The case for client services engineers
Why I love working in client services
Ben Bayard | July 28, 2015
With the large number of businesses currently hiring in the tech industry, choosing where you want to work is not an easy decision. After five years in the client service industry, I have noticed that many engineers tend to prefer product over client service organizations. Although engineering at a product company or being a dedicated developer at an organization is a great job, I would like to speak about why I love working for client services companies. These are not mutually exclusive ideas; you can do some of these things in other types of companies. They just might be done differently.
Experimenting with different technologies
One of the fun things about client services is that timelines for projects are relatively short. New projects start after a few months, which excites me because I can try out that new framework or paradigm on the front page of Hacker News last week. Being in client services allows engineers to use something new, see how it works, and get it to production as part of their development process. I’ve also used this as a way to give myself personal challenges (e.g., make this website without jQuery; build this app with 100% test coverage).
Working on shorter projects also lets you work with more people—and thus, more varied—teams. Often the teams for different clients are structured toward what the client needs, which means you’ll have the chance to work with new people with different specialties. Some people on the team may not want to work on an Angular or React project, but are extremely enticed by a Swift project coming down the pipeline.
In every project I have done there was a mix of new engineers and project managers. However, I have also had an engineer or two who would stick with me between projects. This leads to personal development and knowledge of different skill sets to best support your team and client needs.
Making things millions of people see from the ground up
Team sizes for client services projects are relatively small. While you have the ability to work with all the engineers at your company, typically a team for a project will be fewer than 10 engineers. This means that if you’re building a new site for a client, there are entire portions of the site you can show off as something that is truly created by you.
One of the reasons that I fell in love with software development was seeing an ad on BART that had a link to a website I had just made and launched. Most of those commuters probably thought of it no differently than any other commute, but I will never forget stopping strangers and excitedly pointing at an otherwise mundane advertisement just so they could see a website that I made.
This is one of those experiences that client services enables you to have: creating a diverse portfolio means that much more of the world has seen work that exists because of you. Often on a new project, you have no stack, no tests, and a clean slate to begin. As a client services engineer the websites and apps we make often didn’t exist, in an appreciable way, until we made it.
Learning to solve problems efficiently
One of the challenges in client services is balancing the understanding of the customer’s stack and accomplishing your engineering goals. At first it might seem overwhelming, but over time and with more projects, this becomes easier. With more experience, engineering decisions start to become more natural, even when in uncomfortable or new areas. I learned quickly that the most important thing in client services is to never stop learning or wanting to learn. While true of other organizations, in client services expertise in several areas is required and getting there takes diligence and a consistent desire to learn.
Living and working with what you love
I love programming because I love learning new things and I love making new things. Most of all, I love that each and every day I get to come in to the office and share the things that I love with other people who are just as passionate about these things as I am.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”
Your job is a place where you will spend at least a third of your day and it is important to look critically at what you want out of it. Every person, manager, and office is different and there are many more things to consider over client services or product. I hope, however, that if you are looking for a job and a client services position comes around, some of the things I have mentioned here will stick with you.