Elijah Zupancic, people expert and problem solver

June 01, 2017 - by Alexandra White

Joyent is hiring both solutions engineers and product engineers. Join Elijah and the rest of our team by applying to one of our many open positions.

Elijah Zupancic

Elijah Zupancic is the Joyeur you go to when you need your problem solved, fast. The problem could be technical, such as: "Can we get a tool to run SQL queries on Manta, and how fast?" Or, the problem could be communication-focused: "A customer came to Joyent to solve X-problem, but the team needs a solution for Y-problem. How can I help position our products and help them succeed?" He's got expertise in technical engineering, brand positioning, and masterful interpersonal communication skills which add up to a strong bridge between engineering and sales.

As Joyent's Director of Solutions Engineering, Elijah merges his years of experience as an engineer in the industry with his desire to know "how the enterprise sausage is made" so that he can help lead customers to the solutions they need. But before he came to work at Joyent, he was a customer. As CTO of an ad tech startup, he helped his team transition from AWS to Triton. What better way is there to know how to on-board new customers than by having been in the thick of it yourself?

The day-to-day of solutions engineers

The solutions engineer position is composed of both engineering and working directly with customers, the ratio of which may change on any given day. They are often tasked to backfill projects that may be overlooked for different priorities in other departments but still need completion.

Elijah often talks to prospects about potential architecture, answering all manner of technical questions, and even gives pre-sales demos. The key for him is knowing as much as possible about every part of the process, so as not to pass the question to another person. Being a "very experienced generalist" who does the backend tech work, in addition to having worked with different companies and cultures, helps you build trust with colleagues and customers.

"You must be willing to touch everything," Elijah emphasizes as he lists the various different languages he has been tasked to use. There is no technology which he is afraid or unwilling to work with. Continuing professional development, side projects, and other forms of learning have become an essential part of his personal growth and the creation of a better cloud.

When customers identify problems, big or small, Elijah does everything he can to solve them and benefit Joyent's product architecture. The proof is in the pudding, as Elijah has spent a tremendous amount of his time in the last couple of years working on both multi-part uploads and client-side encryption for the Java Manta SDK, which use cases vary greatly and can be distributed among many hosts for high availability. A customer requested both features, which were evaluated as essential needs, so he dove right in and upped the ante of what Triton can deliver.

At the end of the day, Elijah is responsible for being productive. Joyent has a culture of self-management. With so many remote employees, it's a place where you're expected to learn on your own; though your colleagues are happy to answer questions, there won't be a teacher every step of the way.

Understand the "people part" of software

Solving technology problems seems simple to Elijah. After all, there's a logic to programming languages which has right and wrong answers (with some solutions in-between). The intricate ways in which people work, culturally and socially, is where things get interesting. He tries to frame his technology questions through the lens of human complexity. Technology is rarely chosen logically. Instead, decisions for buyers are made emotionally—perceptions of brand and the value of the product to the buyer are often the foundation of the purchasing choice, not necessarily how well the product solves the problem.

Elijah isn't afraid to look at a situation honestly, and he's opposed to blind optimism. He believes that the better you can truly understand your customer, the more likely you are to succeed in engaging them to either keep them on or sell to a new prospect.

Advice for future Joyeurs

When asked for words of wisdom, Elijah had an abundance. It boiled down to these three points:

  • Understand your audience. Every company has a different culture, and within those companies, different groups have different expectations. Talking to CEOs and CTOs is not the same as talking to the engineers or IT department. Take the time to observe, not just talk at folks, so you can know what to say and how to say it to help your audience succeed.
  • Believe in the product. If you're going to love your job, you should understand and (hopefully) love the product, no matter what you do. On the sales side, this is especially important because after all, "Sales is the transfer of enthusiasm."1 The more you demo and the more you pitch, the easier that enthusiasm is to communicate to your audience (see above).
  • Love the chaos. Don't be afraid to step in the middle of a project and take on several tasks. Priorities can change in an instant, and you need to be able to keep with the flow.

Join Elijah and help us help our customers succeed. Learn about how we think about systems and see talks by Joyeurs who could be your peers by exploring our past conference, Systems We Love.

  1. Upon investigation, this quote appears to be attributed to several folks going as far back as a book published in 1932. Sounds like there just may be some wisdom to it.