Episode 002 – From Technical Support to PreSales Leadership & Beyond with Kevin O’Dell

In this episode, we speak with Kevin O’Dell, VP of Field Engineering at Synthesized.

We dig into Kevin’s amazing journey into PreSales, from his roots in in technical support, to how that progressed into his path to PreSales from there, where he excelled as an individual contributor and then moved into Sales Engineering leadership, eventually becoming a published O’Reilly author!

Kevin is a fantastic storyteller and mentor, and I think you are going to really enjoy and find value in his perspective and the advice he shares in today’s episode. 

[00:00:00] Matt Madden: All right, everyone, I'm here with Kevin Odell. So excited to have you on the show, Kevin. And, we're gonna get into how within your journey in tech, you have carved out your own path within presales. Uh, you've done so much and I'm just really excited to have you all on the show. I wanna let you introduce yourself.

I've got some questions to kind of help get that going, but, thanks for coming on the show.

[00:00:25] Kevin O'Dell: Yeah, thanks for having me. Happy to be here. Really. I'm honored that you reached out to have me on.

[00:00:31] Matt Madden: Absolutely, man, I thought just to open things up, I'd love to give everyone a sense of where you're at today in terms of, the work you're doing.

could we start there before we zoom out and then learn about how you got started in tech and, specifically that point where your path and pre-sale.

[00:00:49] Kevin O'Dell: totally. Yeah. So I am VP of field Engineering for a startup called Synthesis. They are based out of the uk. We are funded through Deutsche Bank. And a couple other smaller investment firms. We are in the generative AI space. It, it's not a fair statement, but it's one I think a lot of people can easily grasp is we're chat G P T, but for tabular data.

So the data that people use to train machine learning models, we help generate. More data, uh, high quality data to unlock things like data privacy, data access, as well as help to optimize the machine learning models and to get better results.

[00:01:32] Matt Madden: Awesome. Excellent.

would you mind. Really diving in by taking us back to when you think about how your start in tech, what point you would say your path to presale began?

[00:01:46] Kevin O'Dell: Oh, you know what? I'll take us, I'll take us back. God, I'm getting old now, so back to I'll, I'll even touch on my first job. So right outta school, I got a job at doing help desk for Disney

[00:02:02] Matt Madden: Ah,

[00:02:02] Kevin O'Dell: and for and, but like the hotels, and this was probably 2005, six, somewhere in there. People were calling up, they were bringing, they were still bringing PCs with them to hotel rooms,

And people would've like Windows 95, windows 98. It was crazy. And I got then connected from support cause I was doing support over there to another friend and moved over to NetApp. They were contracted to, to NetApp. I had no idea what a storage array was. I went in the interview and, uh, I did the test and I'll tell I did not do well on the test, and I, I met with the manager and he was, he was great, and he was asking me a question about troubleshooting a switch.

We had some really busted switches that we were trying to keep up and running at my current job. I started talking about unplugging, just unplugging the cable and plugging it back in. Why would you do that? I was like, I just, sometimes they come loose and the connection's bad and that's all it takes. And he said, I'd never heard that answer and I loved it.

So, you know what? We're gonna take a flyer on you. And so I was contracted to NetApp through a company called Convergence. At the time, and I remember being in that training thinking, what have I got myself into? I have no idea what a NA is. I have no idea what a sand is. I don't know what iScuzzy is. Fiber channel rate array. Much less an Oracle database. Like I know how to check your IP settings and your DNS settings and windows. I didn't even know what Linux was at the time. Right. And we went through our training class. But I've always had a passion for technology and so me and a few of the others, we just kind of formed a little group that just supported each other as we learned this to drink from the fire hose.

Uh, ended up becoming a tech lead on the floor and, and as part of being a tech lead, I actually moved over to do performance engineering support cases and hardware support cases. So those were the two things that I. . That actually connected me with a lot of sales engineers that were in the process of doing validations.

They were in the process of doing initial setups. They couldn't get the performance right. Something was wrong with the hardware on the first setup and it wasn't running, and so I had to spend time with some of those. Those people made, build some relationships. It's amazing the relationship you can build when you spend.

Four hours a day for three weeks on the phone with an individual and

[00:04:48] Matt Madden: sure.

[00:04:49] Kevin O'Dell: yeah, and, and I tried to go and get a job pre-sales at NetApp and what I didn't know, and I went through the interview process, talked to the person, and this is the first time I heard this, which I thought was a very interesting statement.

I don't usually hire from support because support people are usually not. Customer facing. And that was a nice way of saying you guys are kind of weird techies, , and you dunno the business side. Uh. What ended up happening is convergence and NetApp actually had a contract that NetApp could only hire one person every six months from convergence full-time.

