The longer I spend on the value added reseller(VAR) side of the house, the more I realize this job isn’t for everyone. If you stop and think about it, it can be downright depressing at times due to the following reasons:
1. Your schedule is dictated by the clients. This very rarely will align with your own plans of how your week should go. They’re paying for engineering services and that means you have to meet their timelines and their outage windows. Sometimes that is late at night in the middle of the week. Sometimes that means working on the weekend. Most people in IT are used to some odd hours. It’s kind of hard to make changes to a network when the users are on it. However, when you have to work for multiple clients, your schedule can very easily be consumed by late nights and weekends.
2. Travel can be exhausting. Planes, cars, hotel rooms, and lots of meals in restaurants. Quite often, you’re eating alone and skimming e-mail or processing an implementation plan in your head while you consume the same bland food you have eaten at a dozen or so other locations.
3. You very rarely get to focus 100% on something. There are always other projects in the mix. Whether it is a pre-sales deliverable(The very large VARs separate the pre and post sales aspect.), or just a client that you need to follow up with on a past or future project, you always have to juggle multiple clients.
4. You manage clients and vendors. Sometimes the two are in sync and this isn’t a problem, but often, the client has certain expectations, and the vendor has a different set of expectations.
5. Everybody is in sales. I’m an engineer. I am not a sales person. However, plenty of times a client will ask about a particular product or vendor that has nothing to do with the project I am currently working with them on. I need to be familiar with all the vendors we sell for and be able to at least get the ball rolling when asked about those things. You’d be surprised how much extra business can come about just by listening to what the client is asking and getting the right people from your company involved. That’s where the “value” in value added reseller comes into play.
6. You can’t avoid the politics. As much as I would rather not get involved in corporate and vendor politics, it is unavoidable. My cardinal rule, to quote Patrick Swayze from Road House, is to “be nice”. I’m human, so I have my days when I am grumpy or curt with answers, but generally try to be accommodating when it comes to working well with others. I have friends at most of the other local VARs and vendors, and friendships come before any logo I wear on my shirt. There are tactful ways to disagree with competition without having to trash them. I also try not to pick sides when it comes to the politics within a corporate environment. I’m there to perform a specific function and not get involved with their own internal issues. There are times when the local IT staff at the company you are working with don’t want you there. Maybe they feel threatened by your presence, or maybe they happen to be more capable than you and feel like you are a waste of money. I can assure you that I have no desire to take some person’s corporate IT job at all. That’s not what I am there for. I am also very aware that I am often not the smartest person in the room. Plenty of times, I am there just to work on a project that the internal IT staff doesn’t have the manpower to get done. I’ve mentioned to people numerous times that they’ll probably never see me again after the project is done. I find that helps to break the ice with them once they realize I have no interest in working them out of a job.
7. Sometimes you don’t know the answer. There are times when you ride in on your horse and save the day. There are also times when you get pulled into a problem or project and you get in over your head. As long as you are willing to say “I don’t know”, it tends to work out for the best. Having an internal group of good engineers that you can bounce ideas off of or ask questions, is a great thing to have. I leverage my co-workers plenty of times. I also leverage the vendors since they tend to know far more about their products than I do.
8. You won’t win every deal. Sometimes you spend hours and days putting solutions together and the sale doesn’t happen. That’s life. You can’t win them all. I like interesting projects. There are quite a few of them in the past few years that I was really excited about, but we just didn’t get the business from the client on that deal.
9. You have to keep track of your time. On the engineering side, my company doesn’t get paid if I am sitting at home playing video games. They make money when I am doing billable work. I have to keep track of how much work I have done for various clients and report that in a timely manner. If I don’t, we can’t bill for it. If we can’t bill for it, or the billing is delayed because I failed to keep track of my time, that’s revenue that cannot be accounted for.
10. You have no network of your own. That sounds weird, but if you have spent any time on the corporate side, you have a network of your own to work on. You get familiar with it. You know where all the bodies are buried, so to speak. You become attached to it. At least, I did when I was on the corporate side of the house. I don’t have a network of my own working for a VAR. Also, because you have no network of your own, what a client chooses to do on theirs really isn’t your concern. You can give advice, but understand that a lot of times, you just have to bite your tongue and do what they ask, even if you don’t agree.
