James Van Kessel
I was born/grew up in: Born in Yorkton, Saskatchewan, but really grew up just north of Toronto (Newmarket/Queensville), Ontario, Canada
I now live in: Newmarket, Ontario, Canada
I completed my training/education at: University of Toronto at Scarborough, Bachelor of Science, Computer Science with Specialty in Physics
What I do at work
My job is basically about making customers happy with our technology in any way needed so that they can pay for and use Google Cloud services. I’m not an Engineer, despite the name - it’s an industry term for the “Technical” part of a sales team (Sometimes also called a Solutions Engineer or Sales Engineer). I get to work with lots of different technologies: Virtual computers, Databases, Machine Learning, Containers, Networking and Security are just a few. My team includes: - My Sales Rep, who takes care of business details (new opportunities, Pricing, Business leader meetings); - Other Customer Engineers who help me with technologies that they know better than I do; - Professional Services who take my solution designs and builds real solutions with customers using Google technologies.
The process I go through, getting a customer from an Idea to running on Google Cloud looks like this:
- My Sales Rep and I talk to people to identify a Business problem we can solve.
- We gather details: What is the business problem to solve? How big is the problem? How are you doing it today? What does Success look like?
- I design a solution using documents and Diagram tools like draw.io or Lucid Charts to explain how their needs are met by our technology. I may get help from other Customer Engineers here.
- I help the customer see the Technical benefits of the solution design using: - Presentations to tell the story (using Slides); - Demonstrations of parts of the solution; - Proof of Concepts (like a demo of the solution that the customer can use to try things themselves).
- When the customer is happy with the technology, My Sales Rep works with me on pricing the solution (how much it costs, how much we can discount it, and how it’s cheaper than the alternatives, etc.).
- Once the customer decides to use Google Cloud, we give solution details to Professional Services teams (in Google or Partner companies) to help them build it.
- Once it’s built and running, I continue to help the customer, solving technical problems that come up and looking for the next Opportunity to use Google Cloud to solve a Business problem
My career path is
In High School, I loved Science and Computers (especially coding!). I believed I would find a job writing software, maybe even video games. I went to University for Computer Science (with some additional Physics and Philosophy courses). In High School and University I took Co-Op programs (paid internships for the summer organized through the school) that allowed me to work for companies and see what those jobs were like. I found that I enjoyed and did well at “Architecting” computer solutions: Taking requirements and planning how to solve them (and testing parts of them hands-on!). Although I started looking for Coding jobs after University, my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) convinced me to take a job doing Solution Architecture in a company that I did a Co-Op term with and I’m very glad I did that. Being a Customer Engineer required that I be good at technology AND talking to people about it, and I found I became very good at both working at that first job. It led me to being a Customer Engineer. I changed technologies that I specialized in a few times (Network, Security, Data Protection and now Cloud). But the most important skill across them all was actually not just technical; it was communication: Making technical things easier to understand.
I am motivated by
Solving problems with technology is the most exciting part of my job. When I can get hands-on with great tools and a real problem to solve, I can spend hours happily working away to build and test a solution. It’s very satisfying to create something. I also enjoy telling a great story about how a solution improves things for the customer. When I really understand something, it feels good to be able to explain it to someone and “see the light go on” when thy suddenly “Get it”. This can be more challenging than technology because you have to think about people’s perspectives - what matters to each person who will see it - and help them see why it matters to them. It’s really worth it when you can connect the customer’s needs to something you have designed for them
How I affect peoples’ lives
I like working with technology and when it helps someone, it’s very fulfilling. Often people don’t know about something new that could make their job easier, and as a Customer Engineer my job is to help them see how their jobs and lives could be better. As an example: Many of my customers need to keep their systems running 24-hours a day. If the systems fail, they miss out on sleep, time with family, vacations, etc. Moving to Google Cloud can make their systems more reliable and easier to manage so they have less impacts to their personal lives.
Outside of work I
I really Enjoy Karate and am currently training for my black belt test - it’s been a goal of mine to one day learn a martial art and get to Black Belt. I started a fun project with my Karate Sensei to make a Mobile App for learning Karate and that is really enjoyable as well (hands on tech with a problem to solve: perfect!). The rest of my time is busy with my two sons at their activities like Baseball, Hockey, Karate and Skateboard lessons, and if I have time left, I enjoy some Video Games (Legend of Zelda, Star-wars Battlefront, Mario games).
My advice to others
Start early trying things - don’t wait until you’re “done” school because you really will never stop learning. These days you can take free online courses or even just tutorials on tech that interests you, find out if you enjoy working with it and even create some great things before you finish school. Then focus on people: Get a job or hobby that involves talking to people. For example, I was a Teaching Assistant in university (this helped me remember my own material while finding ways of talking about it to other people), and I worked in retail at Staples selling computers.