don't have to do all the b.s. paperwork, cold calling, etc. My sales guy tells me when and where I need to be for appointments, what we will be demonstrating, etc.

You do need people skills and the ability to explain things to the most idiotic people you will ever meet in your life... :)  (This job would be great except for the freakin' customers!) I've worked with some developers-turned-SEs who frankly just didn't have the people skills needed, and they didn't succeed. You have to be comfortable with all levels of people, from the h4x0r d00d who will be actually supporting the stuff to the CEO and board of directors sometimes.

When I'm not at a customer site doing a presentation or product demo, I am: helping train/educate the sales guys (really!) and answer questions for them, helping QA new products (and oversee beta tests), helping the tech writers, building demo applications, responding to RFPs, researching competitors, creating technical presentations and whitepapers, etc.  In short, a little of everything so it doesn't get boring!

I'm now at a small (25 people in all) software company, so I'm learning more development skills (I came from a sys admin background).

Also, find a company selling a product that you truly believe in. I had one job selling crap that just didn't work. I lasted about 6 months - the $$ was good, but I just found it hard to actually lie in front of customers, and then be on the hook to their tech guys who were trying to make the stuff work like we said it would.

SE and loving it!
Friday, April 9, 2004

I went in the other direction (for family reasons) from sales (not of software) into software development. Sales is about persuasion, so any experience that involves changing people’s minds is relevant.

I preferred to work on commission only, with no base, because there’s also no limit. But employers like it as well, because they’re not taking much risk if you don’t work out. Maybe you could negotiate a sales job on that basis.

I should note that the vendor I work for has eliminated most SE positions plus many programming jobs. Sales is the ONLY area where we’re hiring.

“This job would be great except for the freakin' customers!”
By the way, if your attitude to customers is like the one above, do yourself and everyone else a favor and stay away from them.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Thanks for all your valuable insights :-)

Yeah, this is not just a transition but a transformation.  Nevertheless, it is going to be worth the shot - afterall, what's there to lose? (I think my trusty computer won't miss me too much since it didn't respond when I last kicked it). It's time to get out of the SD rut.

Monday, April 12, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home