Cehrin Elyas spends a few hours each week with the imaginary characters she’s dreamed up. One of them is Donald, a 55-year-old man with dementia. Another is Mia, a support worker who cares for people like Donald and regularly takes him to get coffee or lunch.
Cehrin works in pre-sales at scheduling platform Skedulo, and Donald and Mia are two of the personas she’s built to help her understand her prospective clients. “I think of them like movie characters,” she says. “I put in lots of data relevant to the industries I’m pitching.”
If you’re unfamiliar with what someone who works in pre-sales needs to be like—aside from a burgeoning screenwriter—Cehrin’s got a 30-second elevator pitch that sums it up:
“You just need to be an out-of-the-box thinker, a problem solver, and a good storyteller. You need to be confident and curious and have the thirst to learn more. The other things will follow,” she says. “You don’t have to be technical. You can always learn that.”
The India-born, Australia-based Solutions Consultant sat down with us to unpack more about the field and what she loves about it.
The Art and the Science
Cehrin studied chemistry in college, earning both a bachelor’s and a master’s in the field. “I was interested in knowing what happened in the world around me,” she explains.
But she stopped short of getting a PhD because she realized she needed more interpersonal engagement.
“I had a light bulb moment where I felt I’m not meant to be confined within four walls, talking to chemicals,” she says, smiling. “I’m not that person. I needed to be around people. So I shifted my career path and I started again from scratch.”
Cehrin had been a leader in AIESEC, an international student organization, while in college, and had experience building a team. She applied for a role at a call center as a team lead, where that experience translated quite well, and later took a job at a SaaS company where she was in charge of communicating with clients after they’d purchased the product.
“It was post-sales, but it wasn’t advertised like that,” she says. In that role, she ran workshops, taking just-onboarded clients through the product’s capabilities.
When she came across a posting for a pre-sales role at Skedulo on LinkedIn, she was intrigued by the opportunity—and Skedulo’s work to support billions of deskless workers, including care workers and other healthcare professionals. Cehrin is especially passionate about work that impacts the disability sector.
“I enjoy working in that space; I understand the lingo, and I understand what goes on in real life, because I have friends and family who have encountered disabilities, or who work as carers,” says Cehrin.
“Solving problems for [care workers], making their life easier, is great work,” she says.
She applied and went through an interview process that included a role-play pre-sales presentation, which Cehrin enjoyed, and she got an offer.
Now, with some experience under her belt in an official pre-sales role, Cehrin can look back and see the connections between her original field of study and her day-to-day work.
“I come from a science background,” she says. “I know how to research my work. If you don’t know something in pre-sales, you go and look for it. That’s one thing I take from my degree that helps me every day: the research mentality.”
That being said, she’s certainly learning the importance of staying adaptable. “Sometimes you write a protocol to run an experiment. You know that if you follow it, these are the results you’re going to get. In pre-sales, you can apply the same methodology, but you need to tweak it a little bit. You need to add in your own flavor, otherwise it doesn't work.”
A Week in the Life—and the Skills That Support It
In any given week, Cehrin’s activities include:
- Doing 3-4 demos for prospects
- Meeting with the 4 salespeople she supports to better understand their expectations and needs
- Researching and updating her personas
- Staying up-to-date on Skedulo’s products via release logs, newsletters, and other updates
Across the board, she relies on her ability to be a good storyteller.
“You need to be able to make decisions on the spot. You need to have the presence of mind and the independence to work, because no one’s going to tell you what to do,” she says. “And you need to be able to tell a story. Understanding your client’s challenges and requirements is great. Knowing the product you’re selling is great. But the key thing is how you’re going to marry them together. It’s the art of telling the story in a way they’ll remember and that has an impact on them.”
That storytelling focus is why she thinks you can build technical expertise on the job in pre-sales. “If you’re worried about having a degree or a diploma or a certificate, don’t be,” she says. “I’m not technical at all, but I’m still in this space and flourishing. Experience is more valuable.”
For those brand-new to pre-sales, Cehrin suggests getting some baseline familiarity by listening to the podcasts produced by The Pre-Sales Collective.
“It’s very experienced pre-sales people coming and talking about how they went about handling a prospect, what were the challenges, and tips and tricks for pre-sales people in that space to implement in their work,” she says. “If you have the attitude to learn and be curious, you can be in this space.”
