How do you know when it is time to leave your job as an SE?

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When you are hiring at a rapid pace you find yourself having similar conversations over and over.  A key tenet of my hiring philosophy “Is the company a fit for what the candidate wants both in the short term and in the long term?” This conversation inevitably leads to
“How do I know when it is time to leave my current role/company?”
This is a complicated issue.  As a hiring manager I am asking a candidate to take a leap of faith and change how they spend 60 hours a week and how they support their family.  If you are looking to hire top talent chances are that they are a high performer at their current company, are well compensated/appreciated, and have an extensive network of friends at work.  Those are difficult things to leave behind and you want the new team member to be all in on your company.

Standard Reasons

Most leaders have read the book First, Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and his excellent data driven explanation of why people leave a company:

  • Your Manager
  • Stopped Learning / Challenged

However, I find that these are not as common with Sales Engineers.  Typically if an SE doesn’t like their manager there are a number of other teams that SE could go work for inside their company.  SE are valuable resources whose impact often has visibility up to the CEO and leadership will intervene to keep the person on board.  Second, it is nearly impossible for a top SE to stop learning.  They are naturally curious and driven.  They will find new industry trends to study, dig in on the next product release, etc.  I am not saying the above reasons never apply to an SE and why they leave – it is just rarer than normal.

Specific Reasons – SE

Old-vs.-New.pngSales Engineers are different than many roles in a company.  Their primary value is in the deep (often tribal) knowledge of their company’s products and how to get things done cross functionally.  It is less about their industry knowledge and pure sales skills.   SE derive their self worth via the reputation and respect they get from their peers.  It takes an SE years to accumulate this knowledge, professional network, and respect .  When they change companies they start at ground zero and it can feel like taking a major step back.   They are also more risk averse than a sales rep.

As a result a top performing SE will only leave a company due to:

  • Organizational Changes:
    has the entire company changed their approach and it doesn’t jive with the SE’s own internal beliefs.  Are they being asked to do something completely different than they have before, i.e. handle post sales, be a consultant, work on deployments, etc.  Is the Company having layoffs or down sizing?
  • Lose Faith in Technology:
    SE are passionate about their product lines and have passion on where roadmaps should go.  That is why they are so hard on their product management teams.  Imagine being an SE selling on premise servers and you can see the industry moving towards cloud computing yet no matter how hard you try your company will not adjust to tackle that inevitable technology transition.

With all of this said,  I will admit I am amazed at how long top SE’s will hold on through round after round of layoffs or would rather be the industry expert on Mainframes or TDM Telephony vs modern solutions.

Specific Reasons – SE Leader

Trust-In-Your-WingsAs detailed in SE Leaders – We Are Falling Behind much of an SE Leader’s value is in navigating their current company’s hierarchy and processes.  Changing companies means losing a large part of your value add.  After speaking with numerous SE Leaders who have switched jobs recently, including myself, the following two factors have emerged.

  • If you perform to the best of your ability – are you in a position to be successful?
    As much as SE leaders hate to admit it, we are supporters and multipliers of other functions.  We don’t build products (Product Management & Engineers).  We don’t carry legal quota (Sales Reps).  We aren’t certified to practice law (Lawyers).  We can’t do acquisitions or open hiring requisitions (Finance).   However, we make all of those functions better.  So what happens if those functions are weak and you don’t see light at the end of the tunnel that they will improve.  Talk about being in a tough situation. You could do the best job of your life and be guaranteed to fail.  That sucks.
  • Trust
    One of the key value adds of an SE Leader is their ability be a trusted advisor to their customers but also to their internal stake holders and executive team.  What happens when an SE Leader provides feedback on the product line or organizational direction and instead of debating and agreeing to disagree the SE Leader is instead viewed as ‘not on board’ or ‘just doesn’t get it’?  Or when an SE Leader is working cross functionally and they gain agreement on action only to find out later it was lip service only and the other groups don’t follow through.  That sucks too.

What Are NOT the Reasons

  • Money – Compensation: mediocre or poor SE will leave for money.  Excellent SE rarely have this issue.  They are well compensated and appreciated.  If for some reason they are not compensated well and tell their company they are leaving it is amazing the rapidity an organization will move to rectify that.
  • Sales Rep Conflict: almost always their current company will realign that SE to a different territory or make them a ‘swing player’ until that can happen.
  • Accounts, Territory: if an SE doesn’t like the market they are in – see “Sales Rep Conflict”

Net-net if an SE is a top performer a company will move mountains to fix the problem.


An SE and SE Leader’s primary value and self worth lies with their company and their product set.  It takes A LOT for them to leave.  Hopefully the above factors provide areas to compare your current situation against.


Oh… and if you are feeling any of the above factors apply to your current situation, I am currently hiring both SE and SE Leaders 🙂


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