September 22, 2021
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The Rise of the Sales Engineer

Max Lynch


One of the most important and least understood engineering roles here at Ionic is that of the Sales Engineer (also known as a Solutions Consultant).

It’s a technical role that is critical to Ionic and many other technology companies, but one that very few professional engineers are aware of.

Sales Engineering is a role that we are actively hiring for, and in the process we’ve realized few developers have experience with it. To change that, I’d like to dig into what exactly a Sales Engineer does, how the role works at Ionic, what the career path looks like, and offer some thoughts on what kind of developer might find this role interesting. Along the way, I hope to convince engineers that Sales Engineering is one of the best paths to a future Executive role in modern technology companies.

What is a Sales Engineer?

Put simply, a Sales Engineer is a technical partner of an Account Executive (salesperson) who provides technical expertise during the sales process. The role itself, however, is part Engineering, part Sales, and part Developer Relations.

While the job doesn’t necessarily involve frequent coding, Sales Engineers often build demos, proofs-of-concept, or get their hands dirty integrating services into an app in order to progress a sale and help prospects be successful. This is the “Engineering” part of their job.

Sales Engineers work directly with prospective customers to help them understand and use the technology we build here at Ionic. Along with building demos, they provide technical guidance alongside an Account Executive and ensure all the challenging technical questions prospects have are answered. This is the “Sales” part of their job.

At the end of the day, Sales Engineers are often educating prospects on the technology the company makes, as well as how it integrates with third party services. In some cases they also serve as connections to outside companies in situations where collaboration is required to make a customer successful. This is the “Developer Relations” part of the job.

The Sales Engineer role is a unique technical role suited to someone that is looking to apply their technical experience in a more people-focused role, and provide technical leadership to developers building major applications. A Sales Engineer applies every one of their skills to each situation and each situation is unique.

Who is a fit for a sales engineer role?

Given that a Sales Engineer is very people-focused, a desire to work closely with developers and future customers is a must.

This role would be a fit for a developer that wants to put their technical skills to use but not be writing code all day with minimal human interaction.

This role requires strong communication skills, both written and verbal, and a large capacity for talking with people and debugging issues. It requires finesse with customers and prospects, leadership qualities to instill confidence, and deep problem solving ability.

This role is likely a good fit for developers that have worked with clients or freelance, and any other role where interfacing with external stakeholders is a normal part of the job.

It’s also likely a good fit for developers with aspirations for leadership in startups or other technology companies.

Sales Engineering at Ionic

A day in the life of a Sales Engineer at Ionic involves several calls with prospects, along with time to research and facilitate the technical side of a sale.

Ionic’s primary business is selling enterprise-specific functionality, cloud services, and support for teams building mission-critical mobile apps on the Ionic stack. So, a Sales Engineer will spend a fair bit of time digging into technical questions around the use of that stack, which may or may not involve coding, digging through GitHub issues, testing ideas, playing with new devices and OS releases, integrating third party services, and interfacing with prospects over email or video calls.

Successful Sales Engineers become experts in the eyes of prospects and customers, and are a key asset for the sales team.

Sales Engineering Career Path

When people first hear about Sales Engineering, they assume it’s an entry-level technical position that ultimately leads into full-time engineering.

At Ionic, Sales Engineering is not an entry-level position. Successful Sales Engineers are strong technically, since they must be able to solve problems that prospects have, many of whom are full-time engineers themselves.

As for the career path, that depends! Successful Sales Engineers have strong communication skills which, when combined with technical proficiency, creates a lot of long-term career opportunities. Sales Engineers may choose to grow into leading a Sales Engineering team, move into Customer Success to work with customers long-term, broaden their scope by moving into Dev Rel, move into Product Management, or any number of other product, engineering, or management roles.

Long term, I believe that the skills that Sales Engineering requires make this role a solid foundation for Executive roles in technology, which absolutely require strong communication skills, finesse with customers, and deep technical knowledge. For someone interested in founding a startup, taking on a CTO or VP role, the combination of technical expertise, leadership qualities, communication skills, and focus on successful business outcomes, means Sales Engineers are perfectly positioned to grow into Executive roles in technology companies. Often more so than a typical Engineering role.

Who would be a fit for Sales Engineering at Ionic?

This role would be excellent for Ionic community members who have experience building real apps (either on their own or in a team), and are excited about the prospect of using that experience to help guide other developers and teams.

For developers who have worked in agencies or consulting shops, this role is an obvious next step to put the skills developed working with demanding clients to use in a related but more stable role.

Finally, for developers that are curious about a career in Developer Relations, or want to become a technology executive or startup founder long-term, this role would be a fantastic way to build technical expertise and experience working with users/customers building major applications with significant budgets, and get first-hand experience with how large enterprises evaluate major technology decisions.

Now Hiring Sales Engineers

One of the reasons I wanted to write this post is because we are actively hiring Sales Engineers. This role is becoming a critical part of Ionic’s business model, and is a great opportunity to apply technical skills with an immediate impact on our business.

If this role sounds interesting to you, please take a look at our open job posting. Also, I have opened my DMs on Twitter to talk about this, so if you’re not sure if this is a fit for you, please DM me and I would love to talk more about what we’re looking for!

Max Lynch