And so that ended up blocking, blocking me there. They actually tried to move me from NetApp being contracted up to NetApp. Proper same, same drill. And at that time a friend of mine, I moved over to EMC NetApps, uh, arch Neme. Over to be on the data domain side. And so I got poached up to e got poached over to emc, same drill, performance engineering, and then hardware raid is what I was doing over there.

I got to go and spend some time doing some really cool things. I, I got to go, uh, actually spend time at the a trying to help debug a hardware issue, which was really fun. You had to, I could only take notes on a piece of, At a desk that had a blinking red light over that indicated someone without clearance was on the floor.

The notes then had to be checked by three different people before they left the floor. And then I had to go back to my hotel and try to stitch them back together to tell the story of what would normally have been 50 peg pages of logs that I had to write. Very specifically, only thing I needed. But that was another time that I got to spend a bunch of time with the presales. I ran that account for the NSA and for DISA and for the d o d and they, they really, they took me out, they showed me, they introduced me to some of the customers. I be sitting on some meetings along with them that obviously didn't require clearance and it was great. And so then I found another presales of the job in Pittsburgh.

I was in Raleigh at the time,

[00:07:02] Matt Madden: Mm-hmm.

[00:07:03] Kevin O'Dell: applied for it. Called my head of support director. He said, I'll support you a hundred percent. I had been, I had been at EMC for about 21 months. There is a 24 month window without a manager approval. At that time, I was the only one that could do a raid repair. I, I later found out that the director who told me that he would support me, had ac had actually killed the deal for me going to move out there because I was too valuable at the time for the skillset, which was a, which was a.

Right. I was pretty excited. I had some good friends in Pittsburgh. I was excited to go do some snowboarding in Seven Springs. It all sounded great.

[00:07:40] Matt Madden: Oh yeah.

[00:07:40] Kevin O'Dell: That led me to Cloudera, and I got hired by my old boss at emc. His name is Angus Klein. If anyone ever gets a chance to work for or with Angus Klein, I cannot recommend him enough.

Now, I had some great bosses along the way to Steven. Fred said emc, absolutely awesome. Awesome guy. Uh, Ang.

[00:08:01] Matt Madden: But.

[00:08:03] Kevin O'Dell: Angus brought me on under the Prete pretense that I was gonna come and troubleshoot hardware issues inside of clusters. I never touched hardware again. , after day one I immediately moved into the world of distributed computing, data analytics, giant batch processing, streaming.

Loved all of it. And this is really where a good boss can just change your. I was about 18 months in, came to Angus and said, Hey, I've got this. I've got this internal opportunity. And he thought I wanted to move over to the customer success team with Lindon Hillenbrand, who was really, we were really close, good friends at the time.

I was like, no, actually I wanna move over to presales. And Angus actually helped me negotiate my pre-sales contract to get me the best deal. I could get, cause I had no idea what I should negotiate for a salary for pre-sales. What does that look like? How does it work? I had no idea how any of that worked.

And it's another thing like I, the, the individual, his name was Tate, I can't remember his last name was, we were in conversations for me to join the team, Tate quits. No. Like all conversations die. So I find the new person Paul, and I just call him, I'm like, He's like, Hey, yeah, this is Kevin O'Dell. I'm in support.

He's like, okay, what do you want? Well, I was interviewing for this job and Tate's gone. I don't know what to do. I have no idea who you are. Uh, I'll, I'll call you back. That does not feel like I'm gonna move to presales.

[00:09:44] Matt Madden: Yeah.

[00:09:44] Kevin O'Dell: called Paul Boon, absolutely called me back. He's like, all right. I talked to a couple people. Like, you're on the up and up. Let's, let's meet. So flies me down to Atlanta. Long story short end up getting my first shot at Cloudera pre-sales.

[00:09:59] Matt Madden: Heck yeah.

[00:09:59] Kevin O'Dell: loved it. Absolutely loved it. Fantastic. Uh, but I guess the point of that story, right, is like, I tried with three separate companies to get into pre-sales.

I got told with a different opportunity, I guess I should have mentioned at EMC, that like someone just bought, said, we don't hire pre-sales from. Second time I'd heard that very, again, very strange. I worked with some support people that I thought would make excellent ses uh, numerous of them over my career.

Most of 'em didn't wanna do that because they didn't wanna travel or they didn't wanna have to go talk to customers and do a lot of the stuff that happens with that. Cuz it's true. A lot of support people are behind the computer cause they wanna be at that point. Also support is, you know, you gotta come in, you know what you're gonna do, and you're gonna work on this set of tickets, you're gonna solve it, you're gonna move.

Pre-sales is very nebulous. Your success is a little bit luck, in a lot of just taking whatever gets thrown at you and trying to, trying to make, uh, lemonade outta some lemons. So that's, Paul took the flyer on me there and I, I'm eternally thankful for that. And, and then, you know, I can go wherever you wanna go from there, but that's, that is how I got my start into presales.

