In February 2022, I reached an incredible milestone: 3 years as a VMware Technical Account Manager (TAM). I’m writing about my experiences from the first 3 months to the first 12 months and on. I hope my experiences can highlight what this role is about to any would-be TAMs reading.
First Three Months
The first three months of any job are difficult. You are (kind of) expected to: learn everyone’s names in your branch and team, your teams structure, how you fit within the overall business, get a grip on what your job actually is vs. what was initially described to you, learn all the new tools and most of the basic processes… The list goes on. It can get pretty overwhelming!
I was fortunate as my initial onboard coincided with the VMware STARTlive training (designed to help you network with new peers and learn more about VMware), followed by our internal Worldwide Kick-Off (WWKO) and Tech Summit (TS). Both events were phenomenal chances to address almost all of the points above about new jobs. I learned everyone’s names and the business structure, all the while making new friends in a somewhat stress-free environment. It’s not often that happens!
In between WWKO and TS, I spent considerable time exploring my way around all the internal apps and services made available to VMware Employees. Overwhelming is an understatement. I was the proverbial kid in the candy store, with the keys and security codes to visit the store anytime I wanted, to feast on the sweets inside. Today, I have a backlog of videos, podcasts, and internal sites, that I’m yet to digest. Like Homer Simpson, I have taken the steam tray of internal knowledge from the salad bar and brought it to my table.
It was in the first three months that I gained the majority of my customer engagements. These were either through handovers from other TAMs or net new engagements. This was an gradual but unintentional increase, allowing me more time to learn my way around the job. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows though, I still wasn’t exactly, 100%, absolutely certain of what it was I was supposed to do. Sure, we had plenty (again, understatement) of material describing the different responsibilities of TAMs, but the more I spoke with other TAMs the more unclear it became. Everyone had their own spin of what the role meant to them and how they best served their customers. These were subtle differences, too.
With customer engagements comes the actual work. Towards the end of the third month I had four customers. Each were at varying degrees of maturity with VMware solutions, operations management, and technical skillsets. How was I going to track all of this? How do I stay ahead of the curve and action the tasks expected of me by VMware, but more importantly, the customer? What about their projects? Questions in passing? What about their organisational goals and aspirations? Again, none of this even touches on their technology stack, which you’ll also have to be across and be intimate with (to a degree). Of course, I’d had jobs before this point where many of these things were necessary, but only for that employer. I wasn’t functioning as a key team member for four organisations at once.
“No problemo” I thought. “Just action all the emails you get, as you get them. Same for in-person requests”. Well, that lasted all of about a week. It wasn’t consistent for the customer or me, as each activity/task was done in isolation. I thought back to my previous roles and remembered I used Trello to stay on top of things. I started putting everything in there. And that worked! For a time… The overall design of the boards and buckets to organise the work was cumbersome and didn’t allow for continuous flow of work like projects, timelines, etc (without paying for the advanced features of course). What was I to do?
First Six Months
After the first three months, I got comfortable with many of the day-to-day tools that TAMs use. But I was still struggling with the massive influx of new work coming in.
I think it was just after the three-month mark that I had the genius idea to simply ask another TAM how they managed their tasks. Not just any TAM, arguably the highest performing TAM in the southern hemisphere. I don’t say that lightly either, and I’m sure everyone in VMware would agree. This man is capable of incredible feats of task management and service delivery, not to mention a top bloke. So I asked him “How do you track it all? How do you not lose your mind?” and he told me about a task management book: Getting Things Done by David Allen. I didn’t think it’d be worth it, but if this TAM is getting results, surely I can give this a chance.
I tell you what, that book has changed my life. I was a somewhat organised person beforehand, but tasks would (more often than not) end up forgotten about. Particularly home tasks, not so much work tasks. The “Getting Things Done” model is so popular, and has been around for so long, that there are entire productivity tools designed around the methodology. Big ones like Omnifocus take it to the next level, while something a little more minimalist like Things balanced form with function. Spoiler alert: I picked Things 3.
