I often get into career discussions with Engineers in the IT industry about the comparative benefits of working for either a Vendor / Reseller or working for End Users. Having worked at a Reseller for more than 10 years, and now having worked for End Users for the last six or seven it is becoming clear what how wide the gulf is between these two broad career choices. I have often struggled to find a suitable analogy that adequately explained the difference and explain the differences.
Syntax – Generalisations and Groupings
For this Blessay I am going to group all jobs to either Reseller or End User to make it possible to write. I accept this is a broad brush, but
Reseller – I will use the term Reseller to cover both Vendor, Consulting and Reseller companies as a general term. I regard Consultancy as Resellers, since they merely ‘resell’ the knowledge or experience of their staff, possible with a process attached.
Vendors – refers to manufacturers such as Cisco, or various consultancies that provide professional services only. For most roles, the profit motive remains string.
Although there are engineers that work for vendors that do purely internal work, such as coding or design, they have limited interfacing with customers and aren’t part of this article.
End Users – The consumer of your goods and services. Reseller/Vendors use the term Customer or Client.
Working Life at Resellers
As an engineer at a Reseller, I would typically work on a range of different technologies. A reseller needs to cover a lot of ground in knowledge and experience to be able to meet an End Users needs. This is because every End User is, at least, slightly different to another, and usually very different. A reseller also has good access to vendor resources such as training material, documentation, better support access and probably relationships with key people.
As a reseller, you only make money by selling something (anything) to your End Users, therefore you need enough ‘breadth’ to be able to offer a solution and possibly make the deal. That breadth might be a selection of vendors, or a wide enough range of technologies.
In short, a lot of technology, at limited depth balanced against varied experiences.
Working Life at End Users
Compare this with the working life of an engineer at the End User. You focus on specific and relevant systems that apply in your workplace. You will spend a certain amount of time applying solutions in addition to your technical requirements. You have context, situational awareness, and understand the business need / problem and work to solve problems.
End users have access to technical support, but often at a lower level than resellers, and broadly, less access to technical support.
The Art of Parenting your IT infrastructure
When I think about the differences between these roles, it struck me that there are strong analog between the different ways that a Doctor and a Parent works with a Child.
If you can imagine that your IT infrastructure needs constant care and attention, feeding, dressing and education in a similar way that a child does, then you can imagine that an End User is like a Parent. A Parent feeds a child every day, gives them hugs and support, and guides them down a path for life.
An End User is constantly tuning, guiding and working on their Infrastructure in a similar way. By focussing on that one child, that one infrastructure, you can nurture according to the path that your business needs. Its a continual process.
The Reseller is more like a Doctor. Occasionally, a Parent needs to turn to external source for intervention, maybe for a medical event, or for specialist advice or something outside of their experience. The Doctor provides specialist, technical and abstract support or service that helps to address problems or resolve issues.
A Doctor isn’t committed to the Child like a Parent. But the Doctor has some skill, or experience, or technology that can help to improve the Child. Maybe health, or life services, but their intervention is short term, specific and specialist.
But a Parent has to live and work with that Child everyday. They know it’s temperament, and how it will react in a given situation. It’s a very different role.
Choosing to work for a Reseller or an End user ?
For me, the choice to stop working for Reseller’s came down to simple comparison. While working for a Reseller, life was exciting and moved at a very fast pace. I learnt a lot of technology really quickly, and experienced a lot of different marketplaces. In one week I could work for a bank, a warehouse and retailer and handle multiple different technologies. It’s stimulating, challenging but didn’t fulfil my need to build the whole system and maintain it. And it’s all about making a fast and fat profit margin, which ultimately was not satisfying.
I missed the opportunity to build, and grow, and work on a project all the way until it ended. It’s reasonably rare that Resellers get to implement and maintain a system. And designing for operational excellence is what we all claim to do but, in reality, Resellers get to do very little operational work and thus can’t really understand it. The profit motive still exists for an End User, but it’s very different because we can focus on real operational costs, including the hidden ones, and make gradual changes over months and years.
What do you choose ?
Like all life choices, you need to think about your personality, and what you want from life. Working in the Reseller community can offer travel, and change, and excitement. But you rarely get the satisfaction of seeing something work and the pressure to make a profit margin is enormous.
The End User has a more predictable path, slower moving but with a lot more involvement of people and processes. And a real focus on delivering business outcomes instead of profit can be a lot more satisfying.
It’s a Choice You Make
That’s why I think it’s career choice that similar to the difference between how a Parent and Doctor looks after your children. Both are necessary, both equally committed, and both with important skills, but with very different viewpoints on what’s important and on what is a success. I suggest you keep this in mind when you make your next career choice.