For today’s Red Hat Technical Account Manager blog, we figured we would give you something a little different. Some time back, I read a post over on Reddit, written by someone who was considering working for Red Hat, asking if there were any Red Hat TAMs that would be willing to talk about their job. Being the chatty fellow that I am, I merrily began typing. What follows is the somewhat edited version of my answers to a few questions
“What can you tell me about the job?”
First, a little about me. I started with Red Hat as a TAM in June 2015. My nerd background goes all the way back to the Apple 2, while the Linux part started in 1998. I spent 10 years on the Linux team at Merck, working my way from Linux admin to senior engineer.
As a TAM, you are a subscription. This might be the very first time EVER for many people in IT to be in a role where being a nerd actually makes the company money. That aspect is pretty cool on its own.
I'm a Platform TAM...yes, we come in a few different flavors. For instance, Cloud TAMs would primarily focus on products like Red Hat OpenStack Platform and Middleware TAMs on...well, middleware. As a Platform TAM, I’m pretty much a generalist, handling cases around the core OS, as well as things like Red Hat Satellite and Red Hat Virtualization.
As a TAM, you are expected to already be a Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) or have another appropriate certification for any specialty you may have. We are marketed as a technical engineering resource, so the certification is important. If you don't already have your RHCE and we're offering you the job, that's great! That means your nerd-fu is strong, and you’ll just be expected to earn this certification relatively quickly. Certifications aside, you’re surrounded by so many clever people at Red Hat that you can’t help but learn from them.
At Red Hat, TAMs are a part of Strategic Customer Engagement, which is in the Customer Experience and Engagement organization. This means we are tightly aligned with the Red Hat support organization, and we deal with a lot with support issues. This means you will have a certain amount of support case work. If that repels you, the job is not for you.
However, the case work you have tends to be your four to six assigned accounts. As you come onboard, you'll be assigned to strategic accounts. I have five right now and they vary across a few industries. Two of them are heavy-duty Satellite 6 users, one is about to be, and all of them use Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5-7 in some way. Most of them have either started their container journey or are thinking about it.
The most important job as a TAM is to help these customers find greater value with their Red Hat subscriptions. That sounds corny, but it's really what I do. I learn their environments, build relationships with the nerds and managers, give advice on how to install and configure (and in some cases, fix bad configs), provide training sessions and visit them on-site a few times a year. That's when I'll hand out swag and get some good face time with the guys who are putting the cases in. Through all this, I’m really trying to work with them to make sure that they manage to avoid problems, rather than fixing things once they are broken. Since computers hate us (as many movies starring a certain large Austrian actor tells us) this is an ongoing challenge.
Red Hat uses a swarming approach to support. When you don't know how to fix a problem yourself, you engage other Red Hat nerds who will jump in and help. Since I've become fairly adept with Satellite, the other TAMs know to ping me when their customers have trouble with it and I'll provide a second set of eyes to help. If one of my guys has an IdM problem, well, "I know a guy." Building your network is very important and that is a theme that also drives your career.
Red Hat is NOT the place for people who need to be told what to do. Because many TAMs are remote employees, they need to be able to actually work without someone breathing down their neck. To advance and to become a better TAM, it's important to get involved outside of your day to day work. For instance, back in late 2016, I became involved with the TAM blogging project and now have a multi-part series on cgroups.
This cgroup series is actually based on a presentation I've given on TAM webinars (we do one a month for customers) and at Red Hat Convergence Events (free 1-day mini-summits we do each month in cities around the world). Since I love speaking at these events, I've ended up on the rotating team of speakers for them.
It's truly a job where every day is a chance to learn new stuff.
My (somewhat messy) work desk in my home office. Yes, my laptop is running Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.3
“Describe a typical (and atypical) day in your work life”
An atypical day would be any day where I'm not at my house. Usually, that means one of a few things is happening:
I'm off to visit a customer for an onsite review/lunch/training (or coming back from visit)
I'm speaking at an offsite event (one of my favorite things!)
I'm either in our NYC office (for our monthly user group meeting or "just because") or at a regional coworking space. There are quite a few Red Hatters within an hour or two of me so we get together once a month for face time/lunch/chaos.
These are days where I've either got someone covering my accounts for me or I just need to be extra vigilant to make sure cases get handled.
