Why a Programmer Must Have Sales Skills

Have you ever had a great idea and pitched it only to have it ill received? Then later you found out that your idea is being implemented and the credit has gone to someone else?

This probably raised frustration or even anger within you.  Perhaps they stole your idea and in their ego-centric ways decided to steal all the glory for themselves.  How could they?!

Or perhaps there is another side to this.

Recently I brought up the idea to the my team that perhaps we should consider setting our focus to certifications, but not programmer certs but rather system certs... you know.. Security+, Network+, Oracle Administrator, that type of thing.  Our core application is a Java application that is hosted on Solaris servers.  Our contract has strict requirements for any one that touches those systems.

My pitch went something like this:

Me: "Hey, now that our development efforts are winding down and much of the work load is on the SA and DBA side what do you all think  about considering system admin certifications?.  It would help us with our knowledge and it would also make us more valuable to the project.".

There were a few other good reasons that I mentioned, but rather not go into all those details.

Two of the members quickly responded positively to it.

"Certs? We don't need no stinkin' certs!"

One of the two members pointed out that he had pitched the idea of certs a few weeks prior and we turned the idea down.

That conversation went something like this.

Me: "What do you all think we should consider for our next set of lunch and learn sessions?"

Team member 2: "Maybe we should target certifications?"

Me: "Ooh... I don't know I'm not crazy about anymore certifications.  I'm not sure there is enough 
return on investment".  

This was in the context of the countless hours we spent previously prepping for the Java 7 certification.  I assumed he was referring to Java 8 or Java 9 certifications.

Team member 3: "No... I don't really want to do certifications either."

Team member 2: "OK... it was just a suggestion...but never mind"

So when he reminded me about that conversation, it hit me.  He gave up too quickly.  He didn't elaborate on his idea.  His idea was good but he did very little to sell it.  I had long forgotten his pitch.  Perhaps I stole the idea without realizing it.

"Features Tell. Benefits Sell!"

A good friend of mine and former Sears hardware salesman, once told me me "Just remember Fernando, features tell, benefits sell".  I've never been a professional salesman in my adult life, but that phrase has stuck with me for about 16 years.

My team member didn't elaborate on the benefits.  He didn't pitch his idea.  In our minds we hadn't the slightest idea at the time why any certifications would be a good idea.  A programming certification is almost meaningless (in many developer circles).   Endless hours of studying only to be tested on obscure and mundane ways of programming that no one would never use in the real world.  On top of that there are many good test takers that have those certifications but are not such great programmers. Sure, you gain some valuable knowledge along the way, but for all the minute and obscure nuances that you must memorize, it is hardly worth it.

A certification as requirement to actually do your job is totally different, specially when it's a topic that you should know but are weak in.

It's a requirement and regardless of your knowledge you are not getting on the system. That's a pretty good reason to get it.  The idea also that, since security is becoming such an important concept, relative to software development, much of that knowledge will be very useful for us developers.

Perhaps I should have seen how good an idea it was when he pitched it. Or maybe, at least I should have provide a fair opportunity and followed it with "tell me more". But... I didn't. I got trapped in my own little world of immediate priorities and failed to see the bigger picture. I am human.

So we as programmers, techies whatever you want to call us, have products to sell.  Our products are ideas.  We must be prepared to make our pitch and be able to persuade.  Not persuade for the sake of persuading, or persuade to get accolades, but persuade because we believe our idea is a good one.

We know our idea is good, so we must be prepared to lay it on the table for closer scrutiny, and demonstrate it.

And if our idea doesn't stand the test of scrutiny, at least we can say that we contributed responsibly. We collectively discovered whether the idea was good or bad.  But at leas we considered it closely. But if our idea is really good... well... we all win.


So always remember that your ideas are your product and no one knows your product like you do.

So get out there and sell! sell! sell!


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