At the end of the day, what Cehrin most enjoys about her work is her ability to lean on all of her skills to bring people together. “I get to be the advisor, which I love,” she says. “The clients come to you, your salespersons are counting on you, and you’re driving the solution that’s best for them and for the client, making sure everyone’s happy. You just get all the attention!”
Donovan Brady knew he’d found the company he wanted to work for during the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
He was doing his first internship at cloud services company Logicworks, and his coworkers brought him to the dedicated conference room for watching the games.
“It was playing on a projector all day, everyday. People were getting work done and going to check on the scores in their free time,” he says. “I felt like I didn’t have to be just a cog. Logicworks truly embodied the value of ‘remember to always have fun.’ I didn’t have to wake up everyday not wanting to go to work. That was really meaningful.”
Now, seven years later, Donovan is the Director of Solutions Architecture at Logicworks and sees plenty more growth opportunities in front of him, whether that’s evolving the company’s diversity and inclusion group (for which he serves as chairman) or enabling his team to be more strategic partners to their customers. Donovan has come a long way from being an intern, and we sat down with him to hear more about his career path at Logicworks and his advice for others looking to make the most of opportunities in front of them.
Helping Technology Drive Business
As a kid, Donovan and his best friend Alan were big into video games. (Donovan still enjoys playing them; his all-time favorite game is Dark Souls, he says, because it’s extremely hard to play until you understand how it tries to trick you—just like life.)
Alan taught Donovan to program, and the two launched a business building computers and fixing Xboxes for their classmates. It sparked something in Donovan: “I decided that this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to start a technology conglomerate that’s going to combat Apple,” he says.
That dream stayed with Donovan until college, where he decided to study computer science and economics to build the core two skills needed for his business, but he quickly realized that other companies had filled that market. (Amazon and Microsoft among them.)
So he decided to pivot and find a role where he could apply his technological skills. His part-time job at his college’s career resource center meant he had an up-close view of the latest internships and job postings, and when he saw a role in cloud computing at Logicworks, he decided to apply.
“It sounded like that might be the direction the world was going, with ‘that cloud thing,’” he says. “So I applied. I had a giant afro at the time and I showed up in a suit. Everyone made fun of me [for being overdressed]—they were in sweatpants. But I had to look good!”
He got the internship (and wore the suit again for his first day—then put it in the closet until he became a solutions architect, but more on that later). His area of responsibility was network engineering, which he didn’t love. When he flagged that to his manager, she invited him back the next summer to try their DevOps and software engineering internship, which he did.
Immediately, Donovan knew he’d found his subject area. “AWS had just come out with Lambda, which was serverless technology and just mindblowing, game-changing stuff,” he says. “I was tasked with deploying our first Lambda function, and I felt really proud of myself for being a pioneer in this space.”
It was Logicworks’ commitment to his growth—listening to his interests and inviting him back for another internship that more closely matched them—that convinced Donovan to join Logicworks full-time after graduation.
In his career there, he’s found that commitment to continue.
First, it was with his coworkers and mentors, Dakota and Phil, who introduced him to solutions architecture. The company had just introduced the solutions architect role, and Phil was the first one to fill it. The combination of business strategy and on-the-ground technology fascinated Donovan.
“It seemed really interesting. Just like architects for buildings, cloud solutions architects design the blueprint for what a customer’s cloud environment is going to look like—they're the producer and visionary, and the rest of the team carries out that vision,” says Donovan.
He couldn’t get the idea out of his head, so he talked to a few mentors in sales about transitioning into a sales and delivery role, and eventually to the company’s CRO and CEO about the solutions architect skillset.
“That’s why I love Logicworks’ culture,” says Donovan. “Who was this 23 year old kid talking to the CEO about his career plans? But they all made time for me and gave me advice.”
Stepping into Leadership
Donovan ended up joining as the company’s third sales solution architect. The team’s processes were undefined and messy, so Donovan raised his hand to build clear deliverables and processes. That set him up to step into a team lead role about a year and half into his new role, which gave Donovan exposure to cross-functional strategy and prioritization.
Two years into that role, Donovan was asked to take on a director role.
“It’s still a learning curve, but if you’re not learning, you’re in the wrong place,” he says. “We worked it out so that it’s a player-coach role, so I can still work with customers doing the work I love, but also be intimately involved with my team and their opportunities.”
