In the past I was a sales engineer and then ran a team of sales engineers. In my case, I was selling and demoing software rather than hardware, but it was similar to what durableman said.
When I was hiring, I always thought of my hires as needing to be very good at three things in order to win deals:
Have the technical chops for the job.
The technical details means that you understand the underlying technology, you know how it works in our product, you know how it works in our competitors products, and you know how to integrate our products into our prospective client’s products. Junior hires might only be technical or have a little background in our products.
Have a deep industry understanding.
If you’re selling products to plumbers, having a history in plumbing gives you a massive advantage. You can talk about common complaints of plumbers from experience. You know all the little things they hate, the things that are easy, the things they say about their bosses, etc. You know what is changing in the market, what they wish would change, and what promises everyone has said for the last 10 years that your boss wants you to say now too even though you can’t deliver either. This applies equally to software, routers, oil field products, or really anything. A deep understanding of the industry is a huge advantage.
The ability to sell.
If you’ve proven you can sell other products, it would signal to me that you have a good mental model of what a successful sale looks like. In some industries there is only one person you talk to, convince them to buy, and then pull out a credit card to buy. In other industries, you have to get 37 people to sign off on the deal over 18 months. Knowing how a deal is going to play out, what you need to do to convince everyone, what to say at a given time, how to ‘hide the elephants’ you don’t want to discuss, where to play dumb, when to be the expert, etc is a set of skills that take a long time to hone but are very transferable.
I knew that if I could find someone with 2 of the 3 then I could teach the other one. I can teach you the industry if you know how to sell and know our tech. I can teach you the tech if you know the industry and sales.
From that perspective, my advice to you would be to get a deep understanding in some application of ML. Do you care about how ML applies to marketing, consumer data, predictive analytics, next best action recommendations, etc? Then learn everything you can about marketing. Do you care about how ML applies to autonomous vehicles, robotics, or IoT? Then get good at ML in distributed systems, low-power ML, sharing of models, learning across multiple agents, and how the automotive industry works, the robotics industries, warehousing systems, logistics networks, etc. Go find the trade magazines for the industries (https://www.inboundlogistics.com/cms/index.php for example) and read about them. I promise you’ll be the only applicant actually able to reference in-depth knowledge of your industry straight out of school. It’s an advantage.
Here’s my quick process for how I’d get a job where you are:
- Pick 2-3 industries you find interesting.Read their trade magazines regularly. Read the last 2-3 issues if you can. Get to know the industries and then stick with it.
- Go find every variation of sales engineer, pre-sales engineer, solutions engineer, solutions consultant, pre-sales consultant you can find. Look on indeed.com, ziprecruiter.com, angel.co, venturefizz, startups.jobs, hired.com, etc that are related to those roles. Start by filtering down to anything mentioning ML/AI in the industries you care about. Don’t apply to an ecommerce product if you care about robotics. Apply to all of the jobs that match. Every single one of them. But don’t just do it in mass – be focused, have good letters explaining that while you know you’re brand new you think you’d be successful in their specific company because of x,y,z reasons that apply to THEM, and then follow up with each one. Call them 4 days after you apply. Call again 3 days later. Email the person you think is doing the hiring (ie, director of sales engineering or solutions consulting or whatever the title is). Ping them on LinkedIn or email them directly.
- Take whichever job you can get into initially. Work there for a year, then jump if you’re not making a lot of process. Now that you have ‘sales engineering’ experience, it’s a lot easier to get your next job.