Technology takes center stage
Sage himself is a self-taught programmer who also dabbled in theater during his college years, a skill that, at first, doesn't seem like it would be relevant in a technical field, but which he relies on every day.
"Sometimes I think I should have gone to acting school. I love being in front of people, getting into 'performance mode,' and I get to combine those skills with my tech skills. But it's more than just acting -- I also have to be credible, and speak the same language as programmers, engineers and the technical decision makers and buyers. I have to be able to go in and get developers and engineers excited about certain tools or technology in a language they understand," Sage says.
He sees some of the same interpersonal skills in roles like product managers, technical sales reps, pre-sales engineers, and even some CIOs. In fact, many CIOs find themselves acting as technology evangelists to their fellow executives, helping to explain how and why certain technologies work well -- or don't -- within their IT and software organizations, says Doonan.
"When you get to the enterprise level, those companies tend to move more slowly and they're more cautious. They don't want to be the first to try out new technology and then fail; that could be a disaster. Instead, many CIOs are reaching out to their peers to say, 'Hey, I'm thinking of integrating such-and-such software suite' or 'What happened when you moved to X, Y, Z platform?' and then relying on that advice to move forward," Doonan says.
There are a number of different paths that could lead to a career as an evangelist, Sage says. He's seen people in the role with backgrounds in product marketing, traditional sales and hard-core technologists. Regardless of where evangelists come from, there are some skills that are necessary, he says.
"You have to have the tech skills; people will know if you're faking that. You have to cultivate some performance and public-speaking skills. I'm not going to say everyone should go out and get a vocal coach, but it's not going to hurt you to have showmanship skills. Excellent communication, writing, networking skills are all critical to this role," Sage says.
A specialized role
Most technology evangelists do specialize in one or two specific technologies, whether it's programming languages, software suites, Web platforms or other technologies, Sage says. Being a generalist in this role tends to dilute the message you're trying to send, and it can negatively impact your credibility, too.
"I think you do have to specialize, because that's what separates the good from the great. If you don't know the tech or the market inside, outside and upside down, you're not going to get the right message across, and you'll look shady and untrustworthy," he says.
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