The best parts of each week, says Donovan, are his 1:1s with his team. “I love helping people and solving problems,” he says. “I have a great team, and creating opportunities for them and allowing them to succeed is really a highlight.”
Now that he’s also the chairman of Logicwork’s diversity and inclusion group, Donovan is extra motivated to keep making the company’s culture one that works for everyone. Current initiatives include running solidarity sessions that take place every other week for underrepresented employees to talk about things that are bothering them or to raise awareness of issues they face, and creating cultural learning opportunities to share cuisines, history, and art from different groups.
“Things happen in the world all the time,” says Donovan, referencing the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery last year. “That doesn’t mean that the world has to stop, but we should also acknowledge the current political and social climates and how they affect our coworkers with respect to their jobs. I wanted to create space for Logicworks employees to come together and discuss what they’re experiencing to raise awareness for those of us who are unaware of these struggles. I am a firm believer that the only way to grow is to grow together, and I wanted to facilitate that growth at Logicworks.”
5 Questions to Find a Company Where You Can Grow
Donovan’s internship at Logicworks grew into a return offer for another internship, then a full-time job offer, and then several promotions, all the way up to his current role of Director. As he navigated that path, he came up with a few guiding questions for other entry-level or new hires who are evaluating whether or not they see a long-term future at their first company:
- Do you like the culture? “Search for culture first. How do you fit in with the people, with the company, and with what they’re trying to accomplish?” he asks.
- Are they flexible when it comes to transfers and promotions? “Some companies say you have to stay in a role for four years before you can move,” says Donovan. “It’s very rigid and structured. At Logicworks, I said I wanted to do something else, and they said, ‘Great, let’s see how that looks.’ They’ve rewarded me for being hungry.”
- Are they on your side? Donovan was nervous to ask for a raise when he transitioned from software engineering into solutions architecture. “My heart was racing, and I didn’t know what to do,” he says. “I asked for a number that I thought was in line with the market, and my voice was trembling the whole time.” But Donovan’s manager took it seriously and told him they’d work it out.
- Are there people you’d want to learn from? Donovan has half a dozen mentors at Logicworks alone who have helped him determine his career path, and he encourages people to look for their own. “You need somebody you can turn to for advice when otherwise you’d just be alone in it. Find people in your corner that you can talk to and bounce ideas off of, because they’re going to help you go further faster.”
- Can you envision yourself succeeding at the company? “Don't be afraid to ask the hard questions in interviewing,” says Donovan. “You can ask, ‘What's it like to be a Black person at this company?’”
Insight from Elastic's Stacey King Poling
Stacey King Poling knows that tornadoes don't really sneak up on you.
Growing up in Texas and living around the west, including in Oklahoma, Stacey knew what to look and listen for regarding the powerful storms: the National Weather Service warnings, the emergency sirens, the regular instructions on where to go and how to protect yourself. All that preparation and advanced warning helped Stacey and her family live through the 2013 El Reno tornado, the widest tornado ever recorded, and escape unscathed.
If only burnout had the same warning system.
With a 25-year career in engineering, Stacey, who is currently the Director of Engineering for Cloud Productivity at Elastic, has worked on her fair share of high-stress projects. She loves solving hard problems and always found herself energized by them, even when they required long hours of intense effort. A few years ago, though, she started to realize that her energy and motivation were dropping.
A perfect storm of tons of work, a lack of personal boundaries, and a neglectful boss had been brewing, but Stacey didn't see it coming. She burnt out right into a layoff, and only recovered when her next job forced her into an office with clear start and stop times. When COVID hit and sent everyone back to their home offices, where work and life balances blurred, she was back where she'd started.
We sat down with Stacey to hear more about her experience, including why she decided to join the Elastic team and what she's doing there to ensure her engineers don't have the same experience she did.
Finding Her Passion—and a Way in the Door
Stacey knew she wanted to work in technology the day she saw the movie Tron. "From that moment I was like, 'Oh, that is my life. I need to be part of this. I don't even know what it is, but it's awesome,'" she remembers.
She learned how to program in BASIC on her parents' Commodore 64, eventually winning an award for her first video game, which she coded when she was in the seventh grade. She went to school to become a mathematician, but didn't have the money to finish her degree, so she started taking database and tech support jobs as she could find them.
"Not a lot of people wanted to give me a shot," says Stacey. "I had to push really, really hard, above and beyond anyone else in my peer group, just to get in the door."
