It is a long post (you are warned !!
I have been recently asked by someone as what it takes to be sucessful application engineer . So, I thought why not blog about ..Though much of it is written from EDA industry perspective, it applies for appln engineers in other industries as well. So, here it goes ….
1. Technical expertise : You have to be atleast good if not proficient in the domain..for example, lets say, if you are application engineer for a formal verification product, you need to have expertise in the FV techniques and good understanding as what logic/physical synthesis tools do in terms of optimization. Just mere tool knowledge will not suffice..
2. You should be a like a double edged sword ..You need to be able to understand the hardware design…be it RTL , Scan insertion , P&R or CTS and at the same time , you should be able to understand how the algorithm (tool) behaves (from software perspective..)..If you dont understand both, you will not be able to understand what the HW designer is trying to accomplish and at the same time, you will not be able to find out if the tool is missing any feature or is it a limitation of the technology and finally if it is a bug …one more important reason is , you might need to translate the designers intention into a feature speficiation and direct your R&D.
3. Business Sense : I think this is very important component for an Appln engineer. You need to be in constant touch with the customer and get feedback on the product. You should be able to sense the impact derived from that feedback. Whenever there is a oppurtunity to promote a new product, you should do so immediately and let your marketing/sales team know about it immediately. Just being technical is not enough.
Application engineer without good business sense can negatively impact the company he represents.
4. Pre-Sales : Ability to benchmark against the competitor and convince him about your products technical merits. Depending upon the competetion and product and domain in which you operate, this can be very intensive and grilling. Failure is not an option . A true winning aptitude and to do whatever it takes is absolute must. No compromises.
I’m not exagaretting , but it might involve some sacrifices like working during xmas or thanksgiving . Pre-Sales campaigns can very stressful and can burn a person. So, if you cant work under pressurized environment and have strict rules about your work timings, then you might not like this role. Believe me there are some customers who keep evaluating for very long time or they evaluate now and then re-evaluate after couple of months and there are reasons why they do like this ( first and foremost reason is to check the quality of the tool ) . So it is tiresome and it requires willingness to walk that extra mile to win the benchmark is a must.
5. Post-Sales/Deployment : A succesful tech campaign and business(pre-saleS) win is the starting step. The 20/80 rule applies here ( 80% of the business comes from 20% of your customers). So, sucessful deployment of the product across the depth and breadth of the company is key . It will also gives Sales folks a chance to push other products
into the company. Dedicated and fast support is one of the strategies. Providing support for their first tapeout with your company’s product is another key. A sucessfull deployment also means to work with the design methodology groups,designers ( front end and backend ), understanding their design goals and issues ; resolving their issues . It might be necessary to come up a design methodlogy /flow either on a project basis or company wide . A constant interaction with the design team is a must . This also helps the appln engineer to see what is lacking and fill in the gaps either through scripting or getting R&D implement the missing features and enhance the product.
6. Evangelism : Not many folks know about this. Some people mix this with the marketing. This is virually non-existent in EDA/semiconductor industry. Marketing is more about the product , evangelism is creating a community around the product. Who else can be a better person other than the appln engineer to do this?
7. Customer Facing Skills : Only few people have this skill and like to be infront of customers. You need to have some thick skin and take all the yelling ..Imagine when you are presenting or giving a demo to a customer and your tool crashes everytime you invoke it , scary is’nt it? okk..lets ease up a bit, it crashes only few times, how can you face the customer now? You should be able to ease and control the situtation …I can list hundreds of scenarios like this . It also takes a great deal of energy to say NO to a customer. Believe me its not an easy situtation. You need to be diplomatic when saying so sothat relationships are’nt hurt . It all comes by experience and ability to dynamically change the situtation on the fly
8. Issue Management : Very important skill . Should be in constant touch with the customer , track down the issues and have a proper resolution to all their issues with a fix schedule . It is important that the customer acknowledges and is actually OK with the fix schedule.If the schedule is missed for any issue, customer should be informed immediately.
9. Time management : Ability to multi-task is a must.
10. Debugging Skills: If you are not good in debugging or cant debug fast enough, you dont fit to be an Appln engineer.
11. Attitude : Having a proper attitude and ability to learn things fast is necessary to suceed in the job. You might need to learn different technologies, products/tools to perform your job better.
12. Peer-Peer Commn : Try to maintain peer-peer communication. There is no book which teaches on how to debug faster or perform each of the above skills I mentioned sofar. It is only through peer-peer communication you can learn . You might have an experienced AE in your organization, who can give you pointers ; its not that you cant solve it , Its that the other AE has done it 100 times and so knows the common pitfalls . You can avoid doing the same mistakes and save your valuable time.
13. Product Strategy : This requires knowledge in competitors products and its features , different technologies , business sense. Only then you will be able to place the product strategically infront of the customer.
14. Licensing Model : It is not essential , but very good skill to posses and understand how the licensing works like what features can be licensed ( to understand this, you need to justify why the customer will pay for this in the first place ) . If you know of any other venues through which you can generate a revenue for your software, it surely helps the Sales organization. Remember sales fix everything
In short, appln engineer is best evangelist an EDA company can have. He is the face of the company , best knowledgeable (technical) person who can deliver solutions out of the box, best person who has access to people who use the tool and therefore can promote the product to real decision influentiers , best person to give feedback to the marketing and sales organization, drive the product usability in the field, enhance and validate the product ( and its features) ;
So sounds like fun job right!! Atleast I love it and I’m being constantly challenged with newer technologies , products, sales and marketing campaigns:)
I would appreciate any feedback or comments.