[00:11:13] Matt Madden: That's amazing. Thank you for taking the time. Take us through those experiences, building out of the support role, because you raised a, a few key things I wanna highlight because I'm sure a lot of people who are maybe thinking about their path into tech is going to be a great landing spot is through a support role.

That's, that's pretty common. At least that was, that was my thinking. Uh, when I was thinking about, okay, I want to transition from sales, being in inside and outside sales roles before ever working at a tech company. and it seemed like, you know, great first step.from there, and I, I studied, for, you know, various certs, uh, related to that.

And I know there are a lot of, a lot that are in that boat who have never heard of presale. So I'm hoping that folks out there, if you're thinking about that, and can see even if you start as a IT support or in a, in a support role, um, and maybe that's where you want to be for a while. Don't ever take the feedback that you know, , even though it may be uncommon for you to transition from a support role into a more customer facing role, certainly can happen.

And I, I think your story's just such a great example of, if that's where you you want to be and you, get some opportunity and you find out that's, that path would be a really great fit for you to make that transition absolutely possible. So I really appreciate you taking us through that.

Yeah. Another thing that, in that story that, before I get to my next question, I just wanted to call out, is just the power of relationships that you built from, your early days and how that led to, such a great transition into these, different opportunities at the companies you mentioned.

it sounded like there were a few people that from, uh, you know, peer perspective we're key in helping you. Find opportunities, to move into, uh, pre-sales role. And so, I mean, obviously the power and, and the importance of, of networking effectively is, is commonly talked about. Um, and, and rightly so.

Uh, but, but also the importance of what a great manager can do in terms of helping see the potential in you, in, in helping you grow to where you want to. Um, so, you know, for those who are already in the pre-sales profession, maybe you're working in a, leadership role today and, you can relate to that.

I, I just think it's a really powerful example, um, for individual contributors like myself, um, who are, you know, in sales engineering solutions, engineering roles, to just to be able to hear more examples of that because, you know, obviously there can be lots of different leadership styles out there and, uh, I absolutely can relate to.

Your story there of just coming across somebody, that sees the potential in you and wants to help, help you get to where you want to be, from a pre-sales, role perspective,

[00:13:57] Kevin O'Dell: Can't imagine who those somebody's would be. Matt

[00:14:01] Matt Madden: Yeah, I, I'm speaking, I'm speaking to that guy now, so thank you, Kevin.

[00:14:06] Kevin O'Dell: Uh, I gotta gotta throw Lamont a lot of credit there too. Uh, and Lamont is another example. Someone that we worked with at Stratify together. You know, that's the, those were some of my, you talked about, you asked me about some of my leadership experiences and my biggest takeaway was always was, was really twofold.

Managers enable their employees. They don't try to try to hold them or hold them back in any way, shape or form, right? If your path is outside of the. To be the best, to be the most successful you can be. Your manager should be cheering you on because that means your company either doesn't have trajectory for you to get what you want to be, where you want to be or they're not well run to, to enable that.

Right. And, and it's, there's people, you, there's companies that you'll, you will, you'll outgrow. You wanna move to ai ml, like you're not gonna do that at EMC or NetApp. You can do that at Databricks. Right. You wanna move into streaming like you do that confluent, you're probably not gonna do that as, as exciting as Oracle a as an example.

And the other thing that I think managers tend to tend to sometimes fall short on, and that's just the human mind like, is that they'll try to hire people that they're, they're, they don't wanna hire this person that might be their replacement. Right? I, I always wanna hire people that were, that are better than, I want my team to be people that I think are better than me at the job, and that's how I'm gonna look the best as a manager.

If that means someone's gonna take my job, so be it. That means I hired well at that team and I did the right thing. Right? And, uh, if you do those two things from a leadership perspective, you'll find that you build some really great relationships. Uh, the other thing, it goes without saying, but sometimes it just feels like it needs to be says. Don't burn bridges anywhere. You're at from support organizations, free sale organizations, whatever it is, it's, you don't know who you're gonna be working with or who you're gonna be working for later. We talked about that network. I have not had a resume. Built in 10 years because my, the network that I build, that I maintain with the people that I work with, I always try to bring and work with grade A people.

You always work with people that you, and, and that's who you work with.

[00:16:35] Matt Madden: Absolutely such good advice, and I think this is a good transition into our next question when. People hear about or start to learn about the role of pre-sales, uh, maybe they're just learning for the first time. it doesn't take long to see that. You know, it goes by many names. Uh, we've talked about a few of them already.

Solutions, consultant solutions engineering, sales, engineering, field engineering, and. You know, unless you're already working within a company where a team exists with those roles, it's not uncommon that like, you know, this is the first time that person's kind of hearing of it and it can naturally, understandably be confusing.

