I usually write technical content on my blog, because I have a passion for the technical part of my job, but I also love a lot of other aspects that make up my job. Both my day-to-day ánd “extra-curricular” activities. And maybe the titel is not the best fit for the question that I want to answer in this blog, maybe it should be:
“What is this TAM @VMware?”
Because every TAM is unique. We do have more or less the same “toolkit”, but we each have our own approach to how to best serve our customers. So this is just one TAM’s perspective and another TAM might have a completely different story to tell.
I have had conversations with people that wanted to know about what a TAM does, so after several of these conversations, I decided to write some of this down.
This period is kind of special for me. I very recently reached my 2nd “birthday” at VMware. I am already two years in! And I have a very ambiguous feeling on that. On the one side, it feels like it has been far longer than two weeks. I have been working with VMware for a lot longer than two years, but also, I have done so much different activities, that it feels it is not possible that it has only been two years. As memories tend to work, the days that are more or less the same, seem to register a lot less in your long-term memory, while the days that you do something that is out of the ordinary, tend to register more in your long-term memory.
And at VMware, in my TAM role, I have done so many different things, with so many people, that there are a lot of memory moments created, so it feels like I have been here for a far longer time than “just” these two years.
On the other hand, I feel I have still so much to learn and accomplish, that it feels like I am only in my first few months. After approximately twenty-five years of doing consultancy, it got to be a little routinely, meaning a lot of the work was done on experience alone and only a part was a new and exciting. Even when doing workshops, which I really love(d) to do, it became more and more of the same and blended together. I still enjoyed doing it and getting that spark activated, but I felt I longed for something fresh, something new, something to expand my experiences.
Why I became a TAM
In the years before, I had been thinking about “what’s next”, after consultancy. What would I want to be when I grow up ;)?
I had considered project- and even line management, but understood along the way, that that was not really my cup of tea. I thought about solution architecture (in every consultancy job I had done over the past 25 years, I always was asked to move into solution architecture at that company), but thought that that would not be a good fit for me. I felt it would be a little bit too “abstract” and I didn’t want to lose that technical part of my job.
When I just joined PQR, a former PQR employee was visiting one of the PQR “office days” and explained the role of a “Technical Account Manager” at VMware. That person used to work at PQR and left to become a TAM at VMware. And that struck a nerve. I thought that that might well be the perfect fit for me after consultancy. It still had a very technical component, but it was also about understanding the customer to a far deeper level then just the technical part of it ánd building and maintaining long-term relationships, to be a real ambassador for the customer towards (in this case) VMware.
So when, after about 5 years at PQR and on the point that I wanted to change roles, I saw the opening for a TAM at VMware, it took me about 19 seconds before I decided that this was the one I wanted. So I applied and to make a long story short, I got “the part”. And two years ago, on March 1st 2021, I became a proud and happy TAM @VMware.
But that was just the beginning. After the start, I had some trouble “adjusting”. It was a period of working from home, due to Covid and although I was more or less used to working from home, starting in a new job ánd in a completely new role was not easy. As a consultant, you know that a project has a start and a finish and the work is done in the time inbetween. When you finish, you move on to the next project. Of course, sometimes you do new projects for familiar customers, but most of the time it is start-finish, next.
A TAM does not work like that. At all… You are “assigned” to one or more customers (for me I started with three customers) and you stick with those customers until something changes (you, the customer, VMware), which makes it logical to change TAMs. All the time that you are working with that specific customer, you are involved in the day-to-day things that are going on there. And that makes it very different from consultancy. So after 25 years of being used to start-finish, next, I became part of “business as usual”.
So here and there I felt some anxiety about this new role. Although I did like it ánd my customers were happy with me, I missed the interaction with customers and the dynamic of meeting people in person. Also, the fact that there is not a “clear” end state you are working towards, made it somewhat different than what I was used to. But I said to myself I should give it at least a year, to fully understand if this is what I like or maybe it is not. And I am very glad I did because once the possibility to meet in person became available, the whole way of working changed. I got to meet my customers “in 3D” for the first time and that made all the difference.
What I also found out is the willingness to help out within VMware. Both in the TAM team and in the whole of VMware. Both in my “Benelux” team and in the global TAM community, a question can be very easily asked in slack (our collaboration tool) and a response will be quick (and usually) helpful. And if I need to get some feedback or want help on a product I do not know very much about, there is always someone available and willing to help out. Multiple times I was able to set up a session with my customers and another TAM (within the Benelux, or outside of it) and help out my customer in that way. And in that same way, I am also very happy to help out myself. I think it is (and should be) part of the DNA of any TAM.
And when I have a question on a technical topic, there is a wealth of slack channels available to ask that question. And there are always people helping out, to get you the answer you are looking for, to start a conversation or to point you in the right direction.
Starting to get used to the TAM role
So I met my customers and made arrangements to meet them on a regular basis. For all of my customers, I currently have a schedule where I am on their premises once per week or once per two weeks, and that makes it a lot easier to get in and keep in contact. This also results in interactions with them. I get questions, discussions, and requests for feedback, and all in all feel like I am part of the team. As a TAM you have several “tools” at your disposal, I call it my toolbox. In it are (among other things):
- Regular newsletters
- Containing relevant information on (for instance) security findings, webinars, and new releases.
- But it also serves as a touch-point which often leads to people reaching out to me, with a question, mostly unrelated to the newsletter itself.
- Reports on their environment(s),
- Monthly status report
- Regular Insight Reports, for instance vSphere Insights giving detailed information on their environment(s) including a historical overview.
- Health check / Best Practices Analyses
- TAM Business Review
- This is a regular meeting with the stakeholders and sponsors at the customer, to see if and how the TAM service can help the customer get the most out of their investments in VMware software. Discuss the past ánd the future with them.
