I’ve worked in the IT industry since late 1990s. My IT career can be divided into two periods: doing stuff and talking about / selling stuff.
Doing Stuff (1998 – 2008)
Telecom Finland / IBM
For the first half I held various System Admin roles and spent most of my time in data centers setting up new environments and fixing old environments: Unix Admin(AIX, Solaris, HP-UX, Linux), Backup Admin (Veritas & Legato) and Database Admin (Oracle), Storage Admin (EMC & NetApp).
Sonera Zed Singapore
During dot-com bubble, I spent about 18 months abroad setting up new data centers for a Finnish mobile phone operator (Sonera) in U.S, Netherlands, Germany and Singapore. During that time I also lived about a year in Singapore.
Once the bubble burst in around 2001, I had to relocate back to Finland and started my journey towards more customer facing roles, first as a Support Engineer at Proact Finland Oy serving mostly our NetApp customers, but also taking care of some Pre-Sales tasks.
After about four years I was ready to move on, I had always worked with Oracle in some capacity and wanted to become a DBA. Next three years was spent at Fujitsu Finland, while there I completed Oracle Certified Professional (OCP) certification for Oracle 10g. Unfortunately I didn’t get to do as much DBA work as I wanted, since I had strong storage background, I actually spent most my time fixing issues related to storage and backup, although mostly issues in those fields related to databases, but not much “real” DBA stuff.
Selling stuff (2008-
In early 2008 I was approached by some of my old NetApp business acquaintances, who had started to work for company called Data Domain. They were starting an office in Finland and were looking for Presales to support their sales efforts in Finland.
So I landed my first real Pre-Sales position in new and exciting world of dedupe backup appliances.
Shy kid as a presales engineer, you must be kidding…
I had previously done some Presales work alongside of my technical support duties. A part of Presales work is giving presentations in front of sometimes large audiences.
As small child I was quite shy and introverted and absolutely hated any public appearances, giving presentations in front of the class was my ultimate nightmare. Had I been told then that I would make a living by giving presentations, I wouldn’t have believed.
Presales = the best work ever
As it turns out, while I am still somewhat introvert and need some alone time unwind from too many social contacts, I can turn on my extrovert side when needed and actually loved Presales work.
The difference between school presentations and professional presales work is that in school you were usually not that well prepared and didn’t know that much about the topic in hand, which obviously caused some stress and made the situation uncomfortable.
As a Presales professional the situation is somewhat different, you are usually a subject matter expert and quite familiar with topics at hand, at least if you are well prepared. This gives a whole nother tone to presentations and public appearances, much more positive vibe and whole lot less stressful.
For me Presales is the best position to hold within IT business.
While doing technical support the undertone was most of the time quite negative: You were only contacted when something had already gone bad, got treated in unfriendly manner, even though you were not the cause of the problems and was actually trying to resolve them.
With presales the undertone is typically more positive, you are helping customers to build new things and they are often quite enthusiastic about it. As it turns out meeting with customers is now actually my favourite part of the work.
I believe that is so much easier to maintain relationships with existing customers than acquiring new ones. If you do your presales work right and weed out possible problems with well designed systems, you end up with happy customers willing to do repeat business. Not just by trying to push your product out, but rather as member of the team with the customer trying to build something new to help them to run their business.
All good things come to an end
We spent some 11 months evangelising dedupe. This was totally unknown territory in Finland. In the U.S, if you said dedupe, people responded “Ah, Data Domain”, in Finland they responded “Say, what?”.
Unfortunately when we started to gain some traction and actually got some business coming in, our “flight” was cut short. EMC bought the company and closed the Finnish office.
Luckily I got to reap some fruits of my evangelising work at my next place of employment and managed to land some nice Data Domain deals there.
For the next six years I found myself back at Proact Finland, this time working as Pre-Sales engineer in Sales department.
I was the first dedicated person to hold this position, there was no one to tell me what to do, so I had to “mold” my position and tasks by myself.
When I joined the relationship between guys making all the promises (Sales) and people actually delivering the promises (Support/Services) wasn’t really good, due to over promising by Sales and under delivering by Support, usually Sales taking all the credit and Support guys getting all the blame.
At that time storage was sized mostly based on capacity, which inevitably led to problems with performance. Also documentation of made promises was lacking and our Support guys didn’t really know what was promised, which led to many unhappy people, both on the customer and internal team side of table.