Um, so, you know, I just want to help get your perspective on, for somebody who, who hears all those different, you know, titles within the role. do you feel there's kind of a need to standardize or it would be beneficial to standardize around a title there? Or do you, view variations within the title?

Um, in specific ways? I think that might be helpful for, for listeners cuz um, you know, just generally speaking, the consensus I've heard from the presales community is, , Hey, yes. That, that can be confusing, like for a lot of folks. Understandably so, and perhaps who could benefit from some standardization around that.

[00:17:56] Kevin O'Dell: I, I, I think it could benefit from standardization for sure. It, it's interesting cause you do, you know, like someone says, I'm a field engineer. You, you, you and I immediately go, oh, cool. Pre or post.

[00:18:10] Matt Madden: Mm-hmm.

[00:18:11] Kevin O'Dell: like, that's the logical question. And then I can, I can put you in a bucket. I know what you do. As soon as you tell me if you're pre-sales or post-sales, right?

Then I can, then I can start. If you wanna take the taxonomy next to the level, then it's like, oh, were you in implementation or are you in customer success? Right. Um, that, that side is all, is really interesting because I, a lot of job titles are sales. From a customer perspective, it's more often beneficial to be a field engineer or to be a solutions engineer.

Cause ultimately the goal as a good sales engineer or a good solutions engineer is to. Enable the customer from a technical perspective. You want to help understand what the business case is, make sure the business case matches what the technology can deliver, help them implement the technology in the most seamless way, run through the validation to help collect whatever your end goal is, whether it's saving money, whether it's, unlocking new revenue, whether it's speeding up a current process, right?

Whatever that may be that your technology's trying to do. You're there to help enable that. You're not really there to sell. So I think when you call it a sales engineer, it puts the wrong thing in the customer's mind where really your end goal is to be a trusted technical resource that they can come to with any question they have about getting that business case going.

Right? Like, and that's why you. The roles of account executive and a pre-sales engineer is that the account executive should be the one talking about the money, pushing contracts, lining up the next business, helping, helping to align different groups, building the relationships and bridges, right? But like the, the, if the solutions engineers doing their job, right, they're building a relationship with that client that is trusted that they can come through.

And that'll give them access to the client that the account executive will never get because they can go and ask meaningful questions that can help change the way that that company does business. So sometimes I find the role sales engineer people immediately hear sales and they'll shut down a little bit.

So I always push back in my orgs to not have sales engineers, to have solutions engineers from SE perspective, and then on the post-sale. I, I think field engineer is a very nebulous term. Cause as you said, it's usually we would go with solution architect or implementation engineer, whatever you wanna call it.

Put that badge on the post sales side. You really, you can, it is, there's a lot of different ways of saying that. And, and so, you know, is it, but the support does the kinda same thing, right? Is it a customer success engineer? Is it a customer support engineer? Is it technical support engineer? Right. There's a, there's a few different ways that that gets chopped up too.

Uh, so I, I think the company needs to look at what do they want from that role? How do they want that person to carry and perceive themselves? And that's, you know, kind of the, the close make man, right? Like the, the title should align to, to how you want them to, to act and interact.

[00:21:32] Matt Madden: For sure. No, I think that clarity is gonna be so helpful because I know for myself, when I was first learning about it, Something just as basic as thinking about the dynamics of being on the post-sale side versus the pre-sale side, even though, you know, we commonly, generally refer to it as pre-sales. Um, like you said, I mean, there could be a solutions engineer that is, or sales engineer or field engineer that's on the post-sale side, and they might be more focused on, like you said, implementation or more focused on supporting customer success efforts, in that way.

But they're not necessarily, you know, at the very beginning stages, operating like somebody who's, who's really focused on that pre-sales motion, in, in helping become that trusted advisor like you described. So I, I think that's really helpful clarity. for, for everybody listening, who,is learning about the role still.

[00:22:24] Kevin O'Dell: And one thing I do think is interesting too, is in smaller companies, lots of times you'll see pre-sales engineers that will also do post-sales work.

[00:22:32] Matt Madden: Mm-hmm.

[00:22:33] Kevin O'Dell: As that company grows, you very rarely find. The true post-sale side, they very rarely want to be on the pre-sale side. like the, that they like doing the t they like doing the implementation.

Cause there, there is a lot of, um, nonsense that you deal with on the presale side that, that they don't like, they don't like dealing with, which is, I always think is, as you see it grow, you see those roles separate where more often the pre-sales can. Pitch hit if needed on the implementation side, but rarely when my post sales people at Cloudera, when they had to do presales work they were not happy campers for that.

[00:23:13] Matt Madden: Fair enough. That's awesome. Well, the next thing I wanted to ask you about is going back to your technical support, uh, initial roles that you were describing. Can you. Reflect on the training that led up to that. What, were there specific things that

you were learning and you were focused on that were helpful for you, that you think would be helpful to share for, you know, those who are in the trenches now, just trying to educate themselves maybe outside of whatever their current day job is today, they know they wanna break into tech.