After a string of temp jobs, she applied for a contractor position at IBM. She thought the interview went terribly, but when she got home, she had a voicemail informing her she'd gotten the job.
"It opened a whole new world for me," says Stacey, who got down to work and says that she automated herself out of a job within the first few weeks. IBM was impressed, and had her move over to their web team, which is when she got the infrastructure bug.
"I thought I was going to go into software engineering, because that's where all the glamour is, but I liked the infrastructure side much better. It is so challenging and hard. There's so many areas you have to understand, all different types of systems work," she explains.
She loved her manager at IBM and loved the chance to learn about automation and to push technology forward. Until, eight years into her career there—with not a day of burnout in sight—she was laid off.
Entering the job market was different this time around. With IBM on her resume, she had an offer in two weeks, and began exploring different roles. She did a bit of software engineering and confirmed she didn't like it, then did some systems and integration engineering where she got very into application performance monitoring. "I found a memory leak that was eating up enormous amounts of resources, and it was like, 'Holy crap, I'm good at this.' It's kind of like being a detective, and I really liked it," says Stacey.
She basically created a dev ops function before that function existed, going so far as to speak at tech conferences about it and winning an industry award—her first since the certificate she'd earned for her seventh-grade video game—for her contributions.
As her career grew and advanced, so did her responsibilities. Though Stacey had long been committed to staying an individual contributor, she started to absorb management responsibilities, too, taking on one team, then another.
She kept herself sane by rationalizing that the people she was managing didn't report to her in Workday. "I didn't have official responsibility over them. And there's something about the officialness of that responsibility that changes the game," says Stacey.
But that was just a formality: she was still in charge of hiring, firing, performance reviews, and capacity management. She also had a full plate of technical lead responsibilities to juggle alongside it.
It was just a matter of time until she burned out trying to do it all.
Backing Her Way Into a Burnout Diagnosis
"I'm a super workaholic, right? I'm passionate about what I do. I love it. I could do this all day and all night and be super happy," says Stacey. "That's why I didn't know I was getting burned out."
She paints the picture: Stacey was working her regular hours, which started when she woke up and ended when she went to sleep, which was never for long. She hadn't taken vacation in years, even when her mother was dying. If she woke up during her few hours of sleep, she'd decide to log on and get a little more work done, to push her team a little further along.
"I started getting really uninspired. My motivation levels were dropping. I know everybody has their off days or even weeks, but I wasn't picking up; this was going on for weeks," she says. "I knew the work was important, I thought the work was interesting, but I couldn't get excited about it."
When there was a round of layoffs at that company and Stacey's next role required her to be in the office, everything changed. After years of working from home and having little to no division between her personal life and the demands of her work, having to be in the office—and to leave the office—at a certain time each day shrunk her work day to a manageable eight hours.
"It really gave me the rest that I needed. I got a good routine going, doing workouts and getting my weekends back and seeing friends and family. It really refreshed me, and I didn't realize how important that was until hindsight," says Stacey.
Then the pandemic hit.
Back in her home office, Stacey found herself slipping into old patterns. But this time it was even worse, because she had just taken on teams and projects distributed between the U.S. and Shenzhen, so she'd stay up until late at night to talk to her team in Shenzhen, then hand things off to her counterpart there so she could sleep for a few hours before logging back on and picking it up again.
"I was so tired. I started seeing other people dropping like flies, and I was like, 'There's got to be a connection to why I feel the way I do and why I don't wake up and get excited about my work anymore,'" she says. "It's amazing how those old habits will come right back if you don't protect your time."
Why Elastic—and Stacey's 2-Step Guide for Creating a Healthy Culture There
Even knowing she was prone to burnout, Stacey couldn't stop herself from sliding back into it. Looking back on it now, she attributes some of that to the toxic management culture she had there.
"The CIO was the type of person that said sleep was for the weak and really was extremely demanding," she explains. "It would have been nice to have somebody who would set the example for me. So I wouldn't feel guilty [for not being online], you know?"
She knew that no amount of personal boundaries could change a toxic culture, and that it was time to change companies. She'd used Elastic's products before and liked them, and after seeing they had a role open on LinkedIn, she started to investigate their culture.