- KSA (Knowledge Skills Assessment)
- Together with the colleagues from VMware Education, this gives people insights into their skills on the relevant VMware products ánd can help assess the need for training to enhance skills or prepare for new deployments.
And I always try to set up regular meetings with the operational teams, the architects, and the product owners. This way I can have a feel for all the things that are playing within the customer’s organization and be able to help them in the best way I can. It is also a way to be available for any question they have and want to have addressed.
A very important part of the job is being an ambassador. And that is a two-way street. The first part is being an ambassador for the customer towards VMware. Make sure that VMware is aware of concerns, or requests that a customer has. If, for instance, a Service Request (SR) is not handled in a way the customer feels is right, the TAM will help address that. But it also goes the other way around. If there are valid reasons why something takes longer than anticipated, explaining why this is the case will also help a customer. Knowing the reasoning will ultimately lead to better understanding, from two sides. And as an intermediate, it is your role to make sure of that.
Sometimes this means being a mediator, sometimes it means standing on the barricades together with the customer, to get things done. And sometimes it even means giving a little pushback, if you feel the requests are unreasonable.
As a TAM you are also able to (when selected) join several great events, to enhance customer experience. In the time I have been here, I was allowed to join the Technical Support Summit in Cork, where the best VMware technologists give very deep technical sessions to customers. As part of the “Dutch” team, I had the pleasure to go there and organize several interactions between all the Dutch customers. We had a dinner together and we took a great photo, with all the people from the Netherlands:
And on top of that, I was allowed to be the Dutch representative at VMware Explore, to man the “TAM & Success 360 Customer Central” lounge. This was an awesome experience. I have been at VMworld before, but never in such a role:
On this, I already wrote a blog earlier: https://my-sddc.net/my-first-vmware-explore/. And I made stickers:
Extra Curricular Activities
And after all this TAM work, which does take a lot of time and energy (but also gives back a lot of the energy that keeps me going), there are extra curricular activities at VMware, that you can become a part of. As with my previous employer (PQR) it is something you can do, but don’t have to. But if you want to, you get all the support you need and could wish for.
As a longtime member of the vCommunity and vExpert, it is very much something that is encouraged. I get the chance from my organization to be part of several initiatives that enhance the community. I have been a vExpert (and now also a vExpert PRO) and in that capacity have helped and inspired both colleagues and people within the organization of customers, to apply for and become vExperts. This is very much fun to do and very rewarding.
I have been involved in something called “the Good Gigs” program. This is a VMware program that helps non-profit organizations with both money, licenses and people to help them in their quest. For me, this meant helping out the “Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Detection (DIVD (www.divd.nl)) with building a new infrastructure, based on vSphere and vSAN. For this I wrote a design and hopefully we will be building the environment soon. I also am in the process of volunteering for this organization to give regular support for their environment (in my own time). I am currently waiting on approval from VMware on this.
And yesterday was the day that we held the Dutch VMUG. The largest VMUG in the world and I am very happy to be part of the VMUG Support Team, in which I have been helping the leaders to get this organized. For me this meant helping out with the agenda, creating the content, communicating with the speakers, and “manning” the social media channels.
From my time at PQR I am still a part of the organization of the vNS and vMATechCon, which will hold another event in December of 2023. A very technical event, with only technical content.
I have applied (and will again) for VMware’s CTO Ambassadorship. In that role you are part of a select group of VMware people, helping out shaping the technical future of the company. The first time I was not selected, but that won’t stop me from applying again this year.
Recently I also applied (and am waiting for the outcome) to the Hands-on-Labs team. I would love to be part of this initiative since it is close to my technical heart. As I try to write as much technical content as possible, the HOL program is something I would love to be part of. Developing and creating learning experiences for people in the vCommunity seems like a very rewarding thing to do.
And of course, these things are not mandatory, but they are supported in any way you want to. And it does mean that time is fluid. Sometimes I work odd hours (but you also have the freedom to sometimes use “work hours” for non-work related activities), but all in all, it is the most satisfying job I ever had.
So, all in all, I love my job. Does this mean there are only moments of happiness? No, of course not, that would be impossible. There are some moments when you get overwhelmed. If multiple escalations at different customers happen at once or if you feel that there is just a little too much on your plate, it can feel like you get snowed under. Sometimes you have to bring a message to a customer, you would rather not bring. And since I really feel like part of the team, it can feel like letting your team down and that is not a pleasant feeling. And at the end of some days and/or weeks, I feel drained of energy, but that usually is easily fixed by either a good night’s sleep or a weekend of relaxing with the family, to be re-energized again.
But generally speaking, this job is awesome. And it is also very rewarding. I have had the honor already to win several awards, for which I was nominated by my peers and the people I work with. And in exactly that way, you also get to nominate people yourself. And that feels even better.
So, why doesn’t everybody apply to a TAM? Well, I don’t know, I could advise the job to anyone, but… There are definitely some reasons why you shouldn’t.
If you like every day to be the same? Don’t apply.
If you like to know what your entire week will look like on Monday morning? Don’t apply.
If you don’t like technical challenges? Don’t apply.
If you are not a team player? Don’t apply.
If you want to wait for other people to tell you what to do? Don’t apply.
If you don’t like to go the extra mile for your customers? Don’t apply.
But, if you feel like this is something you dó want? Or feel like you can create your own self, within all these possibilities? Do apply! And either let me know (email@example.com) or apply directly. We do have openings for our awesome team, right now!
And if you want to know more? Also, get in touch, I’ll happily tell you all about it. And if we meet in person, you can always get a sticker out of it :).