Why should you choose a channel career?

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As a teenager embarking on A-levels, I am wondering what to do with my life. The question is whether or not this industry is something to get excited about

Let me start by introducing myself. I am 16 years old and have recently completed my GCSEs. In September, I will start my A-levels, which includes studying computer science. My future is ahead of me and I wanted to know why the channel should be somewhere I should consider as my destination. To get an idea of why it might be good to work in the channel, I asked for the opinions of people across the industry who have already built careers in the channel. Their responses gave me plenty of food for thought.One of the things you want to hear about any prospective career is that it will not be boring – that people won’t be coming into the office and spending their time opening emails and checking their watches to see when it’s lunch or time to go.

So, my first concern is: would the channel be an interesting place to work?

A sense of every day being different in the channel is one that has kept Ali Hastings, regional channel leader at Avaya, convinced that she made the right decision in building a career in the industry.

“When I was just 21 years old, I chose technology over insurance and have never looked back,” she says. “Technology is never the same, it’s always changing, giving you the opportunity to adapt, grow and shine on a daily basis. It never stays still, it’s always full of variety with no two days the same.”

Those feelings are echoed by Laura Atkinson, chief partner officer at SAP UKI, who also views the channel an exciting place to work. “For over 27 years, I’ve been in and amongst the channel, working with partners in both managerial and sales roles, and I’ve loved every minute,” she says.

“In our fantastic ecosystem, no two days are the same because no two partners are the same. Each partner brings a different perspective, challenge or objective to the table and it’s up to us to find the right solutions, problem-solve and work as a team to align innovation with their goals.”

“The channel is fast-paced and always delivers a learning curve”

Laura Atkinson, SAP

Atkinson adds: “The channel is fast-paced and always delivers a learning curve. It craves diversity of thought and experience, and a zest for relationship building, because that’s what allows us to overcome difficult briefs, establish relationships and provide market-leading solutions. If you are passionate, creative and enjoy working in a team, the channel is for you.”

The idea that the channel is continuing to evolve is one shared by Antony Byford, managing director at Westcon UK&I, who also wanted to work in an industry that was constantly changing.

“I remember spending the better part of six months trying to work out what I wanted to do,” he says. “I wanted to learn a new skill, I wanted to be part of a team and I wanted to have fun. I was so lucky in the 1990s to find a company in the channel that ticked all those boxes – in this case, it was in IT distribution.

“Even then, the relevance of technology to the market was significant and today the opportunities are even bigger. The move to cloud technologies is accelerating at pace and there is a serious shortage of skilled people across multiple disciplines, including sales, project management, professional services and technical support.”

Byford’s decision to leave a job in the hospitality industry and go for one in distribution is something he does not regret and he is keen to promote the opportunities that working for a company like Westcon can offer.

“In distribution, you can learn fast, learn on the job, earn good money and really build a long-term, fulfilling career,” he says. “Twenty-six years ago, I started as a rookie and today I lead a multi hundred-million-dollar business.”

Channel is evolving

As well as the tech landscape constantly undergoing changes and improvements, the channel is also a market that is changing. I have heard acronyms such as MSPs, MSSPs, Sis and expressions like “value-added reseller” and that also seems to make the channel different from other industries. Is that really the case?

“I’ve been in the channel since I was 22, so a little older than 16, but I’ve been in it for over 30 years and I love the channel and I’ll tell you why,” says John Atchison, head of global partner marketing & programmes at Versa Networks. “If you like to work with people and you like to help them to be successful – I have the privilege to be able to work with many different types of partners.

“When we talk about the channel, we’re talking about different types of roles. You know we have managed service providers [MSPs], we have independent software providers [ISVs], which I really focus more on the software side, OEMs or resellers. The needs of each of these partner types is different, so you get to learn what drives each of those different partner types, and so for me that was the exciting part. It wasn’t just one type of audience that I was working with.”

As well as all the different partner types, there are different activities, such as talking through marketing plans with partners and attending events and quarterly business review meetings, says Atchison.

