January 21, 2014

Either you are in Engineering, or you are in Sales.

At BlueArc, our longtime CEO and executive chairman Gianluca Rattazzi had a saying which he often weaved into his presentations at our company all-hands meetings. "Either you are in engineering, or you are in sales."

The idea was to have employees from all corners of the company take ownership of our shared revenue goals, or think about what each of us could do, whether we were in Marketing, HR, Finance or Support, to encourage us to meet our number. Even if we weren't dialing for dollars or meeting with customers, if we weren't the people actually building the product ourselves, we had to think like salespeople. It also was aimed to reduce conflict between teams, as we wouldn't shake our heads at the antics of account managers, or point fingers when one territory or account proved harder than expected.

Meanwhile, engineers have to keep being focused on what they do best, which is design and deliver incredible products. Most engineers, as Dilbert often points out, make terrible sales people. They would likely rush to tell you the product's latest flaw or highlight the bug list of the week instead of working to find a way to make the current offering fit your needs - which would delay or block the sales cycle.

As I see it, product managers are the buffer between engineers and marketing. Marketing is the buffer between product management and the real world (aka the customers and press). Between those two hops, code turns into features, and features turn into benefits. If lucky, those benefits can turn into revenue, and as most companies tell you, revenue solves all problems.

Which brings us back to the split - either you are in engineering, or you are in sales. Even if you don't carry a quota-bearing number, as an employee of a company, you take some amount of pride from the work delivered there. When the company is having a hard time, you have a hard time. When the company is preparing a new product, you are probably eager to try that product, and tell the world about it.

At Google, as I mentioned last November, that process includes early access and beta testing, which we call dogfooding. Many of us are lucky enough to get early access to things like +Google Glass or the Chromebook Pixel. We are more likely to be using a Nexus 5, Nexus 7 or Moto X than the average +Android user, and have a more-encompassing understanding of the company's vision and products than those outside the company.

As an early adopter and technology enthusiast, promoting products I like is second nature. I've been touting ChromeOS for years. I switched to Android well before picking up a Google badge. I always tell people when products I like are fantastic. And that extends to visionary new ideas like Google Glass. I've recently seen some memes on various tech blogs about a perceived dropoff in use by Google employees of this early version of the product - saying the product should be so fantastic that people clamor to use it, and trying to read the tea leaves into saying the product won't succeed - a curious proposition considering it hasn't even launched yet beyond a small circle of Glass Explorers.

My Kids, Racing #throughglass

Without diving too deep into those weeds, I can say I do use it, and I find having a first-person view for recording video and taking photos incredibly valuable. I get instant notifications of email and texts and can respond by voice, hands-free. And wherever I go while wearing Glass, the questions are from excited people who are delighted to see how simple it is to use, not to mention how it non-intrusively lets me continue a conversation, while making eye contact, with the small viewer being out of the way. I take Glass with me on walks to the park with my kids. I took Glass with me to the +San Francisco Zoo on Monday. It becomes another lightweight way to capture the experience.

A View of My Wife and Twins #throughglass

If you're inclined to be skeptical, and that sounds like sales, that brings us back to the original thought - as an employee of a company that makes things, you represent the product. You can help others see how a product can be used, and if you're spotted using the competitor's phone or OS, or you prefer a competitive service or platform, people see that. That's part of why Steve Ballmer's kids weren't even allowed to have iPods and Bill Gates' kids used MSN search instead of Google. Those kids didn't work for Microsoft, but by extension, it would be a fairly bad case study to see them using competitive products.

The good news is I don't believe I'm at a place where I'm asked to use low-quality products like the Zune and MSN Search. It's easy to get excited about products that are making it easier to get information and share updates more quickly, or to get to my data no matter where I am, from any device. I can't go back twenty years and become an engineer, taking all the required computer science courses needed to be the true alpha geek, but I know I can do my part to improve the product from the inside, and tell the world about it on the outside. Think about yourself in your role. If you're not in engineering, aren't you in sales?

Disclosures: I work for Google, obviously. I often get to dogfood our products, like Glass, the Chromebook Pixel and others, free of charge. I paid retail price for my Nexus 5 and Nexus 7, and prefer Android to alternatives. If I forgot a disclosure, I should disclose that too.