With book (and app) in hand, I went down the Getting Things Done rabbit hole with Things and began breaking down my daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly activities of my entire life and put them into the app. Recurring tasks, due dates, tags, Project organisations, everything. Every question, feature request, SR follow up, household chore, went straight into Things along with a due date. I started asking back “when do you need this completed?” and throwing it all into Things.
With these due dates and recurring activities, I started each day with a checklist of activities to complete, including the context (descriptions, tags, and sorting into Projects helped).
My newfound productivity gained me some well-deserved extra time in the day! Yes, that’s right. Staying on top of my tasks netted me some bonus hours in the week to feedback into my customers. But that wasn’t all, it opened the door for me to get back into all that overwhelming content. Gotta stay up to date!
By about, I’ll say the fifth to sixth month I was in full swing. I had my days and weeks down to a science. Customers were happy and kicking goals, I was happy, it was a win-win. But still, something kept niggling in the back of my head. What exactly was I supposed to do as a TAM? I had a very clear idea of what I was doing, but unclear about what I should be doing.
12 months and beyond
Screaming past the 12 month mark, I was productive and focused on maximising not only my time, but my customers time. It was almost addictive. I had started working on internal value adding projects that would (attempt) to improve the lives of my fellow TAMs. At about the same time, COVID-19 was picking up in China and spreading through Singapore (Feb 2020). Eventually flights to Australia were blocked and subsquently, each of my customers enacted their own work-from-home policies. For a TAM, meeting in person and being “a part of the team” was your lifeblood. Without that onsite, in-person connection as a TAM you feel kind of lost. I’ll admit, I had tied the TAM identity to in-person meetings and interactions, and that was a large part of that ’lost’ feeling.
At 18 months, I started to think deeper about what it was I was delivering as a TAM. With COVID and everyone working from home, you start to wonder if you brought any value at all! My self doubt was at maximum. I realised while working remotely with my customers was the frequency with which they continued to reach out with questions or issues, or just to chat as they themselves were feeling the effects of isolation and lockdowns. I was starting to see that as a TAM, I really was a part of their teams, operating as a peer and guiding where possible. More importantly, I was able focus on and work with them to solve their problems across days.
You see, TAM engagements are typically aligned to a weekday (8 hours). Let’s use an example: Customer A may have a single TAM engagement every Monday. I would see and work with them every Monday and the other days were reserved for other customers (save for any Sev 1 issues). With COVID and working from home, I was able to interact with my customers across all different days of the week, spreading those 8 hours across different weekdays (when required) allowed me to understand their business more and, more importantly for me, understand what it was I was delivering for them. Outcomes.
I know it sounds cheesy and, like terrible cologne, overused. But that’s the reality of it. I was beginning to operate as not just a team member, but an employee of the customer organisation. I was exposed to everything they were trying to tackle be it technical or business, and I was in a position of trust where my ideas and opinions were genuinely heard (and in many cases taken on board).
One of my customers sees and treats me as their operational delivery manager to ensure their large environment and operations team functions effectively. I work with the operations team to make valuable use of their vRealize Operations deployment, and ensure their vSphere environment is running beautifully. I work with them to design their test and deployment plans for platform upgrades, review security advisories with them, hold weekly deep-dive sessions in their environment, the list goes on. But that still begs the question, how did I know what “outcomes” to chase?
Think about your own job, right now. How do you know what you need to achieve? Of course, someone is coming up with a direction for your team or service that you deliver. If not, you might be in a position where you’re the one to decide that. You’re effectively seeing the gaps in the team, organisation, or platform. It could be knowledge/skill, capability, or something else. Once you’ve found what the gaps are (and every team and organisation has them) you can start designing a solution with them. You’re a TAM, so you don’t sell anything, nor do you need to. Chances are they have all the tools they need, but they need someone with experience to guide them. You’ll also get customers where they know full well what they want and your job is to help execute. Both are great!
That’s what a TAM does. That’s what I do. It’s not some bullet points on an underwhelming datasheet or over-hyped slide deck. We embed ourselves as members of your team. We feel the pressures you feel, the deadlines, the politics (sadly), the outages, and Sev 1’s. All of it. But, and this is critical, we work incredible hard, every day, to make sure your organisation is better today than it was yesterday.
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