I’m laying out the negatives, because I think anyone who is considering working for a VAR needs to go into it with their eyes wide open. Let me tell you the positives, because I think they outweigh the negatives.
1. You get to see some cool stuff. I’ve been in plenty of environments where I thought the people there were lucky to have that job. Whether it is the type of work they do as a company, or just the sheer amount of hardware they get to work on, I am often amazed at the type of work companies are doing and the type of equipment they are using to get it done. I love to come home and tell my kids that I got to work with a company whose name they recognize or with some system that did something really neat. Factories, trucking companies, hospitals, entertainment venues, schools, etc. All of them have interesting things going on, and for a little while, I get to experience that. I’ve also traveled a fair amount to places that I probably wouldn’t go to in another job. There are some exceptions with corporate and vendor gigs, but as a whole, you’ll see more as a reseller.
2. Experience. Any IT job is going to give you experience. On the VAR side, you’ll get to see it from a whole different perspective. How often do you swap your core switches or upgrade your wireless network in a corporate environment? We do it all the time on the VAR side. That means you’ll get to see a lot of installations and upgrades over the course of a few years that someone in a corporate environment might only see a few times in their career. You’ll get a lot more “scars” faster. You’ll also learn what works and what doesn’t because of those “scars”.
3. Freedom. I don’t sit in a cubicle. I work from home when I can. On any given day, I might go to a handful of different places and meet with a bunch of different people. There are times when I am on site with a client for a week or a month and sit in a cubicle to perform work, but that is not the norm. I don’t have to fight rush hour traffic regularly either. I can get more accomplished in a t-shirt and shorts with some VPN credentials working out of my home office than if I were to fight traffic for 2 or more hours a day getting to and from an office.
4. Networking. You meet lots of people. Lots of them. For all the people that are active in social media on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc, there are many more who aren’t. The only way you meet those people is to go see them at their place of work. I get to do that regularly. While I always try to evangelize when it comes to the awesome technical resource that is Twitter, not everyone wants to do that. There are plenty of smart people you will never meet unless you happen to work at the same company with them. Being able to work with a lot of different companies allows me to do just that.
5. Industry perspective. Working with vendors as a reseller is a bit different than on the corporate side. It’s just a different relationship. I would say it is a more open and honest relationship. It’s not that the vendors are out there lying to customers. It’s just that they shield you from a lot of the sales-type discussions that go on. It is fascinating to me to listen to vendors and VARs strategize on how to make the sale. For the record, my experience has not been one of “salespeople are liars and looking to trick you into buying something”. From the VAR perspective, it’s quite the opposite. If you burn a client to make a sale, it will probably be your last one with them. Plus, clients talk to each other. Bad news travels fast.
Like I said in the title, this job isn’t for everyone. Some people have spent time in the VAR space and didn’t like it. Others have made a career out of being on the VAR side and won’t ever do anything else because they would miss it too much. If you like variety and a good challenge, it just might be a good career move for you. It can also be a good launching pad into the vendor space. It’s a good middle ground between the corporate side and the vendor side.
For a lot of people, they like the continuity and stability of a corporate job. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. For others, they prefer working for a vendor. That’s a different set of challenges, and since I have never worked for a vendor, I wouldn’t be able to speak in an educated manner about that side of the house. Whatever your preference, as long as you are aware of the pros and cons, you can make the best decision for you. If you have thought about making the leap over to a VAR, make sure you talk to several different people who live in that world and ask for honest feedback before taking the plunge. It can be very rewarding career-wise. I definitely don’t regret it. I’m happy to have a conversation in person(location permitting) or via phone, e-mail, Twitter, etc or can point you to some other people that do this kind of work for a different perspective.
I also want to point out that a few of my Internet friends have started an IT career focused site here: http://thetechinterview.com that has some REALLY good content.
For some additional VAR reading, see the following posts: