Insight? Sales Engineer at UL + Computer Science Faculty + Ph.D Student

#1
**NOTE: MY SPECIFIC QUESTIONS ARE AT THE BOTTOM**

I'm looking for some input regarding my professional experience and how that might translate in today's job market. I am currently a Ph.D. student (dual Ph.D. in cognitive science and bioinformatics) and am transferring to a different school and have some time to kill before I begin my program and resume my graduate studies. I am a computer science faculty (adjunct professor) teaching classes at night a couple of days a week and have been interested in looking at my options of maybe working during the day in a professional position and then teaching at night and seeing what different careers might be recommended based on my experience.

I worked at Underwriters Laboratories (UL) right out of college as a Sales Engineer managing the West Coast Territory for a little over 3 years before pursuing academia. I worked in the Power and Controls, HVAC+Appliances, and Lighting industries where I would consulted with electrical engineering clients on new product development and global market access safety certification and testing, and then I'd work with both the client and the UL product testing engineers to create a project scope and provide a quote letter along with documenting the terms and assumptions along with other project details. Once the quote was accepted, I would then act as a project manager and assign tasks / follow up and provide updates to the client and see the project through to completion while continuing to manage the account and work as their main point of contact for anything sales+project related.

I found that having the technical skills along with adequate knowledge of electrical engineering and computer science concepts+practices - combined with solid people and communication skills... proved to be a tremendous advantage and a decently lucrative niche. I had a ton of success in my sales engineering role and I really enjoyed it but since I transitioned to academia, I haven't really worked in the professional field outside of some product development consulting roles I did on the side but nothing too serious...

MY QUESTIONS FOR YOU ALL:

1. Have you had any experience working with a UL sales engineer (the position was implemented around 2012), or any other sales engineers from other companies, and what was your experience?
2. Based on my experience, would you think I would be competitive in today's market within the sales engineering or project management, or consulting fields?
3. What would you recommend I look into, pursue, or develop based on what you know about the industry and the current employment needs?
4. For those of you who have worked with a sales engineer within your own company, did you find that their role helped smooth the inherent tension between engineering/production and sales, or did they seem to make it worse?

THANK YOU - I appreciate any input or insight you might be able to provide
 
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Tidge

Trusted Information Resource
#2
Re: "Personal Development"

Based on where you are in your career, and a possibly definite amount of time available, I recommend that you investigate some specific certifications. Certifications are a third-party assessment of the competency and completeness of an individual's understanding of a well-defined Body of Knowledge. My suggestions are:

(1) Project Management - I have the most respect for PMI, although there may be other decent programs. This is just my opinion, but several years ago PMI had a very clear and robust statement of what the required Body of Knowledge included. Years ago I recall seeing at least one other certification program that was essentially of the "get 'er done" variety which did not look like it was doing anyone any favors.

(2) Quality Engineer - I am most familiar with the CQE from ASQ. The Body of Knowledge for the ASQ CQE is a solid foundation for (big Q) Quality. It is somewhat broad, so for the uninitiated the BoK may appear to have some odd areas (for example, with a CompSci background, you might find the mechanical drawing bits to be less appropriate). There is a good introduction to the basics of Project Management as well. The emphasis on statistical methodologies is reasonable, even if it may not be immediately obvious to a person prepping for certification.

I recommend either of these because they will open eyes/expand horizons, even if these are in areas that a professional "feels" like they already have an appreciation for those topics. Project Management is a very valuable area to have detailed knowledge about; I've worked with far too many Project managers (internally, with suppliers) that had only a cursory understanding of a few dimensions of PM. Any career path that involves managing expectations and delivering a product will benefit from having a solid understanding of this "science". The Certified Quality Engineer certification (from ASQ) will give a solid introduction to this, but will also include other areas that may provide valuable insight to why good project management is necessary.

Full disclosure: I have no certifications in Project Management and no affiliation with PMI. I hold multiple certifications from ASQ, but other than being a member in good standing I have no affiliation with them.
 
#3
Thank you, that is actually very helpful - I've thought about getting a certification but haven't really given much thought as to which ones would be the best for me. I get free undergraduate tuition at the state university that I teach at and so perhaps I could just use this perk to knock out a certification or two? I have an MBA and took several graduate Project Management courses and also had to complete certifications at UL before I could start working with engineering clients dealing with things like project management, lean six sigma, standards-ethics-and compliance, etc...I believe it was done through their "UL University" and I have the certificates somewhere in a file cabinet but I wonder if that would be something that would be valuable or relevant within the context you are talking about?

Check out uvu.edu and look at the certifications they offer - what would you take if you had free faculty tuition?
 

Mike S.

Happy to be Alive
Trusted Information Resource
#4
My quick take: You're a bright guy and if you truly have the so-called soft skills to go with your technical skills there are lots of jobs you could do very well at, many more than if your are just a technical guy.

But IMO a lot of people think they have the soft skills or "people stuff" down and they really don't, as they are too often looked at as a distant second in importance.

Also, my biggest knock on Sales Engineers (and I performed that job some in my past) is that some of them will put the needs of the client way behind things like commissions and sales goals. If you do that job, become known as the guy who gives a hoot about his customer and you can go much further in the end.

If you never have, take a look at "In Search of Excellence" by Tom Peters or his newer stuff (check out his website). He tends to focus a lot on the soft stuff.
 

RoxaneB

Change Agent and Data Storyteller
Super Moderator
#5
It's a challenge to provide much guidance without knowing what you're passionate about...what is your "why?" Simon Sinek offers some amazing material to help in this area.

I walk to a slightly different beat and find project management certification to add less value than change management. Project management is, from my own experiences, logical and straightforward...and a slippery slope into the realms of red tape and bureaucracy.

Change management, however, offers more value and benefits to an organization that wants to focus on innovation or improvement. The people and data analytics skills needed can help set the stage for a story that will resonate with people and inspire a willingness to change. More often than not, improvement/innovation projects have "change management" that focuses heavily on the technical skills - the what and the how - but less on the why. And if people don't believe in the change, the project may fail, the process may be unsustainable, the results may not be achieved, and/or the people may leave.

With that said, your field of study sounds fascinating. How does that tie into Sales Engineering? What about getting into product development in a start-up that focuses on wellness and lifecare (my preferred term instead of healthcare)? What pulled you into your field of study? How did you envision applying it upon completion?
 

Tidge

Trusted Information Resource
#6
I have an MBA and took several graduate Project Management courses and also had to complete certifications at UL before I could start working with engineering clients dealing with things like project management, lean six sigma, standards-ethics-and compliance, etc...I believe it was done through their "UL University" and I have the certificates somewhere in a file cabinet but I wonder if that would be something that would be valuable or relevant within the context you are talking about?
I am VERY familiar with UL University and the "Eduneering" solution. Those are certificates of completion, but they are not the same things as being certified by a well-recognized independent group. The difference is akin to having a P.E. versus having taken some engineering courses.

I repeated the phrase "Body of Knowledge" several times, because it is a core concept for assessing baseline competencies of individuals... including the "soft skills" mentioned by @Mike S. For example, one of the reasons my mind went to Project Management is because I've been part of countless projects that treated "project risks" as "something to keep an eye on".... monitoring for known risks is perhaps the least effective strategy for addressing risks, as the project is then literally doing nothing to avoid the risks! It's one thing for a member of a project team to say "oh, we have a risk register" but it is very rare that team members even know what such a thing is for.

Third-party groups like ASQ also make sure that the certification is assessed on a hierarchical spectrum of cognition. It isn't rote presentation of facts and then a series of exam questions. I don't intend to knock on UL University, but most of the "tests" are of the multiple choice variety, and it is quite common that the questions are poorly formed (i.e. stems that are very poor at checking any level of knowledge) and the distractor responses are also not very well-formed.

When I've interacted with people who advertise their certifications, I have an expectation that there are certain topics that I don't have to explain (e.g. "PDCA" should be well-understood with most ASQ certs) or that even if there is a topic they need a refresher on (say, basic statistics) if they have a certain certification I can remind them that this is an area in which they cannot plead ignorance... or it may involve a task I can expect them to actually do. This baseline is the reason why having a certification makes a person more valuable. It is similar to the reason why we accept UL certification for certain electrical devices... imagine if every customer had to make their own assessment if the product was safe.
 
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