My name is Sylvain, and I have been a specialist solution architect, Application Platform at Red Hat for two years. My team specializes in technical sales, acting as trusted advisors for customers all over Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). We support them with product presentations, demos, architectural questions and Requests For X (RFX).

I am based in Nantes, France, the Breton town where the famous author, Jules Verne, grew up. I enjoy working with different cultures–especially speaking English, which I believe opens up a wide range of knowledge and challenges.

Today I have over fifteen years of experience in web application development and architecture, in this blog post, I'll reflect on some lessons I learned early in my career that were important in preparing me for a technical sales role.

I got my first personal computer (with an AMD Duron processor) in the 2000s. At the time, I mainly knew the Minitel1 from my favorite childhood library. I had a limited budget, so I could afford to buy only what I needed to complete my studies. I didn’t realize at the time how this project would feed my interests in both technology and helping people!

A tech-savvy neighbor helped me choose, one by one, the elements needed to assemble a fully functional PC (I still thank him today if he reads this). It was an exciting project with an unexpected benefit: This neighbor became a kind of mentor, who helped me a lot even afterward.

Because I didn't have the internet at home, I did everything offline. I am endemically curious and I quickly started "kicking the tires" of Windows 98. I wanted to understand how the hardware and software worked, so I took everything apart and put it back together. I participated in "install parties" at school and I regularly visited cybercafés to satisfy my insatiable need to learn.

I tested quite a few Windows distributions and often got lost in the meanderings of DOS and BIOS–and then one day someone lent me a Mandrake Linux distribution on CD. I was a little lost on the configuration, so I filled this gap by learning the basics of Linux administration, the C language and scripting at school.

Lesson #1: Tech support goes beyond the technical

I discovered the joys of network gaming with this computer, and even without the Internet, it was possible to play in a local area network. I lived in a multiple-storey building and the wifi wasn't great, so in order to play occasionally with my neighbors I had to find wired solutions (with 10M RJ45 cables and a switch).

At that time, I started working at a cybercafé, where  I learned as much as possible about building websites. I've always enjoyed helping people, hearing their stories, and learning about their relationship to technology, the projects they were working on, and their difficulties. It was exhilarating, and I realized I could be helpful beyond just providing technical solutions.

Lesson #2: Fear and lack of information is often a blocker to tech adoption

Around 2005, we got an Internet connection at home. My parents initially didn't want to hear about the Internet because they had preconceptions about viruses and hackers. I've since noticed that fear is sometimes a major obstacle to technology adoption.

I had to develop my powers of persuasion to convince my parents to get online and start reaping the benefits of the Internet. This involved clearly describing the pros and cons and explaining technical concepts to a non-technical audience–skills I still use today.

Lesson #3: Opportunities to learn are everywhere

Early in my career, even when I didn't know exactly how to solve a problem, I often knew the steps to get started. This is because I spent considerable time reading books across multiple fields, which I still do.

Constant learning is an important part of technical sales, and today we have many more resources available than just books! It is important to avoid having preconceptions about different learning methods. Books, e-learning modules, face-to-face training, webinars, workshops, streamed events, certifications–all these resources can be equally valuable in your learning journey.

Lessons #1 and #2 are important reminders that although you can learn a lot by yourself, you can also learn much more from others. From the early lessons of my mentor to teaching my parents how to navigate the internet and learning from my peers at install parties, collaboration was essential to advance my understanding of both technology and people.

Be careful, though– if you're someone who likes to learn, it can be difficult to stay focused on a particular topic! It's important to balance keeping a firm grasp on foundational topics and constantly learning and keeping things interesting.

Lesson #4: Transferable skills are powerful in a career pivot

Although I launched my career as a web developer, I pivoted into solution architecture in 2019. Although this role is quite different, I already had a passion for technology, was not afraid of a challenge, and loved sharing solutions and pursuing knowledge –all of which made the transition a lot easier. (Knowing how to have fun is also essential!)

So if you're asking yourself the same question I did–Why should I transition from a purely technical or developer role to a solution architect?–I have some thoughts to share.

The "why" is very personal. For me, it's about the versatility of the work, the continuous learning, the search for excellence, the desire to be at the heart of the customer's strategy, and the opportunity to convey the value and insights from our solution portfolio to our customers and partners.

1 A French technology, now endangered


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About the author

Sylvain Martin joined Red Hat in 2022. He is an “EMEA Product Specialist Solution Architect App Platform” in the Commercial segment.

He started coding and installing Linux OS 17 years ago. He has worked in several startups, software companies and larger companies covering different technical roles.

He loves learning, technology and the culture of sharing. He enjoys understanding products and solutions, cloud computing and solving problems. Experimenting, trying tools, doing good work with good people, that's what he loves above all else.

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