Why every Software Engineer should experience working in Support

My experience as a Customer Care Engineer


5 min read

Why every Software Engineer should experience working in Support

Originally written in December 2020

I'm about to finish a 6 month stint, working in the EMEA team as a Customer Care Engineer at my company. I previously worked in an Engineering scrum team for 1 year. I can honestly say that working in the "global Care team" has been an enormously enriching experience, that I want to recommend to every Engineer out there, for the following reasons:

Boost your skills...

Develop amazing skills in communication and empathy

  • As the interface between customers and all other parts of the company, a huge proportion of the role is about communicating kindly, and effectively. These hard-won skills are completely transferable to all other areas of your life and career, and well worth working on.
  • You can't help but come out the other side of a customer emergency with renewed respect for those who can spin a company-caused outage as an entirely expected and painless network blip. :P
  • Get over your fear of writing emails, by writing 30+ of them a day to people who's first language is not English!
  • Likewise, phone conversations with people half-way round the world from you with a dodgy internet connection does wonders for clarifying your speech!

Become a product manuals ninja

  • Every other customer ticket is from some poor network engineer who can't find the info they need in our labyrinthine set of product manuals. It only takes a day or two of this to become an absolute manuals master. You soon realise that nearly every question you could possibly have about our product set can be answered by the oracle of the manuals system - great for if you go back into the Engineering org.
  • This is also a great crash course in skim reading, text summarisation and information extraction - never be fazed by a 300 page document again!

Be a jack-of-all-trades, as well as a master of some

  • Working in support is a fantastic opportunity to quickly gain a broad understanding of everything that happens in the company. You will be answering tickets relating to all the major product types you've heard of, and quite a few that you haven't! (there is also the opportunity to specialise if you want to).
  • Working in support is not just about troubleshooting problems. It's also about being an ad-hoc coach to customers, improving documentation processes, providing advice and consultancy on our products, planning upgrades, signing off on hardware replacements, representing the customer within the internal company, refining enhancement requests, dealing with emergency outages, understanding licensing, alarms, reboots, server models, various network protocols, IP architecture, and much, much more!
  • This role, more than any other, is focussed heavily on learning. New products and features are developed all the time, and customers are continually pushing the boundaries with what our product set can do for them, so there is always more to learn. The care team invariably has some fantastic learning resources, that the Engineering org could really learn from.

...and your confidence

Get comfortable with not knowing

  • When I started in support, I struggled quite a bit with "not knowing the answers", and this affected me in Engineering too.
  • The nature of answering tickets means you're often grappling with customer problems that haven't ever come up before, e.g. code bugs that have just been discovered in the field.
  • The sheer variety of customer issues means that you're very likely to work on tickets for problems that you have never encountered before.
  • You quickly learn that it's ok to not know everything, and develop useful, transferable strategies for figuring out the answer.

Learn to talk to anyone and everyone

  • The care role involves a lot more cross-company collaboration than lots of other roles. A lot of tickets require talking in depth to the expert support team, and you will also talk to customer account managers, engineers who only work out-of-hours, and support engineers from other regions in the world.
  • From savvy engineers in Northern France to clueless technicians in deep Texas, there are a lot of different customers who all need your help! Being the person with the knowledge and power to solve their problems is often very satisfying, and a great way to learn how to be comfortable interacting with all sorts of people.

    Feel like part of the company team

  • In support, a lot of the work can be done very transparently. The tickets you have answered are there for anyone else to view and use for future tickets. Often, the very first thing you do when answering a new ticket is check older tickets to see if any other customers have hit the same problem. When another care engineer has left a trail of the steps they took, documented meticulously and clearly, blessed be their name! There's nothing like this for engendering a sense of teamwork and collaboration. Every bit of work you do helps others, just as you are helped by others who have gone before you.

Gain job satisfaction

Every day is different

  • You never know what the day is going to bring you when you work in support! This is great if you love variety in your work.
  • In non-Covid times, there are also frequent travel opportunities... ;)

Fast paced

  • In a scrum team, it's hard to perceive the vanguard of technology when you're still writing code in C... But when you're on the company's front-line, you really do feel like you're in a cutting-edge company. Every other day, it seems like a new software version of one of the products comes out. Having that broader view of the product set, or the entire bug database (not just a sub-section of it), means you can see progress a lot more easily.
  • Questions can be raised and resolved in the blink of an eye! This is great for those who thrive on instant gratification, and helps with developing effective time-management and prioritisation skills.

Make new friends from around the globe

  • There are people in support who are genuinely now good friends with some of our longest standing customers.
  • Foreign language skills are a plus here! There will definitely be times when you will be trying to read diagnostics in Italian...
  • Become a citizen of the world!

Helping people = happiness

  • No explanation needed! :D

Cover photo by Neil Thomas on Unsplash