Slide-deck builder, swag folks, booth dwellers, buzzword people... technical marketing gets a bad rap sometimes. Today, I want to set the record straight. Marketing can be a chaotic, challenging, yet rewarding space to work in... and there's also some swag involved.
I've held several different roles before finding my home as a technical marketing manager (TMM), including support engineer, systems administrator, and solutions architect (technical sales), to name a few. None of those roles quite brought me the thrill and fulfillment that my current position does. What does a TMM do day-to-day? What skills and tools do you use? What traits do you need to succeed?
What is a technical marketer?
First off, from one organization to the next, there will be different names for these roles and different alignments of responsibilities. Red Hat is a unique company with a unique culture, so this may not represent how technical marketing works in your organization.
My work revolves around three roles: product marketer (PMM), technical marketing manager (TMM), and product manager (PM).
Product managers work as a lead for their product or feature. They help write features with engineering, cast vision for their roadmap, and work with marketing to build a story that ties the market problem together with the component designed to fix it.
Product marketers help define the message: Why would an organization care about the feature we are building? What business problems do we need to address? I'll leave a more in-depth overview of these roles to others, but in short, that is their purview.
[ After reading this article, learn how a TMM is different from a technical account manager. ]
However, in my experience at Red Hat, these three roles intersect at every turn, and each team is different depending on the people holding those positions. For instance, some product managers prefer to stay deep in the engineering process and rely heavily on their PMM and TMM counterparts to develop anything public-facing. In contrast, others love to crank out blogs every chance they get.
That leaves the technical marketing manager. The TMM sits in between the product manager and the product marketer on the spectrum. TMMs create labs, blogs, how-to videos, webinars, and other technically focused content. They help the product marketers and managers look at problems customers face and pair them with features brought to the table by our engineering teams.
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As you can imagine, this requires a wide array of tools and skills, which I will cover in a minute. A regular workday for me could include any or all of the following:
- A customer webinar first thing in the morning
- A couple of sprint meetings with my various pods (subsets of the Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) product)
- A YouTube livestream in the afternoon
- A messaging working session
- Blog writing at the end of the day
Sprinkle in some additional tasks like the following, and you just about have an idea of how a regular week can be in technical marketing:
- Answering a roadmap question via chat for a coworker in the sales organization
- Responding to a tweet about a recent release
- Testing out a new feature in a virtual machine
- Reading a white paper about some new security threat
There is always something to do. There is always another blog that I could write. There is never a dull moment. Now, either you just had a heart attack because that idea scares you, or you might have had to wipe some drool off your lip. Technical marketing is certainly not for everyone.
What skills does a technical marketer need?
One of the first skills I mentioned was juggling multiple different projects in various contexts and mediums. (Notice the word multitasking did not appear in that sentence.) Task management is essential; you have to effectively track projects, tasks, priorities, and due dates. That could be in kanban boards, to-do lists, or sticky notes; oh, by the way, those priorities and due dates usually shift regularly.
Once you have your tasks in place, then it's time to start creating. In my role, I deliver live events, heavily edited tech-tip videos, blogs, slide decks, white papers, and virtual labs. Each of those has its own set of skills, from copywriter to editor to technical evaluator. Remember that lousy reputation I mentioned earlier? Yeah. How many times have you been promised your coffeemaker is so good it'll even fold your laundry? TMMs have to balance the excitement of a new feature with the technical scope and limitations. I love RHEL, but it has never once hung up any of my clothes for me.
I mentioned a few items that involve a similar skill, like video recording. There are different types of content, from live (where if something breaks, fixing the demo is now part of your presentation) to well-designed instructional videos with a well-edited demo with good voice narration. Each requires a different approach, even if all of them rely on the same set of skills.
If only creating the thing was all it took to get it in front of people. Nope. That's where my next skill comes up: editing. Can you edit your content to make sure it's grammatically correct, flows well, and has a clear purpose?
The next skill is collaboration. I have honestly said that collaboratively looking through a piece of content has never produced a worse product. I doubt I make any content without showing it to someone on my team or in my pod before it gets the final coat of polish. Occasionally, you throw out everything but the foundation of an asset and start over, but that is rare.
No job skills overview would be complete without time management. There are days where a technical marketer can be on calls for six hours straight. These days it can be hard to feel like you are making forward progress. That's why as individual contributors or as a team, TMMs continuously look at our process and our content. It is essential to make sure that suitable projects are getting attention when they need it. Is this blog post a nice-to-have, or is it part of a major press release in a few weeks?
Zooming out, though, it's even more important to make sure you have your life prioritized correctly. Are you sleeping, exercising, getting downtime? Is that tech-tip video worth working a 12-hour day while your kids sit outside your door, football in hand? Probably not.
What tools does a technical marketing manager use?
Tools are hard to address, but this is a look at Red Hat technical marketing, so I'll share my process. Each marketer could potentially have three or four different tools they'd use for any given task. Take project management, for instance. For a while, our team's go-to was kanban boards through Trello. I've not gotten as much out of Trello as I have Todoist, so whenever I take an action item from an email or a meeting, it goes into my Todoist project for that pod.
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For writing blogs or other written content, I like to write the rough draft in as minimal a tool as possible, like Joplin. If I want to write a blog, I need to get the draft out of my head and onto paper where I (and later my team) can see it, massage it, and clean it up. When I am done, I can go back to add links, check spelling, adjust the layout, and take out those random paragraphs where my mind started chasing a squirrel. With the draft safely out of my head, I can use Grammarly and collaborative documents to get feedback and polish my content.
What about video? That one is easy: OBS. Open Broadcaster Studio is a standard across multiple industries and users. It is impressive how it can record video, transition between scenes, record screen captures, snag my audio, and present it to a recording or even a live stream on Twitch or YouTube. Don't get me started on hardware, though; I've seen microphone discussions start arguments that rival a middle-school breakup.
Wild, but worth it
If you had to build an image in your mind of what it is like to work in marketing, picture the chaos of a Wild West running shootout, double that, and add in the random alien UFO flying overhead now and again. Is it intense? Yes. Is it crazy? Yep. Is it worth it? Definitely. I would be willing to bet that is true not just for my team but also for all of Red Hat and even technology marketing anywhere. It requires a lot of skills and tools, and technical marketing requires a strange concoction of technical, social, and soft skills.
The ideal candidate would be part sysadmin, part motivational speaker, part TikTok star, and part project manager. No one has all those skills in spades. We all have our preferences, our experiences, and our preferred mediums. That is why it is so vital to work as part of a team towards a common goal you believe in. So, if you like a challenge, value open source, thrive on chaos, then maybe you might love a job in technical marketing. Go look at Red Hat's job board. Not interested in working at Red Hat? No worries. I hope that you at least have an idea of what it takes to create and deliver technical content in a world where our attention span is dwindling and technology is constantly changing.