Hi, Mark Morowczynski here again, in a previous post, http://blogs.technet.com/b/askpfeplat/archive/2012/01/16/how-to-become-a-premier-field-engineer-pfe.aspx Greg Jaworski, a fellow transactional PFE, touched on how to become a PFE and defined what a transactional PFE is and a dedicated PFE. If you recall transactional PFEs don’t have specific customers they always see and dedicated PFEs tend to be assigned to 1-4 specific customers. Also our work is classified into two categories, proactive (think along the lines of health checks, workshops and chalk talks) and reactive (there is a service outage or something is not working properly). Today I’m going to give you an overview of what it’s like for a transactional PFE based on questions I routinely get from customers, friends, and family.
“Do you go to a different customer every week?”
Generally yes. We see a lot of customers and with that their environments. This provides us with great insight on a how a product is used depending on a variety of factors. The size of the company, their industry, their business requirements and the history of the environment all play a role in how a product is deployed and used today. It amazes me still how creative Microsoft customers are in designing solutions and with that comes some very “creative” issues.
“Do you ever go back to the same customer twice?”
Absolutely! Many times a PFE will build up a relationship with a customer and frequently go back. They are familiar with the environment, how the customer works and what their overall goals and challenges are. Depending on your skill set you may go back to the same customer but to a different team within that customer. I’ve personally worked with a customer’s AD team as well as their desktop team on two completely different engagements.
“Do you always have to go on site to help customers?”
Nope, PFEs often provide remote support as well but not in the same way that CTS does. Whereas CTS tends be in a break-fix scenario we tend to help in a guidance scenario. For example, “We have some general questions around raising our domain and forest levels” or “We wanted to start doing X and we wanted to bounce some ideas and make sure we are heading in the right direction.” This type of remote support tends to be 1 to a few hours in length.
“Do you always know how to fix what’s wrong?”
Of course not, though we generally have a good idea on where to start. Having a good and deep understanding of how things are supposed to work really helps troubleshooting a problem you’ve never seen before. We also have an amazing internal support network of PFEs and of course all of Microsoft who are extremely helpful if you are really stumped.
“Do you have an on-call rotation?”
For the most part, we do have times were we are dedicated to respond to any “CritSits” which are basically Severity 1 or Severity A cases. We can be called for those even when we are not designated as well.
“How much do you travel?”
We do some traveling; some of us do A LOT of travelling. This is probably one of the most common questions I get asked. “How much traveling is there really?” The answer like all Microsoft answers is, “it depends”. Where do you live? What technology are you supporting? How much do you want to travel? If you live in a fairly major city, support a widely deployed technology and do not want to travel, you generally find customers that need your help close by. However if you want to do some traveling there is plenty of opportunity for this.
“Where do you get to go?
Generally you try to stay in your region if you are US based, (West, Central and East) but timing and availability of customers and PFEs can have you traveling all over the US. Personally I’ve gone as far east as Miami and as far west as Alaska and lots of places in between so this is not a hard and fast rule. International travel is a rare exception. We will try to get a non US based PFE to answer how the travel is for them shortly. Update: Carlos Mayol Berral (who is a PFE out of Spain and will write some blog posts for us in the future) lets me know that being based out of Europe generally means you cover the entire region.
“What are the perks of traveling?”
Perks include, airport delays, dealing with people who travel once a year, lost luggage and bed bugs . Now for the good stuff. We do also get to travel to some pretty amazing places as well. Hawaii, and Caribbean islands. Personally I enjoy going to different major cities and seeing the sights if I have time. We do get to use our airline and hotel points as we personally see fit. So that’s a plus as well.
“How do you keep track of all this it seems like there is a lot going on?”
Planning and controlling where you are going and what you need to do is one of the most important things as a transactional PFE. We beat this into all new hires by saying “control your calendar don’t let your calendar control you”. Knowing where you need to be, what you need to do for past and upcoming customers can get overwhelming fast.
“Do you get training?”
Yes there is plenty of classroom and on your own study. We actually require that PFEs spend 3 weeks of official Microsoft training per year to keep their skills sharp.
“Are you married to your job or are you allowed to have a personal life”
Work life balance is a huge and constant topic among PFEs in general. You can have a personal life you just have to plan for it, seriously. Controlling your calendar is the number one way to do this. If you don’t allow any free time and want to go from customer to customer the job will most certainly allow you to do this. However we do not recommend it as that is how you’ll get burned out.
That is pretty much it in a nutshell. We spend a large amount of our time on site face to face with customers. There is generally some pre and post work required for each customer as each engagement is a bit different. If there are any questions you’d like to ask please put them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.