Um, would you mind speaking to that?

[00:23:50] Kevin O'Dell: Yeah. Um, so when I got, I, I think NetApp was really the most awakening for me on that. I actually thought I was gonna be a network engineer. At the time I was really focused on networking from a wireless standpoint. Uh, thinking about like, uh, 3G technology. At the time I thought I was gonna go work for at and t or Verizon as a network engineer, work in the knock, help, uh, potentially go do field deployments of towers and stuff like that.

Uh, I found that very interesting. It wasn't until I took the role at NetApp about, I dunno, maybe six, seven months in, I got. I got pulled in and I just really found a passion for, for that, that side of the house. And I, I guess that the tech that I started learning there was Lennox. I, I found Lennox and I had only ever used windows.

You mention, I, I think there was one person on the floor that knew anything about Lennox, so people just had to step up and learn it. Part of why I had to learn. Was from a performance engineer standpoint and from a hardware standpoint, was I started getting these core dumps and crashes. And so I wanted to, I wanted to try to do some of the work that the, that software engineers were doing, and that's how do you open up a core and how do you analyze, analyze that core and try to take the stack trace that was inside that core and match it back to an existing bug.

and you can't really do that on Windows easily. So I went ahead and got a Lennox Box provisioned and I was using it from that perspective. When I went to emc, I found that my Windows world contracted to just a single laptop and everything. My other three computers and six monitors outta my desk cause was awesome, was all Lennox, and I was using that for scripting through logs.

Uh, A rate array when they were crashing, could throw a lot of logs very, very fast. Uh, we were using something called sas, um, is it scuzzy attached storage? Don't hold me into that. Um, and it's been, it's been over a decade, far, far over a decade. Anyway, uh, that technology's supposed to be point to point, but there was a bug in the stack in the driver.

Where it, if it was acting up, it would start basically broadcasting everyone and it would essentially DDoS itself, well, it logged all of that, and you could not just scroll through the logs. So I started learning some basic scripting. So I wrote some parsing scripts to find specific bugs output so I could grab, uh, I could quickly isolate the component that I needed to pull based on what was going on in the lock.

And, and that led to a little bit more of interest in like, okay, so this is bash scripting. And then when I went over to cloud, It was a Java world, and so I, I wanted to be a, a contributor to an Apache to Apache project. So I wrote some patches for a Duke, wrote some patches for HBase. Nothing, nothing major that, that existed inside the system.

But, you know, some variables here that needed to be changed. Some, uh, scripts for truncating tables, things like that. And, and I like that a lot, but that's when the distributed computing, so I kept kind of staying close to the forefront. like the cutting edge, what open AI's doing right now, but like I was very close to the forefront of what was moving forward in the enterprise technology at that, at that time.

Uh, and then, you know, at Cloudera we, despite the name, we actually shunned cloud for a really long time cuz soup just didn't really run well there that then, you know, Cloudera was like, we thought it was gonna run really well in the cloud. Turned out it. So then it was just like, oh, we're welcoming in the cloud era, but we all run on prem.

It's kind of, kind of goofy, but they're, they're way in the cloud now. But as is everyone. And, and so that, that let me then continue to move forward and to stay on that, that technology. And that's where I got into the distributed databases and all, um, the NoSQL technologies. I, I didn't have to do. A ton of outside learning, but a lot of that was mostly because I was young at the time and my, my work was, was my life.

Like that's when I had free time. I would go work on support tickets cause I just loved it. I loved everything that Hadoop was doing. I loved trying to solve the puzzle. Kept a notebook next to my bed. I'd wake up and solve support tickets, , like, write down what I needed to do the next day. And uh, my girlfriend's, not my wife actually at the time, Would just look at me like I was a crazy person.

[00:28:38] Matt Madden: The sign of true love right there, man, sticking with you through

[00:28:41] Kevin O'Dell: would. Yeah. And she would come out with my friends and all you guys do is talk about tech all the time. We love it. We live it. But that's, you know, um, you mentioned someone took a, took a flyer on you and a technical role. Uh, well, in that interview when I was talking to you, your passion for technology came. And the, the way that you were approaching it, the way that you were self-learning, everything about that screams to me, this is someone that's gonna want to do something on the technical side. So let's get, you already know the sales side. We can teach you if you're self-learning tech, we can just, we can point you in the direction for what we need you to learn and you're gonna be unstoppable.

And that's like, so that passion for technology, that's just love for it, where that. Becomes your life. And I don't advocate, I a hundred percent advocate for a work life balance, but if that's what you love, then that, that balance is there, right? Like that is, that's how you balance it. You love it. That's what you're doing.