Their Glassdoor reviews were "outstanding," says Stacey, and she loved how their recruiting process gives applicants a chance to schedule time to chat with someone of a similar background at Elastic. She ended up talking to a guy named Dan, who had also spent time at IBM.
"I was like, 'Give me the real juice, you know?' And he was like, 'Seriously, I'd tell you if it wasn't, but it's a great place,'" remembers Stacey.
The cherry on top? Elastic's tech-first leadership. Part of why she burned out at her old company was because they didn't recognize the weight of being a combined people manager and technical lead—they usually divided those responsibilities, and Stacey was the odd one out for having both.
"But Elastic is a technical company first. They have demands and expectations that all of their leadership are very technical," says Stacey. In other words? "You have to know your shit."
That was "game-changing" to Stacey, and she decided to apply. She'd gone from being curious about another role to being sure that the role at Elastic was the one for her. Luckily for her, they agreed.
Six months in, she's quite happy with the move. And she's quite committed to making sure she creates an environment where her engineers can succeed—without burning out.
It's a two-step process, explains Stacey. First, there's setting an example of stepping away and taking rest. That looks like visibly being offline herself, as a director.
"You have to be really, really careful because you can get bored of playing any game if that's all you do," says Stacey. "I sign out and step away so that people don't see me online."
It looks like encouraging people to take vacations and breathers when they need them.
"If they want to push through and do a twenty-four hour push, that's awesome. But I better not see them for two days, either," says Stacey.
And it looks like respecting people's time off and not bothering them during it.
"I have a lot of regrets about the time that I spent with my mom and didn't get to spend with my mom, and I never want anybody to go through that. There's no single thing at work, big picture, small picture, that will ever be more important than that," says Stacey.
The second thing is all about giving her team the credit for their own wins.
"I try to make sure that they have ownership of the work that they're doing, that they own the success of it, that they get acknowledgement, because a lot of times in engineering, people don't get the credit for it," she says.
The combination—a healthy approach to time off, and healthy appreciation of the effort put in during working hours—is allowing Stacey to create the kind of place she wishes she'd worked in before.
"I want every single person on my team to know that I know who they are, I know the work that they're doing, and I appreciate their work, because I want them to be proud of their work and love what they do."
💎 Looking to apply for a position with Expedia Group? Here are some great tips to prepare for your interview!
📼 Watch this video for valuable insight from Audrey McGee, Talent Advisor at Expedia Group. These tips will help you get ready for your interview with the company, whether on-site or virtual!
📼 There are three main skills Expedia Group recruiters look for in candidates during their interview: #1: Communication skills. As Audrey shares, this is a skill that goes a long way and cuts across all industries, from HR to technology and even finance. Whether you're interviewing for an entry-level or executive-level role, you must have effective communication skills. #2: Problem-solving skills. The ability to articulate a problem or a challenge and the steps that you took to overcome those challenges will impress your interviewer. #3: Teamwork. Expedia Group has a diverse team across various geographies, time zones, and cultures, so they look for candidates who excel at collaboration!
📼 Probably, for the time being, Expedia Group will interview you over Zoom, so here are some great tips to keep in mind: Establish good eye contact with your interviewer. It indicates that you're engaged and interested, and it also exudes confidence. Make sure that your environment has good lighting, is free of distractions, and that noise is kept to a minimum. And last, but not least: Take a deep breath, relax, smile, and be yourself!
Get That Job at Expedia Group! Last Tip Before Your Interview
Be sure to send a follow-up note after your interview. While thank-you notes used to be very common, the trend has died down. So showing your appreciation will help you stand out! Plus, according to Audrey, this will also reiterate your interest in the role. Good luck!
Get to know Audrey
She's building a world-class team of technology professionals as a Recruiter for Expedia Group.
She spends her days finding, recruiting, and hiring the best talent who can help realize that mission. Audrey takes pride in providing the best recruiting experience possible for candidates and hiring managers. You can connect with her on LinkedIn!
More About Expedia Group
They are travelers and technologists. They work across time zones, hemispheres, cultures and languages. They're used to breaking things down and building them back up again, until they're even better. They know travel can be hard, but they also know that it's worth it, every time. And because they believe travel is a force for good, they take their roles seriously. They're here to build great products, and facilitate connections between travelers and their partners that truly bring good into the world. You'll discover a world of passionate people, all guided by an inclusive purpose: to strengthen connections, broaden horizons, and bridge divides.