in Chef, Information Technology

From Product Management to Product Marketing

I start 2018 in a new role at Chef, as director of product marketing. Five years is a long time to work at one software company, never mind a startup. I find I have to constantly reinvent myself in order to not get bored or complacent.

Prior to coming into product marketing, I’ve worked at Chef in professional services, engineering and product management. Now is the time for me to not only help with sales enablement, analyst and press relations, customer-facing materials, and so on, but to also learn how to build a high-quality sales pipeline. As someone who doesn’t hold an MBA but someday might want to start a company, these are critical skills for me to develop.

If you’d told me roughly 15 years ago when I first started my career in technology that one day I would be working in marketing, I probably would have laughed at you. In fact, around 2003 when I first started blogging (originally hosted on USENIX’s blogging platform!) I wrote a few critical & admittedly slightly misogynistic posts about marketing at which I now cringe. But the same factors that annoyed me about marketing back in the day are what impelled me to become a product marketer today. There are few people who can cogently and succinctly explain complex technical concepts to an audience of both technical and non-technical folks, and also why the technology matters. Since I can do these things, I should help fix the problem rather than sit on the sidelines and complain. Let me give you some context.

Prior to working for a software vendor, I was a user and sometimes a buyer. My frustration at marketing arose from encountering two predominant types of marketers. The first were ones who had no idea what they were talking about and saw their job purely as sticker-and-t-shirt givers (and lead collectors). Worse, though, was a second kind of marketer: ones who knew what they were talking about but positioned and marketed their technology in ways that I thought completely undersold their value. Sometimes this is a result of engineering & product management (the “how” and “why” of a solution, respectively) reporting into a separate silo from the folks who describe the solution to the market. For example, Microsoft’s groundbreaking Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) — which allows for unmodified Linux ELF binaries to be run on Windows — is a technological achievement with huge ramifications for application developers as well as for the future of the operating system. But unfortunately, Microsoft has seen fit to market it solely as “Bash on Windows” or “Ubuntu on Windows”, totally underselling both the feature and the implications. It is these mistakes that I want us to avoid.

Turning now to Chef: the basic concepts of Chef’s solutions – including the open-source projects, Chef, Habitat, and InSpec – can be understood in an afternoon. But it still takes a user the better part of several weeks, exercising these technologies against sophisticated, real-world use-cases, to comprehend their true value. I’ll be working directly with customers and users to distill common patterns down to re-usable solution briefs. And, in order to make sure there’s a good connection between what we’re building and how we’re explaining it to people, I’ll still be involved in informing our product strategy. This is particularly important as we look forward to ChefConf 2018 and beyond.

Happy New Year, and I promise I won’t become the engineer-turned-marketer referred to in this Dilbert cartoon.