Today’s Role Model is Maria Schreiber. As a child, she made her own websites in middle school and took computer science classes in high school. Prior to her tech career, Maria was a high school biology teacher who sometimes also taught math. Inspired by some of her students who curious about coding, she began taking online classes in web dev and data science before attending the Grace Hopper Program, a coding bootcamp for women. Maria is currently a Solutions Engineer at Algolia, a company offering a web search product through a SaaS model.
What’s your official title and how long have you been in this role?
I’ve been a solutions engineer at Algolia for a bit over a year now.
What attracted you to this solutions engineer role?
As I looked for new job opportunities, I focused on traditional engineering roles. But when someone from Algolia reached out to me about my current role and shared this blog post, I was intrigued. I hadn’t actually heard of client-facing engineering positions before. The job seemed like a great use of my old and new skill sets: education and communication as well as coding. It didn’t hurt that I had used their hosted search API at a hackathon and loved it.
Walk me through a typical day in your role. What activities do you engage in? What types of meetings do you join? When’s lunch?
As the previous blog posts suggests, this is truly a role where every day is different. Some days I have back-to-back meetings with prospects and clients. On other days, I might be able to spend several hours heads-down in a project. Projects typically entail either building out a demo for a client or writing content for broader educational purposes, etc. Usually it’s some mix of the two. Other than work dealing with prospects or clients, we have weekly meetings with the entire solutions team (we’re spread out in 4 time zones), bi-weekly meetings per region, and monthly meetings with product managers. It’s a very intersectional role. Lunchtime is whenever it works. 🙂
What skills/technologies help you succeed?
Being a polyglot, or at least experienced and/or interested in multiple different technologies across the tech stack, is necessary. My role is to help vet out and convince the technical buyers that our product is a good fit for their tech stack and search needs. It’s impossible to do my job without being familiar with both back-end and front-end tech. I also help customers integrate our technology into their products. Practically, this means helping with debugging or sometimes writing code snippets for them.
What’s the most fun or creative part of your solutions engineer role?
I really enjoy when a customer comes to me with a difficult problem or something that seems on the edge of our product functionality. It’s fun to brainstorm and come up with a solution — either with the product as it currently is, or through making a feature request.
What are the biggest challenges you face in this role?
Prioritization and time management are challenging in this role. Objectives are not as clear cut as in traditional engineering roles. You can get pulled in many different directions, so it’s a constant challenge to think about how my time will be used most effectively.
What teams/individuals do you work with cross-functionally? Can you give an example of a time when you collaborated with another group/individual?
When I’m on an account, I always have a business counterpart — that’s Account Executives (sales people) for prospects and Customer Success Managers for customers. They are the ones to handle the overall relationship while I focus on the technical side of things. In addition to that work, I collaborate with product managers and core engineers to give them insights into the issues our customers are facing to help inform the product roadmap.
What’s an area where you’re trying to grow in your solutions engineer role?
While I am learning about many different aspects of tech at a broad level, it’s been hard to grow a deep knowledge about any particular tech. I’ve been trying to set aside more time to do that. My manager has been supportive, but it’s still hard to prioritize that kind of learning when it there are more pressing matters or quick wins at hand.
Aside from technical skills, what personality traits/characteristics make for an ideal candidate in your role?
Being adaptable, self-motivated, and good at communication are key for this role. Communication is key for any role, but in this one, it is make it or break it. Breaking down technical concepts and explaining them to people of varying degrees of technical expertise is something I do on a daily basis. Adaptability is important because of the multiple different hats that people in our role wear. Self-motivation and direction is key for anyone working in a startup. I also work in a satellite office, so I’m not in the same place as my manager, which means that I have to be more autonomous.
What skills (tech/non-tech) have you improved as a result of working in this role?
I thought that I was a good time manager before this role, but I’ve definitely improved on that front. It’s as much a function of the role as it is the stage of the company I work for. We’re a start-up in a hyper-growth phase and there are so many possible things you could be working on. It’s been important to take a step back and prioritize what will have the greatest impact.
In your solutions engineer role, what metrics define success?
At the end of the day, customer empowerment and success means that I have been successful. Indirectly, my contribution to long term projects such as revisiting the hiring process for solutions engineers is also a demonstration of success.
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