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In this real career interview with a Sales Engineer, this Scottish born professional shares his experience in this realm of the engineering field, and how he had to adopt more of a United States accent to be successful at work in the U.S.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: My current job title is Sales Engineer and I work in the OptoElectronics Industry. In total I have around 12 years experience in this field in various locations around the world. Adjectives to describe me would include friendly, willing and supportive.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A:Although I now live and work in the USA, and I am a US citizen, I am originally from Scotland and remain a British citizen. I am a male. Initially when I came to the US my strong Scottish accent caused some issues which some may consider discrimination. For example I had to do a lot of public presenting and occasionally I would receive derogatory comments from some audience members. (In one case an attendee asked if we needed a translator to which I replied, "I don't think so sir, I understand you perfectly!") However, through extensive practice, learning to enunciate, project my voice, and also the use of humor to get my points across, my presentations became much sought after

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A:These days my work involves learning new technologies and applications in the research fields in order to make effective sales presentations one-on-one or to groups of scientists and engineers. Many of these personnel are highly acclaimed in their fields which makes my job very challenging but also very rewarding intellectually. One day I could be discussing nuclear physics, another day I could be collaborating on a planetary satellite design, other days I could be consulting with the Department of Defense on technology that enables and protects our military. Of course my main job is selling our products and technologies but the method of doing this is to develop a consultative approach, working with the client to craft a solution that fits their requirements. It is very important that one can talk the same technical language and be on the same wavelength as these type of clients; only that way can you develop the trust and respect that will give them confidence to work with you.

Many people may think that being a sales person involves sitting at the desk and taking orders by phone, or opening a catalog in order for the customer to chose from a selection of products. However in high tech sales, where sales cycles may take from months to years, where the potential order could be from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars or more it is paramount that the Sales Engineer develops a trusting relationship with the customer. Some may say that it's not about the order but it is about the repeat order and it therefore helps if you have a strong understanding of your clients needs, not only at that time but on a continuous basis.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A:I would rate my satisfaction at 7. My job is very interesting, I work with national laboratories such as Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore. I spend time with space scientists in Berkeley, I travel to CERN in Switzerland. The technical aspects of my role intersect with my own interests in technology and science, and with fundamental research in physics which helps improve our knowledge of the universe in which we live. Still, it can indeed be mentally challenging, and tiring, keeping up with current events and developments in pure science and applications, especially when you need to study in a rush, or give a presentation when you do not feel suitably prepared. At times it may be better and more satisfying if one was allowed to specialize more, to become a respected expert in one or two areas rather than trying to be a Jack of all Trades.

Additionally it can be very disheartening when you spend significant energy and resources on a project but fail to get the business

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A:This job offers me several things that are very attractive. I work from a home office and therefore don't need to commute. This is a large bonus in Southern California where the freeways during rush hour are bumper to bumper. I get to travel a lot since my territory is half of the United Sates. It is culturally rewarding since I try new restaurants and take in the sights of many cities nationwide. I feel that my work advances the causes of fundamental science research and in many ways improves the human condition.

Yes, as alluded to earlier it can be tiring, you can develop travel fatigue, you have to be on the road away from your family and home but that's why it's called a job and not a vacation. When it comes down to it I am pretty lucky to have this position, it is certainly a joy to help people and provide solutions for their unique situations, and it is a wonderful job for someone interested in technology.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: I've found that it is important to be enthusiastic, helpful and friendly. When you have to work with colleagues, or work with other teams, people like to work with nice, decent people. It makes for a constructive, successful environment and that is good for business. And nobody likes a whiner.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I started off in physics as a Research Technician at The University of Glasgow, Scotland. Through this I gained experience in electronic systems development and assembly. In the early 90's this led to working on large scale scientific project at CERN in Switzerland, The European Organization for Nuclear Research. Funnily enough though, while at CERN I became interested in education, specifically conveying the message of fundamental research. This led me to use early computer based multimedia such as animation, video and audio to prepare and present demonstrations on science.

From there I became more interested in software development, particularly concerning Digital Video. This interest enabled me to take a job with Adobe Systems in the US where I developed my presentation skills. However I still remained fascinated by science, specifically physics and this took me to where I am now, a job that involves software, hardware, imaging and physics research.

The convoluted road I've taken in my career has served me well and allowed me to achieve goals I could only dream of as a child. I don't in fact think I could significantly improve matters by doing things differently.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A:I learned the hard way that not every colleague can be trusted. I confided to a fellow worker, I thought was a friend, that I had gone on vacation a day early and that no-one would notice since I continued using email. He subsequently informed upper management and I was disciplined.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: It's not always about what you know. It's about who you know and the relationships you build.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: I once got stuck on a tarmac in Denver during a storm, the plane wasn't allowed to take off, so I fired up my laptop and gave my fellow passengers a demonstration of our products to pass the time.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: Every day is different, never boring. There's always new clients to speak with and new projects in which to get involved. I once had to give a major presentation on new products. There was a 75 page marketing script I had to follow. This script was delivered to me only 48 hours before the presentation to 500 people at a conference in San Francisco. In the audience were five managers and I was being filmed. My wife drove me to San Francisco from Los Angeles and I spent the time cramming in the car. I have never been so stressed in my life but the presentation went perfectly.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: The challenges are finding new business, you're only as good as your latest win, and when you lose to a competitor it's tough to carry on. The nature of my business means you may only get a significant sale once or twice a year. Without positive feedback you sometimes want to simply give in and move on to another job.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: Because it's a sales job and you're very visible in this role there is always a low level of stress involved due to the constant pressure to be successful, however as I get older the balance of work/life becomes increasingly important. Life, family, friends...these are far more important than the job. Generally when I close my laptop in the evening and when I stop for the weekend I put work out of my mind.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: Rough salary range around 60 to 80 thousand dollars a year. For my lifestyle it is ample, especially if you carefully manage debt and investments. It is important to make use of any employer 401k plan.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: Compared to Europe I find USA vacation time is much reduced, two weeks in the summer, a few days at Christmas. I make sure my wife and I enjoy a two week European vacation every year and at least there are several three day weekends in the US.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: A good technical degree in the sciences or electronics related. Continuous technical knowledge of trends related to your products and their applications. Soft skills for building relationships, presenting and communicating clearly. Definitely excellent writing skills, which are applicable to many jobs.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: I would say that sales is difficult to outsource and that good technical sales engineers will always be in high demand regardless of age.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A:If I'm not independently wealthy, I still want to be traveling, visiting clients in either a sales or a support role.