IT operations team members work hard to keep systems up and running, often pulling their hair out for resolutions after hours behind the scenes to ensure a seamless front-end experience for their users. But, even superheroes need saving sometimes.
If you’ve struggled to fix your encryption policies after reading article after article online or need some guidance to pull together a proof of concept for your organization’s big migration to the cloud, perhaps a Red Hat Technical Account Manager (TAM) can be a part of the answer you’ve been searching for.
Or maybe you’re an expert troubleshooter and audit log guru and want to use those superhero skills to help more companies manage their operations. 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 TAMs that would be willing to talk about their job. Here’s a glimpse into a day on the job as a Red Hat TAM.
What is a Technical Account Manager?
Technical Account Managers might mean different things for different companies, but a Red Hat 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.
TAMs are part of Red Hat’s Customer Success organization and provide proactive advice and guidance to help you identify and address potential problems before they occur. Should a problem arise, your TAM is there to own the issue and engage the best resources to resolve it as quickly as possible with minimal disruption to your business.
What can you tell me about the job?
As a TAM, your services 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 focus 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. Lately, things like containers (on the OS itself, not OpenShift) and Ansible have fallen under a Platform TAM’s scope as well. I am also a Storage TAM for one account— a company that is using Red Hat Storage (based on Ceph).
With Red Hat TAMs being part of Global Customer Success (which is in the Customer Experience and Engagement organization), we are tightly aligned with the Red Hat support organization—and we often deal with support issues. This means you will have a certain amount of support casework. If that repels you, the job is not for you.
However, the casework you have tends to be your four to six assigned accounts. As you come on board, you'll be assigned to strategic accounts. I have five right now and they span 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 (RHEL) 6-8 in some way. Most of them have either started their container journey or are thinking about it.
Helping customers find greater value in their subscription
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. The on-site visits have been on hold as we all deal with COVID-19, but I am looking forward to seeing my customers in person again when possible.
That's when I'll hand out swag and get some good face time with the people who are putting the cases in. Through all this, I’m really trying to work with accounts 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 someone has an IdM problem, well, "I know a guy." My (somewhat messy) work desk in my home office. My laptop is running Fedora 34 and the server on the right is my lab system (Igor) running RHEL 8 and many VMs.
Do I need certifications to become a TAM?
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 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.
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 getting 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 casework, 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.
Checking in with customers
All five of my customers have their own regularly scheduled calls with me. Most are bi-weekly, but my Ceph customer is asking to meet once a week as they are deploying. 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. Having 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—blogging, 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.
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 most 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 that resulted in 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. 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.
I'm obligated to be available between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. I 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"). I’m usually not expected to be 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 hectic, 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.
You can connect with TAMs at a Red Hat Convergence event currently being held online. 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. See the Red Hat Convergence page for up-to-date details..
If this intrigues you, you can always check Red Hat Jobs to join us. Like Darth Vader often says, “Come to the Dark Side...we have cookies!”
About the author
Marc Richter (RHCE) is a Principal Technical Account Manager (TAM) in the US Northeast region. Prior to coming to Red Hat in 2015, Richter spent 10 years as a Linux administrator and engineer at Merck. He has been a Linux user since the late 1990s and a computer nerd since his first encounter with the Apple 2 in 1978. His focus at Red Hat is RHEL Platform, especially around performance and systems management.