“The diversity of activities that you’re engaged in with a partner is what keeps me, even to this date, super motivated,” he adds. “That’s the reason I continue to do it. It’s a great area to be in, and I’ve never felt like there was ever a shortage of demand for the type of roles that I do. So being in a channel sector, to me, is a really great area.”

A typical day in the channel

Although it’s been hard to have a typical day during the pandemic, Rob Billington, channel manager, EMEA at Netwrix, describes what his day usually looks like in normal circumstances.

“In terms of why I would recommend the channel as a career opportunity, I would have to say variety,” he says. “A typical day for me often starts early with conversations with my Australian colleagues. I then follow the clock through JPAC and the Middle East, spend my afternoons with Europeans and Africans and end the day with my colleagues on the West Coast of America – an entire globe’s worth of travel crammed into a single day.

“What do I do in these meetings? I discuss topics covering sales, of course, and opportunities. I give and receive education on new products and partner programmes, I discuss legal contracts, lead negotiations and, of course, drink lots of coffee.

“Outside of Covid, I have travelled the world and met some great people, as well as worked with inspirational leaders and have built professional relationships over the last 25 years that are still in place today.

“At Netwrix, I chose to follow someone I worked with 15 years ago to become part of brilliant new project and enjoy the enthusiasm and energy of working with a number of old colleagues and friends.”

There seem to be plenty of different roles that someone entering the channel can choose and that is also an attractive feature of the industry for Camilla Currin, channel account manager at Trend Micro. “The opportunities in the channel are boundless – technical, end-user sales, partner management, marketing, operations, research and development, HR and more,” she says.

“The key is to choose an industry that excites you, one that has growth opportunities in the market and one that is constantly evolving. Then look for a role that suits your abilities. Don’t be put off by anything too quickly. You just need to have the passion and drive to learn and progress – the opportunities are there for the taking.”

The positive from being involved with an evolving market is that the chances of finding skills learnt at the start of a career not being updated are quite low.

“Changing business models – such as SaaS [software-as-a-service] subscription models and marketplaces – are disrupting traditional partner models, creating new partner types, opportunities and partner ecosystems,” says Alison Hodivala, EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) partner director at IPsoft company Amelia. “The challenge for organisations is having people who can recognise the opportunities to co-innovate and create additional value for clients.

“As an area which is increasingly dynamic and of strategic importance, the opportunity to build knowledge and skills to future-proof your career are immense. Managing the partner lifecycle relies on a broad range of skills, both technical and soft, and provides the opportunity to gain experience across sales, marketing, enablement and operations.”

Building relationships

What it seems to come down to is people and an ability to get on with others and form relationships. Angela Whitty, managing director of Cisco’s UK & Ireland partner organisation, views that as one of the main things once you strip back the different types of partners and roles available across the industry.

“Ultimately, it’s all about relationships, and while the technology is obviously important, successful channel businesses are also fundamentally about people,” she says. “The opportunity to build contacts and grow both professionally and personally is immense, and there are many ways in. You can join as a school leaver, right the way up to a C-suite level.

“It is important to know that you don’t necessarily have to be a tech expert to get involved in the IT channel – sales, marketing, customer support and relations are all in demand. Businesses find solutions to their problems thanks to the channel, and it can be very rewarding being able to have this kind of impact.”

Amanda Adams, senior director, European alliances at CrowdStrike, believes that if someone has the right personal skills, then they can go far in the channel. “A career in channel management is heavily based on strong communication and relationship-building skills and would be a great fit for those who like to focus on building and executing on a mutually successful plan with their aligned channel partners,” she says.

“For me, there is nothing more rewarding than establishing a new partner, gaining commitment on establishing and executing a clear plan, and seeing joint success driven with the partner.”

Good ideas

Some industries seem to let the bosses do the talking and new entrants have to follow instructions and have little chance to make a contribution to the business. What, I wondered, is the channel’s position on that?

Stuart Taylor, channel director, Western Europe at Palo Alto Networks, believes that anyone with a good idea in the channel can flourish. “We spend most of our waking life ‘working’,” he says. “If you can find something that you enjoy, that you want to do, that motivates you to be energised, it feels a lot less like work.

