For the first several years of my career, I worked for a smaller technology reseller. These types of organizations are often known as value added resellers, or VARs. The role of a VAR is to combine their expertise with some technology they sell in a way that solves the challenges of their customers. The expertise a significant part of the “Value Added” portion of the value added reseller equation. Having now seen the benefit this type of employment provided individually in my career, I wanted to share several reasons why I think working for a technology reseller can be used by others as a career growth tool.
Some types of organizations, such as a large call center, may hire primarily entry-level technical resources. These organizations may provide their employees access to a knowledge base, some scripts to walk through with their customers and a lean tier 2 support staff for escalation. Conversely, other organizations may hire only very high-end engineers.
An interesting difference with VARs is that they fill almost every role imaginable and therefore employ a wide variety of skill sets and experience levels. As these roles are vacated or the workload increases, they look for help. Regardless of whether an individual is new to the technology field or they are a seasoned professional, there are often employment opportunities available for those who take the time to look for them.
There is no denying the fact that experience in technology is extremely important. Most people, when thinking about learning opportunities, are envisioning instructor lead training and conferences. While some resellers may invest in their employees this way, I wouldn’t always expect that. Resellers have a business to run and the time of their employees is actually one of the products they are marking up and selling. Therefore, the expense of formal training has to be carefully considered in the value it will bring to the table.
With that being said, the reseller environment is a tremendous opportunity to learn and experience new things. In many cases vendors that are represented by the VAR offer special partner training and product updates. These are often free and may either be online or in a regional office. This type of training can be a valuable source of learning and much easier to justify to the employer.
For those fortunate enough to land in an environment that has a few professionals that are willing to share their knowledge, mentoring can be another avenue of learning. In those cases I would make some recommendations for the one being mentored. First, he or she should do everything possible to help the mentor. He or she should also ask lots of questions, but should take the time to listen first. It is also important to be aware of the fact that mentoring is an investment for the mentor and the organization. The mentor could often quickly do what they are showing the junior tech how to do. The reward is that over time these tasks can be offloaded some and efforts can be focused on other areas. While these tasks may have been small or repetitive for the mentor, they are a learning opportunity for the junior technician being mentored.
The final learning opportunity in this environment is independent learning. While working for a reseller, it was a regular occurrence to find myself doing something for the first time. In some cases I had a few days notice. When I was aware of an upcoming project that was outside my area of expertise, I would research it to the point that I was conceptually comfortable with what I was supposed to do. If possible, I would lab up the scenario to confirm my understanding.
Individuals need to recognize the cost challenges associated with training and realize the potential of other learning opportunities around them. Those highly successful in technology are often very curious. This entails the individual continually asking and answering “Why” and “How” until concepts are fully understand. The combination of this curiosity with potential mentoring and vendor training can be very beneficial. Going the extra mile to educate oneself is truly where the “clock punchers” and those serious about technology go their separate ways.
Relationship building has an undeniable value in the context of any career. While working for a technology reseller, there are three main types of relationships that are established. The first type of relationship is with your peers and co-workers. These co-workers will often have different roles, skill-sets and level of expertise. As an employees of the same company, the personal attributes of the individuals should complement one another in a way that provides value to the organization and its customers.
The second type of relationship that is often built in a reseller environment is relationships with the employees of vendors. Depending on the solutions being sold and serviced, this could be individuals who are part of companies like Cisco, Juniper, Microsoft, EMC, and many others. These outside individuals also have other relationships similar with competing companies and are often acquainted with customers.
The final relationship, and the one most important to the employer, is with customers. In many cases there will be a contractual non-solicitation clause that the customer signs to prevent them from negotiating employment with those employed by the VAR. How this is enforced depends on a lot of factors, but is irrelevant to many ways these relationships may be used in the future. The employer’s relationship with the customer is a business to business relationship. While working together, individuals form relationships as well. These individuals move around over time and may ultimately work for companies without contractual obligations to the original VAR. When they have employment needs, they may reach out to those who they’ve worked closely with in the past.
Having built a solid relationship with lots of individuals in the industry can be nothing but beneficial. Whenever I get out in my local technical community, it is amazing how well everyone knows each other. Many regional technical communities are really not that big. Over time, these individuals will move into other roles with other companies. Building and maintaining these relationships will provide many points of contacts into various organizations that will be beneficial over time.
While working in a VAR environment, especially a smaller reseller or one that deals with a lot of smaller business, a technician find themselves wearing a lot of different hats. For example, an entry-level technician making a call to look at a printing issue may also be asked to look at a connectivity issue. Therefore, even those who have the luxury of focusing on an area of technology may find themselves working outside of their comfort zone. Even though it may be outside their expertise, I often I saw the same individuals working on things like network devices, security, wireless, system administration, desktop support and solution design. This exposure over time, helps build a well-rounded skill set and provides a basis or context for future specialization.
I also had many cases of emergency calls that were what some people would consider “trial by fire”. In those cases, I just done what I could to understand and solve the problem. Often after a call or misdirected project was over, I would do further research or experimentation to understand something that didn’t behave as expected. By being curious and combining this exposure with the opportunities for learning in a reseller environment, the experience an individual can gain is substantial. Not every VAR works on this breadth of solutions, but many do.
The final way that a reseller employment opportunity may be beneficial is the flexibility it can provide. Many of the other items discussed reflect the diverse nature of the VAR environment. The business model of the reseller is to bring solutions together in a way that solves business problems. The diverse nature of this environment creates a lot of different roles. Depending on the size of the organization, this may be lots of different people with lots of different roles. Alternatively, it may be a few different people wearing a lot of different hats. In both cases, there is often an opportunity to take on many different types of challenges.
Beyond the flexibility of moving around in an organization, a reseller should also be looking for new ideas. An employee can conceivable pitch an idea and perhaps create a new product or service line. The reseller should be interested if it aligns with their customer base, appears to be viable and aligns with their business model. How effectively this can be done depends on the size of the organization, the trust level between the employee and employer, as well as the attitude of the leaders. If the organization is receptive to this type of thinking outside of the box, it could provide the individual with new and interesting opportunities.
Those of us in technology recognize the need to learn and feed our thirst for knowledge. While working for a technology reseller is a lot of hard work, it may provide many growth opportunities. This article outlined 5 reasons a job seeker may consider working for a reseller. Since each reseller is a little different, mileage may vary from one organization to another. Some of the points made here may be more or less relevant in a specific environment. A well-informed job seeker may probe into some of these during the interview process to see if an opportunity aligns with their goals.
Since technology resellers service many different needs, employment is often available at all levels. The opportunity to learn, build relationships, gain exposure to other technologies and participate in different roles may be more prevalent than in other types of technology jobs. Those maximizing these types of experiences and applying them to their technical career over time will certainly find themselves growing and being presented with rewarding opportunities.