Khizar Sultan, Senior Director of Solution Engineering, has spent the last five years helping to build OneLogin’s solutions engineering department. In this profile, Khizar breaks down the role solutions engineering plays in the tech ecosystem. He also shares how OneLogin’s supportive culture has been an essential ingredient in helping him reach his own professional goals.
You have been with OneLogin for over five years. What is your favorite part of working here?
The company culture remains to be the main reason I have stayed at OneLogin for as long as I have. No matter what we go through as a company, the environment has always been very positive and supportive.
The culture is also very employee-centric. I enjoy my life after work. I don’t want to just be a workaholic and the company culture here has always given me the freedom to work how I wanted to. There are great benefits and programs that support work/life balance and diversity. In the grand scheme of things, these are the things that matter.
Do you have a story that embodies the OneLogin ethos and values?
My growth and career path is a direct reflection of the values we have at OneLogin. It is part of the company’s values to be collaborative and give people a career path. Over the past five years, I feel as though I have been able to grow alongside the company. OneLogin doesn’t just hire managers from the outside. They look for talent opportunities within. That means I have had an equal opportunity to grow into the position I am now.
Not only have I been able to grow my own career and expand into more responsibilities, but I have been able to support many members within the sales organization. I have been able to help them flourish in their careers as well - and to me, that has been very important and fulfilling.
“OneLogin doesn’t just hire managers from the outside. They look for talent opportunities within. That means I have had an equal opportunity to grow into the position I am now.”
Did you always want a career in the tech industry?
I did! I grew up on the East Coast where it isn’t as tech-focused. I had thought I’d be working on more traditional engineering-type work like Computer-aided design (CAD). I had always dreamed about moving to Silicon Valley after graduating college, but getting to the West Coast was the initial challenge. It just wasn’t clear on how I was going to get there, but luckily I just so happened to get a job in New Jersey and they needed someone on the West Coast. It still took a few more years before I could get a job at a proper software or tech company, but it has been a great experience since.
How did you make the switch from being an engineer to a position in sales? How are the two related?
It happened naturally. I didn’t know roles like solutions engineer and sales engineer were available. When I was graduating college, I did a senior class project, and I realized that I was the least shy person on the team. I learned that presenting, explaining and organizing teams was a strong suit of mine.
One of the judges of the project was a VP of Sales and told me afterward about the job as a sales engineer and I applied. A job as a sales engineer is someone that works on a sales team and helps sell a technical or complex product. It’s a natural extension of an engineer that also carries some more customer-oriented skills. Sales engineer is a very popular job here in Silicon Valley. We sell complex tech solutions, and when we sell it, the people who are buying it need a lot of information, proof of confirmation so there is a vital need for a solutions engineer.
“As a solutions engineer, you’re someone taking a box of tools then applying it to a challenge that a customer has.”
How would you describe Solutions Engineering? What types of qualities/background do you look for when hiring for your team?
Solution engineering is one of the most fun jobs at a tech company! You get to be a big part of the sales team, so you are enjoying the challenges and wins of that team/department. You are also a big part of the product and support organizations, helping solve complex problems and building new solutions based on customer feedback.
When looking for new sales engineers, outside of being a technical-minded person, we look for strong communication skills that showcase the ability to explain complex things into something easy to understand. Alongside customer services and presentation skills, someone needs the ability to solve complex problems and think outside of the box. You’re someone taking a box of tools then applying it to a challenge that a customer has.
In terms of background:, it helps if you have prior engineering experience. I have people on my team with a business or psychology background but they are technically-minded. Sales engineering is more of a people and problem-solving job.
You are an accomplished sales leader. What do you think are 2-3 essential ingredients to being a successful sales leader (especially in security)?
I think some of the best advice I can give for a sales engineer, or even an account engineer for a technical and security product, would be to be curious. You need to spend time learning about the prospects’ (or clients’) challenges.
My second piece of advice would be to focus on working with customers. You have to remember that everyone’s challenges are unique. You have to learn about the ins and outs of their business and why they may be having those challenges. How have they tried to solve that particular challenge in the past? To help solve these problems, you need to focus on basics with simple, easy, and concise solutions.
Not only is the solution important, but presenting to the customer is also important. This is where the “people skill”, or the sales, aspect of the job come in.
“The bosses that I have had have all been very collaborative. By putting their best practices in use, it has made me a great manager and helped me develop professionally in the way that I have hoped to grow.”
What aspects of sales do you wish more people knew about?
When you mention sales, people think a lot about traditional sales, like selling cars or something at a store. What’s unclear to many, is that all software/tech companies that are here in Silicon Valley all have massive sales departments. Someone has to sell that software or product that the company creates. Oftentimes those sales teams include sales, solution engineers, development representatives, and customer support managers. The team is likely even bigger than the product and engineering teams. It can take a lot more people to sell than to create.
We’re often one of the biggest arms of the company. When we can secure a big customer in sales, that’s what helps a company grow, accelerate and continue to build.
What is your first piece of advice to a new member of the OneLogin solutions engineering team?
My first advice is to focus on the basics. You need to try to understand the reasons why people buy and use solutions like OneLogin. Really think and understand the types of use-cases we solve for. Once that becomes clear, the rest of the technical features and functionality become easier to understand.
What is the best career advice you have received?
One of the main pieces of advice I’ve learned is to worry about the things you can change. I think it’s relevant with the situations we’re in today. The stuff you can’t change, don’t stress over it. I can’t change the coronavirus, but I can change my reaction, plan and strategy._ _
What is your favorite resource for your own professional development?
I have been fortunate in that I have worked with a ton of inspirational leaders. I have had past managers that taught me a lot about how to build and grow teams. When I came to OneLogin, I came with the hope that, because it was a start-up, I could be part of the growth. I could manage my own team and grow the solutions engineering department. And this is essentially what I did over the last five years at OneLogin. Along the way, the bosses that I have had have all been very collaborative. By putting their best practices in use, it has made me a great manager and helped me develop professionally in the way that I have hoped to grow.