Over the past year, we’ve been building a team of OpenShift cloud services Black Belts across the globe. This is a specialized technical sales team, whose primary focus is to remove organizational, technical and competitive blockers toward the adoption of Red Hat OpenShift cloud services - our managed application platforms that allows traditional and cloud-native apps to run across the hybrid cloud, from the datacenter to multiple public clouds to the edge.
The Black Belt role is unique. It’s not quite presales, but it’s also not consulting or tech support. There’s a large emphasis on complex technical problem-solving and cross-functional collaboration. The team works with all the major cloud providers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud and Google Cloud. They need to deftly articulate technical concepts to the C-suite, developers, and IT teams, and feel equally comfortable in technical walkthroughs, customer workshops and business value conversations.
So, what exactly does a Black Belt do on a day-to-day basis? What makes a good candidate for this role? What are some of the common misconceptions about it? We spoke to Black Belt team members to shed some insight into this unique and challenging role.
1. They find new solutions to unique problems
Red Hat OpenShift cloud services are game-changing solutions for customers seeking an application platform that enables them to build, modernize and deploy applications at scale on the cloud provider of their choice. They’re able to start seeing value from the platform quickly, with Red Hat’s team of site reliability engineers (SREs) managing the platform for them.
“We solve problems that haven’t been solved before. We can’t update the product for every customer, but we do need to find a solution that works for every one of them,” points out team member Andrea Bozzoni.
Since every customer is unique and has a different technological landscape, the team needs to conduct deep research and try out different solutions, stretching their existing knowledge and capabilities.
And the positive impact of their efforts is very much felt - as team member Roberto Carratalá states, “We help our customers in their journey to the cloud, solving real problems and making their lives easier with our daily jobs.”
2. They believe in the power of partnership
The team's roles are far from solitary. They work closely across many teams and stakeholders, including our field sales teams, solutions architects, and customer success organization, to drive a more seamless transition to managed cloud services for our customers.
They also align closely with the product team, helping to test, document, and demo innovative features, and reporting back any caveats and blockers they encounter. This helps us to continually improve our OpenShift cloud service offerings.
On top of all this, they engage with multiple different cloud providers, as customers may wish to run OpenShift on Azure, Google Cloud, AWS, IBM Cloud or a combination of these. “It’s brilliant to be able to give the customer the ability to choose whatever suits them better depending on their particular needs,” continues Roberto.
3. They have diverse backgrounds and perspectives
The team considers their breadth of experience to be a major strength. Black Belts are former solutions architects, SREs, software engineers, consultants and DevOps advocates. Team members come from the hospitality, payments, consulting, telecommunications and aviation industries.
It’s a given that they’re technically strong (more on that later). But, importantly, they’re all eager to stay curious and continuously upskill in order to excel in the fast-paced world of cloud services. It's impossible to be an expert in everything in the industry, especially with new developments occurring so quickly and frequently.
To that end, Black Belts are encouraged to frequently block off time to improve their knowledge in areas they may not yet be familiar with. Black Belts also lean on the diverse expertise of their teammates, and often work on engagements in pairs - allowing them to share expertise and leverage each other's strengths in real time.
“We all have different aspects which complement one another. The most important thing isn’t necessarily knowing every technical implementation in deep detail, but understanding the paradigm shifts behind cloud services. What is an application platform? Why is it so important in today’s world? A lot of that comes from studying and understanding how they work,” explains team member Andy Repton.
4. They need to be quick learners and active listeners
So what else does it take to thrive as a Black Belt?
The ideal candidate would have a solid foundation in cloud computing and general IT concepts, as well as a few specific areas of expertise, such as Kubernetes, OpenShift, containerization, programming or cloud-native technologies, which they will be working with on a daily basis. They should also enjoy solving technical problems.
“You need to be able to tackle questions about app development, underlying infrastructure, disk performance, load balancing and everything else,” says team member Anton Nesterov. “And you need to be able to tackle them quickly.”
Interpersonal skills are also crucial, particularly empathy. When working with customers or internal team members, it's important to make them feel heard and supported, and to get to the root of the problem to understand how to help.
Active listening is essential, too - when engaging with potential customers, the team often needs to absorb, organize and prioritize a large amount of information in a short space of time. However, the team don’t consider it necessary to be an extrovert to succeed in the role - the introverts on the team emphasized that they’re able to take time to recharge their batteries before moving onto the next challenge at full strength.
5. Every day is different - and there’s plenty of flexibility
At its core, this role is all about making OpenShift cloud services as easy and consumable as possible for new customers, and removing any technical or organizational obstacles that may impede its successful adoption. The team say they’re given a lot of trust and flexibility in how they achieve this goal.
Black Belts are geographically distributed and primarily work from home, with some occasional travel for events such as meetups or customer visits. They have the freedom to adjust their schedule to balance their work and personal commitments. “That trust and flexibility is a wonderful thing and provides a very good work-life balance, which benefits the team in the long run,” says Andy.
The team also helps advance OpenShift cloud services via other platforms - regularly giving talks at conferences, contributing to technical blogs, and sharing their knowledge with open source communities. This role is well-suited for someone who enjoys solving different problems every day, but those who prefer a structured routine and repeatable work may find this challenging. Every day on the job truly is unique.
Team member Aneesh Abdul Rasheed summarizes this in a nutshell. “Having conversations with different sets of people - customers, backend engineering, product teams, SRE teams - joining forces with our hyperscaler partners, writing code snippets, preparing blog posts. And a lot of enjoyment, learning time and working with awesome people. That's pretty much what a day looks like for a Black Belt.”
Are you ready to help the team solve their next challenging problem using open source? Explore our open opportunities here.
About the author
Holly is a Program Manager on Red Hat's Talent Attraction & Experience (TA&E) team, where she is responsible for building and promoting the company's talent brand across the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. With past experience in employer branding and digital marketing spanning several industries, including professional services, hospitality and now tech, Holly develops and executes creative campaigns that showcase Red Hat as an employer of choice. Holly and the TA&E team are also passionate about amplifying the voices of Red Hat’s talented associates, helping to highlight the unique culture and opportunities that Red Hat offers.