“The IT channel presents a lot of opportunities for individuals to achieve job satisfaction, fulfil their work ambitions and deliver a quality lifestyle. It offers a wide range of employment opportunities across different skillsets, so an individual can choose the path that best suits them and the areas they are interested in.

“Ideas are the life blood of the IT channel. The development of ideas and new thinking is encouraged, which is often refreshing to those that have joined the IT channel from another industry. Supporting a collaborative environment of thought, the three main core values of the channel are: inclusivity, diversity and sustainability.

“The channel honours the school of thought that not just one type of person has the right ideas, but that a mix of people that have diversity of thought and background actually delivers greater results. Working in the channel, you will get the opportunity to meet many people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and learn from them.”

Travel opportunities

So, if I’ve got great people skills, good ideas and am working well with partners across an ecosystem, will I get the chance to see a bit of the world and go to events and meet customers? That also seems to be something the channel is well known for.

Many of the comments from those working in the industry did mention travel as an opportunity to go around the world and meet other people at events, customer and vendors visits and with fellow colleagues in different countries.

“The technology channel has given me the wonderful career I have today, enabling me to grow my career, travel the globe and meet an amazing network of people, some of whom are now close friends,” says Avaya’s Hastings. “If you want to wake up fresh to a new challenge and new opportunity – join the channel and be inspired.”

“If you want to wake up fresh to a new challenge and new opportunity – join the channel and be inspired”

Ali Hastings, Avaya

Palo Alto’s Taylor also talks about the chance to travel and go beyond the office as a positive reason to join the channel. “You may also get the opportunity to visit places and experience cultures that you may not have been given the opportunity to,” he says. “The IT channel is also focused on creating a world that is safe and well for future generations.”

Andy Martin, vice-president of global partner sales at Pure Storage, also mentions the opportunity to learn about people and places. “What the channel gives you are the opportunities to work with a variety of different companies, different partners and different cultures, particularly if you happen to be in a global role,” he says.

“The channel really gives you a broad spectrum or a view into an industry that is pretty exciting and also gives you the skills to go into many different areas.”

What is becoming clear is that a life in the channel should be exciting, full of opportunities for career development and should give me the chance to see a bit of the world. But if you were stuck with me in a lift and had just a few moments to promote the channel, then what are the impressions you would try to leave with me?

Why the channel?

I know that no job is for life, but will I be replaced with a robot in a few years’ time? Will technology and services be sold by other people? Can you give me some guarantees that I will have a long career?

“At a time when choosing a career can seem like a serious gamble, I’m confident in the channel,” says Westcon’s Byford. “So many businesses in our market offer apprentice and graduate schemes, so don’t ever be afraid of jumping in at the deep end. The channel is a community and there are so many people willing to help you to succeed and accelerate your career.”

There are also numerous jobs in the industry, offering the opportunity to find a role that is rewarding, and providing chances to be promoted and develop different skills.

SAP’s Atkinson also wants to talk about the impact the channel has on other businesses and the ability to help shape the futures of customers and others in the ecosystem.

“Choosing a career in the channel will give you an opportunity to make a real difference,” she says. “You’ll work with companies on both ends of the growth scale – well-established global institutions or new startups with a great purpose and proposition. Either way, it’s incredibly rewarding seeing how your ideas, management and close relationships can have a real impact on business performance and bring success.”

Crowd Strike’s Adams is also acutely aware that the channel has the chance to make a real difference. “Channel management also offers individuals the opportunity to make a tangible difference by aligning and supporting sales and marketing efforts to provide successful outcomes for our customers,” she says.

But the final word has to go to Rob Billington, channel manager, EMEA at Netwrix, who paints a very attractive picture of what a life in the channel could look like.

“Working in the channel starts as a job, becomes a career and ends as a network of people that you trust and enjoy working with,” he says. “I consider myself lucky to have tried a few things before coming into the channel – cricket, acting, I’m a qualified chef, dabbled with the idea of being a lawyer, worked as part of, and leading, direct sales teams, but it’s channel where I feel most at home.

“Every day is a challenge and every day is different. My go bag and laptop bag are always ready by the door with my passport in the front pocket.”

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