A solutions engineer is a specific type of sales engineer, found almost exclusively in the computer hardware and software industries. They need to be experts in the technology they work with, and able to design tech-driven solutions for customers; help sell their solutions to the customers; implement the solutions and then usually provide or oversee support, once the technology is up and running. This could include anything from computer network installations to customized software development.
Depending on the company and on the specific role of the solutions engineer, you may work either in sales, post-sales support, or a combination of both. This includes going on discovery calls with a sales rep to meet prospective clients; generating solutions based on the prospect's needs; and presenting the solution to the prospect. Once the sales is closed, it is likely that you will oversee or assist with delivering the solution to the client and then supporting the client throughout the service period - over the phone, via computer or at the client's premises. Often, traveling across the country or anywhere in the world is a requirement for these positions. Working long hours and on weekends is also a requirement much of the time.
The key to being a successful solutions engineer is to understand thoroughly the technology you are working with - including its design and implementation - as well as being able to explain the technology to lay people. You should be adept at documenting technology solutions in precise detail, while also being able to summarize it in a brief slide presentation.
A third aspect to a solution engineer's success is being able to build rapport with clients, from C-level executives and managers to the support staff, all of whom will often need to buy in to your recommendations before these recommendations can be implemented.
The majority of solutions engineers work with computers, software and related technologies, so a degree in computer science, or in a related field such as electrical engineering is often required. However, many employers will forego the degree requirement, if you have demonstrated expertise in your field, such as software development or computer network administration. For some positions, training and certification from manufacturers and software companies like Cisco or Microsoft can be more important than having a degree. Technology is constantly evolving, so regardless of the specific position, keeping yourself updated on the newest technology is paramount for a successful career.
The vast majority of solutions engineers work in computer systems design and in related services such as software development, network implementations and security. Currently, similar occupations in other business sectors, such as general manufacturing, are called sales engineers. Regardless of the position's title, computer-based sales engineers currently account for approximately 13,500 jobs in the United States.
Years of Experience and Salary
In 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the median income of solutions engineers and of those with related titles in the computer industry at $108,230. This means that half of these people made more than this figure, while half made less. To get a job as a solutions engineer, most employers require that you have at least two years experience working in your field.
Because solutions engineers are often paid commission on sales in addition to salary, the more experience you have with an employer, the more you will be able to earn, because of ongoing purchases from satisfied clients. To give you an indication of the earnings potential, the top 10 percent of sales engineers in all business sectors earned more than $162,740 in 2016, according to the BLS.
Job Growth Trend
The demand for solution engineers and other sales engineers is expected to grow by about 7 percent over the next decade. The BLS anticipates that the need for engineers involved in the sales of computer software and hardware to remain very strong, as this is a sector that's continuing to grow. Those who specialize in computer systems design and in related systems should expect a growth rate in these positions of about 20 percent. Many of these jobs will be through independent sales agencies, such as value-added resellers, rather than from manufacturing companies.