So for the next couple of years I spent lot of time “inventing” pre-sales tasks, doing performance sizings, improving documentation, improving communication between Sales and Support teams and making sure that customers got what they were promised. In the end it is much easier to keep the current customers happy than pissing them off and finding new customers.
First couple of years were quite tough, but once I got things rolling, I found myself in a situation where I could help my sales guys make and exceed their “numbers” and work only about four to six hours per day.
For a while it was nice and easy, I spent some extra time in investigating new technologies (Vmware, Pernix Data, Simplivity, NEC Hydrastor, Riverbed, IBM flexsystems / storage, Cisco UCS, just to name few) and certifying myself at pre-sales and sales levels for various products and completing some more technical certifications such as NetApp NCDA.
But more and more I filled my afternoons by playing golf. I am quite passionate about work and hobbies, once I start something, I usually put a lot of effort into it. With golf this meant a lot of golf, I mean a LOT of golf, 201 rounds of golf in one year to be exact 🙂
One can only play golf so much, so it got boring after a while. At the same time world of IT and storage was shifting once again and it became harder and harder to win storage deals and make “numbers”. A new era of converged and hyperconverged solutions was emerging. We tried to sell these new solutions, but there wasn’t much success. One reason for that was heavy reliance on just few established vendors and our sales guys made their “numbers” more easily by selling those products rather than trying (and sometimes failing) to sell something new and exciting.
Exclusive Networks Finland / BigTec
For some time I had a nagging feeling that something had to change. The final push came when my favourite sales guy told me that he was leaving. When he signed with BigTec, there were no pre-sales positions open, but just couple days after that, one of the Pre-Sales guys at BigTec moved on and a position opened.
I was quick to sign new contract as this was good opportunity to move on, something old and familiar to work with (NetApp & Brocade) so I didn’t have jump into the deep end and start from scratch. On the other hand BigTec has more products to cover, more freedom to work with many products, rather than concentrating into just few.
We managed to get datacenter business running quite nicely, but after only eight months my favourite sales guy, my manager at the time, was recruited by one our largest resellers. For a while we continued promoting mainly Nutanix & Nutanix and landed some nice deals.
At the time Exclusive Networks was geared more towards (high-margin) it security business and had some difficulties understanding how (lower-margin) data center business was working. This caused some friction between the management of Exclusive Networks and some of our data center resellers. As a result some of them were ready jump ship and change distributors. Obviously very bad news for me…
Arrow ECS Finland
Arrow had tried previously hire me with help from a headhunter firm. At the time I had a non-compete clause in my contract and couldn’t move to a company directly competing with Exclusive Networks.
Fast forward few months, with dark clouds over Exclusive Networks, Arrow approached me again. This time with a call from their Sales Director. Since I had to sit down for three months to let the non-compete period expire, we quickly made a deal and Arrow agreed to fund a three month summer holiday for me.
As a now ex Arrow employee under NDA contract preventing me to say anything negative about Arrow or its employees, I have thread carefully here. But on the other hand I have to tell something about my tenure at Arrow.
Let’s just say that things didn’t go as either party planned
I was hired as Technical Sales Manager, which in Arrow lingo is a Presales position.
I was told that I would have a team of sales guys handling the money side of the business and I was responsible of taking care of the technical side of sales. When I started on Sep 1st, I asked to meet the sales guys and was told there were none as they haven’t been hired yet.
Oops, what is going on here?
So in order to get things running, I had to also take care of the commercial side of the business as well. I managed to turn the tide quite quickly and within months money was coming in, as most of my customer had followed me. The business was healthy and profitable and growing at good pace. I managed to keep it that way, until my time at Arrow was up.
Well for me: No, I spent my time by days doing stuff that I didn’t enjoy so much and as time went by got to do less and less technical presales work. Money was good, but as they say money can’t buy happiness.
Jan 2019 meeting
In january of 2019 I had a sit down with the Sales Director and the Country Manager of Arrow.
One of the topics of the meeting was changing my title and job description to something more suitable. Arrow managment wanted a time-out and wanted to think things through and agreed to get back to me in the fall.
Sep 2019 restructuring
Fast forward few months and Arrow had some problems abroad and was forced to cut some costs. As a result Arrow Finland was to cut few people. Instead offering me a business related title to enable me to work more efficiently, by having authority and not just responsibility, they offered me an exit package. I was happy to accept and get my get-out-of-jail card 🙂
As of Oct 2019, I’ve resigned from Arrow. Looking for more technical roles, like Presales or Technical Marketing.