What is a technical solutions engineer?

Outside of SaaS companies, a lot of people do not know what is a Solutions Engineer. The title is intriguing and mysterious. In this article, we will break down what is a Solutions Engineer, what is the role of a Solutions engineer and how to become one.

A solutions engineer (SE) is a person working closely with sales, customers, development, marketing, design, product teams to create solutions that work for everyone.

Wow. A lot of teams. In order to be a successful SE, SE needs to interact almost with everybody to deliver great solutions to the customer. There is a constant feedback loop between customers and future development of a product and a good SE needs to be on top of all that.

Developers rely on feedback and guidance to prioritize what features need to be built next, if documentation needs to be improved or more resources should be allocated to support.

Marketing needs to know whether or not users are finding the product and are getting the message set by the marketing team.

The design team needs to validate if a product is usable and customer feedback is crucial.

The product team will need help to identify new features for the product or new opportunities for new product creation.

The sales team needs to understand the technical requirements of the customer and what product should be licensed. Sales also rely on SE’s to understand how to best position the product and use competitive analysis provided by SE.

A solutions engineer will help all teams to be successful in order to deliver the right product to the right customer. At times, Solutions Engineer should be able to jump in and help all teams, whether it is to develop a new feature, help with the support of new or existing customers, suggest UI improvements and prioritize the roadmap ahead.

The number one responsibility is the customer. Solutions engineer role is probably the most customer-facing, technical role. SE will interact closely with CEOs, CTOs, VPs of Engineering, product managers, solution architects, and developers. In fact, there is a lot of overlap between a solution architect and a solution engineer. Both will work with all teams and will need to have a breadth and depth skill set. The breadth and depth skill set is often referred to as T-shaped. Solution engineers and architects will have diverse knowledge with one topic they are experts on, and the ability to dive deep into any other subject and figure it out. The difference is that SE creates solutions for many companies, where a solution architect creates solutions for their company.

SE roles vary from company to company, product to product but here are some of the activities SE’s will participate in.

SE will often join on discovery calls to collect customer’s requirements and uncover the bigger picture. Most often customers love solutioning and not always get it right. If the product is fairly technical and complex, it is best to zoom out and understand the complete workflow and use case and based on the information given and architect the best solution. Discovery call is important to understand customer pain, listen and present possible ways how to solve the problem with the product at hand. A demo is an important visual tool to present a possible solution/vision for the end product. It is best to do research ahead of time and demonstrate the relevant features and functionalities to the customer. Discovery calls are exciting since you get to learn about a new business, customer, and implementation.

Solutions Engineer will help developers working for other companies with implementation, integration, configuration, customization of the product. SE will help put together a POC and demo to management and C-level executives. Sometimes a solution can be missing a requested feature, SE will need to be able to put on a project management hat and provide a custom implementation, estimate hours involved, exact requirements and either manage developers to implement it or implement it themselves.

Business and technical knowledge is an important asset. Every company is different and they are using a different stack, implementation, frameworks. SE will need to be able to solve and debug whatever problems without having the exact idea of how it works but improvising on the fly. An entrepreneurial and problem-solving mindset is best for this position. Not to say that those skills cannot be developed and perfected over time. There is always room for improvement and growth as a solutions engineer.

There is no preset path to become a solutions engineer. Since it requires so many different skills, one will need to work with different technologies, businesses and wear multiple hats to become a successful Solutions Engineer.

Often solutions engineering positions require a bachelor's degree in computer science, software or computer engineering. A bachelor's degree is good to have if you would like to advance and grow your career but is not mandatory. Experience is valued more. The degree is a great way to learn a method for solving problems but it can always be learned from professionals in the field first hand. The latest knowledge of ever-changing technology is required. You are expected to take courses and grow your skillset.

Business, management, and sales experience are also needed for this position. Whether you were previously a sales consultant, project manager or analyst, all of the above are transferrable skills to a solutions engineering role.

Because of the unique skillset, the solutions engineering positions are the longest to hire and fill the role. The interview will consist of technical questions, code problems, take-home assignments. It will also test your soft skills like communication, customer service, creativity, problem-solving and sales experience. So it is best to be ready for anything.

I worked as a software engineer, freelancer, designer, web developer, implementation and sales consultant. Now I am working as a solutions engineer and use the skills from previous jobs constantly. I love the position since it is a great balance between learning new tech, business management and interacting with amazing people.

Head of Product and Developer Advocate @PDFTron. BASc in Computer Engineering with a minor in Business Management. https://andreysafonov.com