Most days start with me ambling downstairs after the kids are at school and the dogs have spent some time trying to lick my face off. I log into the VPN, fire up IRC and check email. Perhaps cases came in or were updated during the night, so I’ll check on those. I also drive gettings bugs fixed and new features added, so going through entries in Bugzilla that concern my accounts is a good thing to do as well.
Now, I said we handle case work, but we don't necessarily handle every case personally. Red Hat has a fantastic staff of front line support engineers and for the most part, they will do much of the heavy lifting. If one of my customers has a Satellite issue, I will usually own the case myself, but I'll hand it off or yell for help if I get too stuck in the weeds. Overall, one of my most important jobs is to make sure my customer cases get the attention they need (whether it's from me or someone else.) Having this view also allows me to see trends for underlying issues. This allows me to make training recommendations for the customer or give the training myself if it's in TAM scope.
I have three customers that have a bi-weekly call with me, one of them that has a monthly call with me and one that is "special". By that, I mean I handle level 3 support for them (I don't directly talk to their customers) and I only really support them in regards to some very specific kernel bits. I talk to them every two weeks, but they are fairly quiet. My other four accounts are all direct customer facing. So for these TAM calls, I'll prepare an agenda showing current open cases, any Red Hat updates released or upcoming, any recent security patches (which I most likely also emailed about as soon as I found out about them) and any other cool upcoming things (webinars, Red Hat Summit, blog posts, etc). We also have a section of the meeting where we go over their current projects and needs - this is where we really try to add value. They rely on not only the fact that I'm a Red Hatter, but that I was on their side of the desk for many years, so I get what it's like dealing with IT in a corporation.
Outside of these planned calls, customers reach out to me a few ways: they can open a case, email me or just pick up the phone and call me. Being a single point of contact into the Hat is sometimes what they really are paying for.
So if I'm not talking to customers, I'll monitor a few IRC channels. We have separate channels for TAMs, for technology areas and a bunch of other things. If I see questions I can answer, I'll chime in. IRC is also our social "playground" so quite a bit of fun nerd stuff goes down in the channels as well.
Outside of my direct role, I'm involved in several side projects - the TAM blog, some steering committees around remote work and employee engagement, some projects around resources for internal support for TAMs and a few more. Those things can consume a great deal of time, especially when I'm staring at a new blog post and I'm not happy with it. Pandora played loudly in the background sometimes helps cure my writer’s block.
I'll mostly eat lunch at home, although my wife and I have a few places we'll hit together as well.
I'm obligated to be available between 9 and 5 and to be honest, generally work a regular day. If I'm doing anything off hours, it's because I want to (such as writing or playing with lab systems to learn "moar nerd stuff"). Generally, it is not expected that I am available to customers at 2 a.m. if things blow up - that's what we have Production Support for.
That sounds amazing...can I be a TAM too?
If I’m honest, being a TAM is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s always a little crazy, with many balls being juggled at once, but my coworkers are amazing and helpful and my customers really seem to appreciate my efforts on their behalf. We don’t always feel like we’re winning against all of the problems that computers can bring, but we’re in the good fight together.
If this intrigues you, you can always check http://jobs.redhat.com to join us. Like Darth Vader often says, “Come to the Dark Side...we have cookies!”
Marc Richter (RHCE) is a Senior Technical Account Manager (TAM) in the US Northeast region. He has expertise in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (going all the way back to the glory days of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4) as well as Red Hat Satellite. Marc has been a professional Linux nerd for 15 years, having spent time in the pharma industry prior to landing at Red Hat. Find more posts by Marc at https://www.redhat.com/en/about/blog/authors/marc-richter
A Red Hat Technical Account Manager (TAM) is a specialized product expert who works collaboratively with IT organizations to strategically plan for successful deployments and help realize optimal performance and growth. The TAM is part of Red Hat’s world class Customer Experience and Engagement organization and provides proactive advice and guidance to help you identify and address potential problems before they occur. Should a problem arise, your TAM will own the issue and engage the best resources to resolve it as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to your business.
Connect with TAMs at a Red Hat Convergence event near you! Red Hat Convergence is a free, invitation-only event offering technical users an opportunity to deepen their Red Hat product knowledge and discover new ways to apply open source technology to meet their business goals. These events travel to cities around the world to provide you with a convenient, local one-day experience to learn and connect with Red Hat experts and industry peers.