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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

This Former Data Consultant Found the Perfect Role Where Tech and Sales Meet

Lindsey Novilla, a sales engineer at Alation
Lindsey Novilla, a sales engineer at Alation.
| Courtesy of Lindsey Novilla

Lindsey Novilla has always had a knack for tech and teaching others how to use it. When she was a junior in high school—in the days of the dial-up internet—she even volunteered to set up her classroom’s new desktop computers. “I taught everyone how to use them, including the teacher,” she says. “From that point, I knew that computers would be in my future.”

Today, Novilla continues guiding others on how to use new technology—only now she works with clients as a sales engineer at enterprise data intelligence solutions company, Alation.

Here, Novilla shares what her interview and onboarding experience was like as a recent hire, what she enjoys most about the pre-sales process, and why attitude is an important skill for a sales engineer.

Tell us about your career journey, and what inspired you to pursue a career in data science.

After high school, I left my hometown in the Florida Keys with a full scholarship to a small tech college in Tampa. Before graduating, I was offered a job at a small print shop as a graphic designer and webmaster (this is what we called a person who built and managed a website back in 1999). I had responsibilities that ranged from designing digital printer press plates to building starter websites.

From there, I spent several years in information technology (IT), working for engineering firms, financial institutions, and IBM. I started to focus my work in data, developing ETL (Extract Transform Load) data pipelines and building reports. As technology quickly evolved, I transitioned into data warehousing and business intelligence. I was eventually approached by a firm and offered a position as a data consultant, working with clients to solve data challenges as well as design and build modern data warehouses in the cloud. I worked my way up to data architect and practice manager, and I ran teams of engineers and architects to help clients migrate from legacy systems to modern cloud data solutions.

After years of designing and building data solutions, I decided to make the move into product and the world of modern enterprise data catalogs with Alation. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and I’m excited to see what the future of data will bring.

What attracted you to work at Alation?

When I was working as a consultant, I would consistently get questions about data governance and how it could be included in the modern data stack, which sparked my interest in a data governance solution like Alation. Since then, Alation has been at the top of my list of companies to watch.

When the opportunity to interview for a job at Alation came to me, I jumped at the chance. I knew that I would be able to use my consulting experience and technical skills to help clients understand how a data catalog works and show the value of implementing one as part of a data governance framework.

You joined Alation a little over a year ago. What were the interview process and onboarding experience like?

It all started as a conversation with Edward Avila, Head of Talent Acquisition at Alation. It was only supposed to be a 30-minute call, but it lasted over an hour. We talked about career opportunities, the direction the company was headed, and the incredible culture at Alation. I was immediately interested.

During the interview process, I met with team members from different parts of the organization, including customer success, professional services, and sales. Some of the interviews were casual and others were more technical, and by the end of the process, I felt completely comfortable making a move. It is one of the best career decisions I have ever made.

Onboarding with Alation was fantastic, and they put a ton of effort into the experience. I received a fun welcome package that included things like an Alation-branded backpack, water bottle, and T-shirt. I spent the first week in a sales bootcamp, where I learned everything there is to know about the catalog as well as the expectations for my new role as a sales engineer. I hit the ground running and was already contributing within the first month because I had all the information I needed to be successful.

What are you responsible for in your role as a senior sales engineer?

A day in my life as a sales engineer includes meeting with account executives to develop plans around opportunities with prospects and customers. I am also responsible for running interactive demonstrations of Alation to drive interest and highlight features and capabilities of the platform. Another part of the job involves running proof of values (POVs) with a prospect and their team, which generally includes installing, configuring, and designing a catalog environment based on customer use cases. This is an important step in the evaluation process to ensure that the solution will meet all the prospect’s requirements.

I also collaborate with other sales engineers on new ideas to highlight features in Alation. We’re always trying to improve how to showcase Alation and call attention to the value of implementing a data catalog.

And of course, the most unpopular job duty for a sales engineer is answering all the technical questions in an RFP.

What skills do you think are necessary to succeed as a sales engineer and why?

A sales engineer must be comfortable going into a meeting and confidently speaking about the product, explaining functionality and value (why you need this and what you will get back from your investment), and answering technical questions about the product. It’s really a combination of sales and technical skills, where both are equally important.

It’s crucial to be able to build relationships because this will help customers feel comfortable with the process and trust that this product is the right one for them. You will need technical skills to not only install and configure the software, but also explain how the catalog will work within any data infrastructure and explain things like how the catalog will connect to sources, data flow, and security.

The most important skill, though, is attitude. This job can be difficult and demanding at times and you have to be flexible and put in extra hours when needed. Also, you must be self-motivated to continue learning new features and functions as technology continuously evolves.

What do you like best about working in the pre-sales process with clients?

I truly enjoy building a relationship with every client, and I try to get to know them on a personal level. I also love the challenge of understanding their pain points and use cases, then taking what I learn from them to build out a solution. I’m also thankful for the incredible sales team that I get to work with at Alation. I’m surrounded by amazingly talented people. Everyone pitches in when help is needed to close a deal and it has created a culture that makes me feel like we all work together to be successful.

What has been your greatest achievement since you joined the company?

The greatest achievement was my first sale! I worked hard making the case for Alation by running demos and workshops, differentiating our solution from the competition, and answering what felt like a million technical questions. After all that, Alation was selected as the best partner for our customer, and that felt amazing. The best part is that they are a happy customer to this day!

The lessons learned from this process and the motivation I gained from it have continued to drive me to improve as a sales engineer.

Why is Alation an exciting place to work?

Data has evolved tremendously over the last few years and the need to understand “What data do I have?” has become crucial for organizations. Data catalogs have really stepped up to help answer questions like this. At Alation, we see the excitement from prospects when we demo our platform.