The career path to becoming a technical support engineer is not always straight and narrow. If you’re interested in the role or wondering if it’s a good fit, then you’re in the right place. We went straight to the source: asking our technical support engineering expert James Brown to share the skills required to be successful and what others may not know about the job description.
Greetings, James. Tell us about yourself and how you transitioned from non-support engineering to technical support engineering.
Hi, thanks for having me. Well, I’m no stranger to making large, obscure career jumps. I started out my career working in law, eventually transitioning into finance, and then did a complete 180 and started a healthy food delivery company.
The business did well and had one heck of a steep learning curve. This was my intro into programming and the wonderful world of startups. I decided to leave Los Angeles and move to San Francisco. I joined a bootcamp there and met an amazingly-talented group of people who eventually led me to Shippo and a full-time career in tech. I honestly can’t say any of this was planned, but I’ve been very fortunate to land where I am today.
In my free time, I like to buy and trade stocks. I’ve been doing that for more than a decade—it’s a lot of fun once you get the hang of it. I also am a bit of a trekkie and have a pupper named Sadie.
I’ll bring her to work with me every once in a while and love that Shippo is a pet-friendly office.
Why did you choose Shippo?
After finishing my bootcamp, I had the opportunity to work with a couple small teams and really get my hands dirty (i.e. break things). I had learned about Shippo’s API through a friend and got the same tingly, excited feeling that I had when I first used the Twilio API. It just made sense and I wanted to be a part of the team.
How is technical support at Shippo different than elsewhere?
What I love about working at Shippo is that I have full access to the codebase.
At Shippo, support engineers are given full access to the entire stack; all the way from the database up to the front-end.
In other technical support engineer roles, you can be restricted to just investigating software behavior and reproducing issues. At Shippo, I can dive into the actual code to root cause issues and either submit a pull request with the fix or escalate to the Engineering team for fixing. In this way, I have become really familiar with all aspects of our product, which is exciting for me.
I’ve been able to learn new technologies and languages that I wouldn’t have otherwise pursued if I had focused on only one area of our product.
What skills, tools, and characteristics would make an outstanding technical support engineer?
A willingness to learn and an obsessiveness to problem solve. The rest falls into place.
In your own words, what is the technical support engineer job description?
The primary focus of the technical support engineer role is cross-function and cross-team problem solving. As a support engineer, you are the primary interface between the user and development team. That means that the support engineer could be working with the CS team to help integrate the API, the product team to scope out ROI for a new release, and the engineering team to fix new or longstanding issues with the codebase.
Being the primary funnel between our users and the dev team carries a lot of responsibility. As a technical support engineer, it will be up to you to determine whether a problem is worth investing engineering resources, and so many factors can go into this decision. You also have the responsibility of determining when a problem will not be fixed—leading to disappointment for some. There’s a constant balance between what the user deems important and what we as a company can do to improve their experience.
What do you enjoy most about being at Shippo?
You have an opportunity to see something new every day. Shippo ultimately hires people they trust. You can structure the role the way you believe will be most beneficial, and they trust you will make the right decisions. It’s okay to try new things, fail, and try again. This creates enormous opportunities for growth and learning. A support engineer doesn’t have to focus on just one area—they will become an expert on all aspects of the product.
What’s next for Shippo’s technical support engineering team?
I’ve learned more these past (almost) two years about APIs, databases, code quality, and random obscure edge cases that users somehow discover, than I could possibly imagine. I will be taking on more responsibilities, stepping into a new role and leading one of our engineering teams. The truth is that our most important asset is our customer base. Knowing our users turns out to be a uniquely valuable skill; one that will affect all of my decisions going forward.