What is a Solution Engineer and how to work in this field?
If you don't work for a top tech company you might not know what a Solution Engineer is. But, this is a rather promising field that is in high demand today.
In this article we will take a look at what a Solution Engineer is in more detail, the role and duties of this specialist, how you could get to work in such a position, what skills are required for this job and what the approximate salary of this role is in the United States.
So, let's go!
What is a Solution Engineer?
Let’s take a look at a definition of this title, a Solution Engineer (or SE) is a specialist who looks at what problems a business has and then develops products to solve these issues. SE is a kind of interlink between a client and an engineering team who aim to develop a product that best suits the customer and their issue. The main goal of this specialist is to create a solution that will be suitable for everyone, primarily for the customer.
SEs works closely with sales, marketing and development teams, so that they can create the best solution for their customer.
A Solution Engineer typically works like this, first an SE conducts an initial discussion with a client to determine what the problem is, and the SE might offer a suitable solution. The SE then comes up with a plan and discusses it with designers and developers to solidify the ‘solution’ that they’ve come up with. The Solution Engineer then sends word back to the client, detailing their plans and any extra comments, about the solution that has been created.
It’s important that developers receive the correct information at the start of the process, so that they can establish exactly what the problem they are working with is, and how it can be solved (documents can be modified at a later date, if necessary). Developers are primarily interested in the functionality of the product and its capabilities.
Marketing professionals, on the other hand, have to understand how a product works so that they can sell it to the customer. They should be in regular contact with the various teams working on the project. Besides, a marketing department also relies on SEs and the analysis of competitors' products to do their work.
Designers also have to know how the product is perceived by a customer, and based on this feedback, they then make adjustments to their work.
Of course, a client is also the main source of information, but at the heart of all this communication is an SE.
It is an SE that spreads out all of the necessary information around to every team, which is what helps all the specialists involved to carry out their duties well. In the end all an SE can hope for is to have a product that meets the requirements of all the parties involved, in particular the client.
So, an SE's contribution to the overall success of a project is critical to a company. Let's take a closer look at the role of this specialist in more detail.
What is the role of a Solution Engineer?
A Solution Engineer is a technician, and his/her primary responsibility is to ensure customer satisfaction. This means that they will directly interact with clients, unlike other engineers.
This position is very similar to that of a Solution Architect, in the sense that they both interact with teams and clients, and that they must have good technical knowledge as well as soft skills to communicate effectively.
In addition to having the required technical skills, they must also be able to quickly delve into and understand business ideas and principles. This is the fundamental difference between a Solution Architect and an SE.
A Solution Engineer's role and responsibilities may vary slightly from company to company, but there are some common duties:
- Detailing the technical requirements for a product (‘solution’). Naturally, good communication between an SE and a customer is important at this stage. Thus, engineers, using their knowledge and experience, help a client to draw up a detailed ‘solution’ for developers to create, which is based on a client's vision of the end product. Sometimes for this to work you have to look at how the processes in an organization work to understand the essence of the problem that needs solving.
- Technological research and prototyping. Often, SEs are unfamiliar with all the nuances of certain technologies, and therefore there is a need to conduct appropriate research and to understand the capabilities (and limitations) of the selected technologies they will use in a solution. It’s important to test their theoretical solutions, so a prototype is usually required. This prototype is then tested for viability. All of this is the responsibility of an SE.
- Developing general product architecture. After completing the testing and prototyping phases, an SE presents an overall architecture to a customer and clarifies all the necessary details. The description of the high-level architecture is also created at this stage. The descriptions of the low-level project structure are seldom done, and they are made during the process and are immediately implemented into a code. Also at this stage, SEs receive feedback from the team: what are the difficulties in implementing the architecture, and is it good to implement in practice.
- The general picture. If a project is large and complex, several teams are involved in its creation, and each team works on a specific part. The company should have someone who is responsible for everyone, this someone is usually a person who can see the bigger picture, and who can determine what is critical for the end product. This is usually an SE. SEs look at the overall architecture and they help to tie all of the work together.
So, as you can see an SE is an engineer with a great technical knowledge, but they also make sure that teams function as they should, this includes working with the customer.
What qualities should a Solution Engineer have?
The qualities that any SE should have are quite extensive, here are some to consider:
- Extensive technical knowledge and experience (foundation);
- Good learning ability;
- Communication skills;
- Problem-solving skills;
- Elements of management skills to coordinate work.
Now let's take a quick look at the path you need to take to work as an SE.
How to become a Solution Engineer?
This answer will probably disappoint you, but there is no clear path that will allow you to become an SE overnight.
We have already noted that a variety of skills, both technical and general soft skills, are required to be a successful SE and this cannot be taught in a day. This kind of engineer coordinates the work of specialists from different services, so you could potentially come from any department, in a variety of working sectors, because experience in working with teams and customers is incredibly important.
But, of course, software engineers most often work as SEs since they have the necessary technical background to which they can add their soft skills.
An engineer usually needs to have a Bachelor's or Master's degree in Computer Science, although this is not a requirement in all cases. However, a specialized education will make it easier for you to move up the career ladder. A Bachelor's degree, for example, offers you enough information to start off in this role, but you will continue to grow and to learn as you work in this field.
On the flip side, true experience and practical skills are very important for this role, so don’t give up just yet. Various specialized courses can help you to obtain the required technical knowledge, for example.
In addition to this, skills in managing and working with clients, if you do not have such skills, can also be mastered by completing specialized online courses.
When you start looking at getting a role as an SE you will notice that SE job descriptions can be very long, and one advert can differ from another. You will likely be asked an assortment of questions and you will probably have to work your way through some practical tasks if you get to the interview stage.
These are just ways of a recruiter seeing what you are really like, and how you hold up in various stressful situations. It’s a good way of checking out your communication and other soft skills, as they are so vital for the role.
Here is a simplified list of requirements for an SE role:
- Bachelor's degree in Computer Science or Engineering;
- Previous experience as an SE;
- Familiarity with software and hardware for business;
- Communication skills of a high level;
- Exceptional interpersonal skills;
- Ability to create complex software solutions;
- Ability to communicate ideas clearly;
- Attention to detail;
- Sales experience.
SE is an interesting and versatile position.
The average salary of a Solution Engineer
Average salary levels for this position almost always differ based on where you are, the job market and what experience level you have. Here are some approximate salaries from around the United States:
Figure 1. SE Salary Statistics (based on data from Glassdoor)
And here is a list of some of the biggest cities in the US and their SE salaries:
Figure 2. Salary statistics for a SEs in US cities (based on data from Glassdoor)
If you are interested in working in SE, but you don’t know where to start from, you could look into signing up for an online course. On these courses you can take time out to discuss the field with experts, so you will know exactly what the job is, how to find work in the field and more importantly, you will know if the job is for you.