Um, so anyway, it's a long, long-winded thing of like, I, I was lucky, very lucky. A lot of people's careers are locking fortuitous encounters and good relationships. So, but I was very lucky to be on that forefront of te. and I, I've tried to stay there as much as possible with cloud adoption becoming, uh, so big.

I've spent a lot of time in the AWS world. Now I'm back on the AI ML side, right? Like, and that's your chat GBTs taking the world by storm right now. So anyway, that's, that's, you know, you don't have to stay in the forefront of technology, but find what you're passionate about. Learn that, see what that opens up, and continue to pursue that.

And you'll never work a day in your life.

[00:30:22] Matt Madden: Thank you, Kevin, for taking us through that and obviously I relate to that so much, uh, for the reasons you brought up. Um, for me, you know, it reminds me when you're talking about having a journal there and what you're working through and it's just very exciting for you. And certainly that was the case for me when I'm, you know, waking up earlier, staying up late, uh, on projects that I know are gonna help kind of advance the skillsets that I'm aiming to build.

And for me, you know, at the time, as you may recall, it was really. Falling in love with learning different skills relevant to data analytics, and obviously tied in nicely to the work we were doing together, um, there, and that I continued to do today. But I think it's just such an important note for people, that are listening who are, you know, going through that to realize that learning journey, as you mentioned, never stops for any se I've, I've met and really most curious technology professionals who are, who are working.

Have this innate drive to level up your skills. Not just because you know it's, it's gonna be helpful and necessary, but because you, you love it and you're passionate about that and finding a role, that will help naturally lend itself to you. growing by doing. In the way that you were just describing, um, is, is so key.

And that's, that's been my experience and I know the experience of, of so many others. I mean, including yourself, from the story you just told. But just having that curiosity I've found and drive to recognize these are growth areas for me that I'm excited about pursuing. and then drawing on your existing transferrable skills and strengths that can help, you know, uh, really add a lot of value even while.

Maybe leveling up certain skills that maybe you're not the strongest se on the team when you first joined, when it comes to a particular, um, you know, engineering related skill that, that you know, is gonna be helpful for you. But, but somebody took a flyer on, on you and because they saw that passion when you're joining.

Um, so just, I think it's good to keep in mind and in, in, in a great call. I'm so glad you you shared that. and, and thanks again, Kevin.

[00:32:26] Kevin O'Dell: Yeah. An interesting thing too on that, talking about the skills is that when you're in a slightly larger team, like a, a southeast region as an example, a really good manager will help try to not necessarily like fully specialize the team, but will help push the teams in the, in their passion areas and then a good company will enable.

And incentivize collaboration inside that group. And you can almost form a pod, uh, like I was the H base guy, Jeff Holloman did flu, right? And like you, you can then rely on each other for some of those, those shortcomings when you're in, especially in a deeply technical world like aws, nobody's expected to know every single thing that AWS does.

You have to be able to have your place where you're gonna add the most value. And then you still need to, depending on like pre-sales, you need to be knowledgeable enough for most things that are happening there, but know when to bring people in and a good manager will sure that the team has all those skills to, to enable you especially.

[00:33:31] Matt Madden: Absolutely. That's, that's such a good call out. And you mentioned you were the H base guy. I, one thing, and I, I hope you don't mind me mentioning it. But we can edit it out if so, but I think it's really exciting. I know it was exciting for me to hear and exciting for me today. When I think about the fact that with a story you just told on how you grew from, the positions that you've progressed throughout your career.

And built those technical skills, becoming the H base guy, at Cloudera. And, and from there, the fact that you're an O'Reilly author, you know, for a book on around HBase. Um, and you know, I know that was published in 2016, but would you wanna speak to that and just kind of that, that opportunity?

Cuz I think, I mean, I, I would imagine, I would never think, um, You know, I don't, I don't know if I'll ever author a book related to engineering, but going from where I'm at today in my career to being an O'Reilly author, that probably feels like a huge chasm for most everyone to cross. So I'm just really curious about that part of your story.

[00:34:31] Kevin O'Dell: Again, it's, it's something I did once, I will probably never do again. Um, for, for variety of reasons. I have dysgraphia, so getting things out of my brain onto paper is extremely difficult and challenging, uh, to, I don't particularly like writing probably from that dysgraphia side, but that opportunity came and you, you've gotta, you've gotta go after that.

Uh, I, I talk about it a lot, right place, right time for a lot of it, right. But I think a little bit of it wa is the attitude that I've always taken when joining a new organization. And I've taken the what sucks, what does no one want to do? And so go back to NetApp. What sucks? What does no one wanna do?

Well, you are judged on the number of cases that you close. I closed a hundred cases a month when I was on second shift, Ricky Saltzer, who ended up. My roommate and a lifelong friend of mine, uh, who did a ton of data engineering for Epic Games, right? Like we were the top case closures on the, on the floor.

And what sucked though, I asked like, well, what sucks? What does no one else wanna do? And it was performance cases. I went from closing a hundred cases a month to closing 12 because they were just big, hairy, terrible cases. They just take forever to try to debug and forever to figure. When I joined emc, it was like, what?

What does no one know? What do we like? No one understands how our, our Skai system works. No one can troubleshoot that and run that. No one can do rebuilds of Raid fine. Drop ship me to engineering land. I'll go spend time with them. I'll figure it out. I'll take the reins on that. Came to Cloudera. What sucks?

Uzi sucks. Huge socks. H based socks. Cool. I'll take lead of that. I'll go and learn that. And so what it does though is there's a knowledge. There's a knowledge gap because no one wants to do that. Someone wrote it, someone knows, or the company doesn't sell it. So they are usually happy to help upskill that person.

And by just being willing to go and do what no one else wants to do is like, there's a lot of value in that person because , because no one, there's not a lot of people saying lying behind you going, Hey, I wanna do that. Uh, and HBase was really rough when I joined Cloudera. It had, it would've still been in be. For Cloudera, except Nokia demanded that they move it to production. They won't sign the deal. Cloudera, you know, startups, they'll take the deal. So we took the deal, I think I was maybe six weeks, eight weeks on the job, something like that. As on the phone. And a VP of Nokia, we had a data loss issue, VP of is, they're building Nokia map.

Screaming at us about what if he, what if someone logs in Nokia Maps and you've lost the O'Hare airport? How are they gonna find it? And you're like, well, I mean, it's pretty big. As long as you get close enough, we'll probably get there. Uh, but like, You're like, oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?

But it was, it was true. No one wanted to do that. So engineering was willing to spend time with you to help take that off their plate because no one else knows it. So the sooner you know it, the less they have to do with it. And, and that then translated over to the post-sale side, because again, not a lot of people knew it.

So I got to go and work with some of the largest accounts that Cloudera. All around. I actually did not stay a pre-sales engineer in my, in my territory very long. I moved into more of a global role from a go-to-market repeatable solutions because of that skillset that I had. Uh, and then that transition over to my next, my next company where I was director of the, the field sales, um, team.

But it was, it, you know, it really came down to some of that attitude of like, No one wants to do it. It's really, really hard. And then I ended up loving it. And so it was widely used, widely deployed, but there was not really a ton of people that truly knew it. So I was lucky on that side. And then Jean Mark Spa, who was my co-author, called me up.

He's like, Hey, I wanna write an H base book. You know, HBase, you want to do it? I was like, I'll only do it if we get O'Reilly. I was certain that we would not get O. Like, yeah, we'd love another age based book. Come on, bring on on a hi book. I'm like, oh gosh. Now, now we have,

[00:38:54] Matt Madden: Oh

[00:38:54] Kevin O'Dell: it was a very, very rewarding experience, but I probably would not on writing another book.

[00:39:01] Matt Madden: Fair enough. I think that knowledge bomb you just dropped, or the thought process around going and finding what is the thing that sucks, what does nobody want to do, and. Framing that as some, an opportunity for you to dig in and really learn around that. Um, without viewing it, you know, I'm just adopting the view that yes, that does suck and I'm gonna view it as something I will never want to do.

Is, is huge for people cuz it's, you know, obviously that's, I've, I've heard others share a similar story. In their day-to-day or when they're reflecting on, Hey, what, what are they doing today? And they might, they might reference a similar experience where they're like, well, you know, I've, I've been working on this a lot because it was, it was a problem area and I dove in and we needed help there.

And like the value though that I know those individuals like yourself, drove. By doing so is huge. And so I think that's really just really helpful for everyone to think about. I know certainly I can reflect on there, there are probably opportunities, in my day-to-day where I could put on that hat and say, you know, what are the things that suck that if I can learn how to,Really address this challenge or, you know, learn level up my skills so I can be that go-to person around it.

I, I know it can help the whole organization. And, and so even if you're already working in pre-sales, uh, great lesson there that we can all, all reflect on. Um, I know we're getting close on time, so I just have a couple quick kind of rapid fire questions, Kevin, if that's good for

[00:40:28] Kevin O'Dell: Hit me. Yeah.

[00:40:29] Matt Madden: and thanks so much for all the time and everything you've shared so far, but, um, just in, in more general question around.

If someone came to you today and they're one in land, their first role in tech as a pre-sales professional are, there any specific skillsets or approaches you would recommend?

[00:40:51] Kevin O'Dell: Yeah, I mean, my first question then would be to kind of talk about like Douglas, Adam. Tech is big. tech is really, really big. It's almost unfathomably big as to like all the different places that you can go to. What are you interested in? Where do you want to be? Uh, the other side that I think people talk about, but they talk about it almost as though it's a natural skill and it's not something you can learn.

It's soft skills. Communication, presentation and, and everything

I know you said rapid fire on this, and this is really long, but this is an often overlooked side of the house that people just think, oh, they're naturally a great present.

That's not true. It takes a lot of work. So the, the two things there are, what are you gonna be passionate about in tech? It does that line up to a space that I would say is growing. If you came to me and said, I'm, I'm very passionate about tape backup arrays, I'd be like, well, that's kind of dead technology.

Well, what do you want to, oh, I'm passionate about mainframes. Like, Hmm, sure. Broadcom still sells about a billion dollars a year of those, but. Probably on a short career cycle there. I'm passionate about cloud technology or I'm passionate about DevOps and deployment. Alright, you can work with that.

Let's put together a training path for the cloud that you want to go after, and we can cover that technical side. But how are you gonna stand out for the business side? Look in your community. Look for things like pitch breakfasts. Look for any group, any chance to get in front of an audience and speak to do anything that involve.

Speaking that involves pitching, that involves communication with a large group of people. Those skills are gonna be invaluable for when you interview well. Okay. Well, how do you think about pitching? Okay, well, here's what I do On the weekends. I participate in this pitch breakfast three times a week. I help host it, facilitate it.

I, I also do the initial introductions of the local comedy club, whatever. It's, it doesn't matter, but it shows that you are gonna be comfortable and put in front of a group of people.

[00:43:04] Matt Madden: Such good. Uh, I'm so glad that you throughout the soft skill advantage in terms of how that's not just something that's natural, but something that can be worked at and it, I do think that's one of the. Strong suits that folks who may feel imposter syndrome when they think about breaking into tech.

it's human to wrestle with. But when you think about. . Okay. if I really am being honest with myself, if I have transferrable skills from another business domain that was not necessarily outta tech company and communicating is something I've done well, presenting is something that was regularly part of my job.

It's, it's an area where you've already built some level of understanding and skill and maybe even expertise, that you can turn into your superpower and like you suggested, find opportunities in your community to, to grow that and really, Get some great stories that you could tell, say, you know, in, in that first pre-sales job interview that you're going for, uh, like, like the, the pitch deck example or the comedy club intro.

I mean, that would stand out to me. I know for sure if I was speaking to somebody and they're, they're really highlighting how that's contributed to their level of comfort in front of, you know, a prospect when you're thinking about, is this person really gonna be able to hold their own out there and comfortably build that trusted advisor relationship throughout the sales?

[00:44:21] Kevin O'Dell: And it's something that Bart, the, the gentleman who gave our communication training would always say, every little thing matters, details matter. And when you think about it from an interview perspective, and I mentioned earlier like, I love that you were doing the self-learning, like you're, you're self-learning, the soft skills and the presentation skills, that's gonna be a huge driver.

I have worked. Some amazingly technical people, some smartest people are, they're terrible presenters. You cannot put them in front of a customer. And there are some great presenters with very limited technical skills, but they can talk about a business case and they can move that business forward. So you do not have to be necessarily, the most technical person in the room need to be able to hold your own.

You need to be able to know when to say, I don't know, but that's soft skills. They're skills that you can. And you'll, you'll stand out in an interview by pursuing those skills when someone asks you about Why should I consider you for this role?

[00:45:19] Matt Madden: So that's, I think, a great stopping point. Kevin. just wanted to give you an opportunity as a final word here to share, any kind of parting advice or shout out to anything that you think would be helpful for folks after hearing, the different things we talked about.

to go check out or, uh, just wanna give you the mic, uh, before we, we wrap things up, if that sounds.

[00:45:41] Kevin O'Dell: Sure. Absolutely. I tell people this all the time, and I mentioned numerous times of this. I have been very lucky to have had amazing people in my life and in my career. If you have questions about how you can break in or anything like that, look me up on LinkedIn, Twitter, whatever. Drop me a line. I will ha I will happily spend some time with anyone.

Uh, and then the last thing I'll say is if you haven't spent time with it, uh, and the, the generative AI space is very, very cool right now. That's. That's, that's what I get to do day in, day out. But what is very approachable and very fun is a chat p t Make it code some stuff for you. Tell some stories for you, whatever it is.

Uh, play with it and see where that space is going.

[00:46:27] Matt Madden: Absolutely. Yeah, I, I've been having fun myself too. So, offline , I wanna wanna pick your brain a little bit on, on what you're doing. I'm super curious around that. Um, cuz uh, I've, I've dabbled thinking about it for, uh, even synthetic data generation myself when it comes to demos and, uh, I'm sure there are lots of pre-sales folks that, you know, the, the head is turning.

How can we leverage that type of technology? Considering you work for a company that specializes in synthetic data generation, particularly interested how you're using chat, g p t. Um, so thanks so much, Kevin. And, um, yeah, I look forward to, just getting this out to everyone and, and going from there.

[00:47:03] Kevin O'Dell: Thanks for having.

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