Teamwork makes the dream work!
A Technical Consultant debunks the myth of the Hermit Techi
In every company, there are people everyone knows. You always see them around, but cannot help asking: “What exactly do they do?” Of course, the opposite is true of certain other individuals. People who prefer to stay in the background, who are busy backstage – yet everyone knows who they are and just how important they are to keeping things running.
That is the sort of person Gajarajan Shanmugalingam aka Gajan is. Gajan has been with imc for eleven years. He is one of the lynchpins in learning management system (LMS) integration. In this interview, he shares what exactly his role as Head of Technical Consulting entails, what skills a technical consultant needs to bring to the table, and why he took his office on the road.
Job | Head of Technical Consulting
Working in | Saarbruecken, Germany
Worked at imc since | 2011
Super power | Analytical thinking
Favourite food | Spaghetti with hot pepper sauce
Hello Gajan! Thank you for taking the time. How would you describe your job as a Technical Consultant to a child?
Hi Nadine, the pleasure’s all mine. Imagine you visit a toy store. The sheer number of choices can be truly overwhelming for a child, or even an adult. My job would be to figure out what you want and what would suit you. I need to understand your requirements and recommend a toy that meets them.
It’s exactly the same with our software. The customer has certain requirements or wants to solve a specific issue. Together with my team, it is my responsibility to determine how we can help them.
That makes sense. But I associate the word consultant with Business Consultancy. How is your role as a Technical Consultant different? Does this involve lots of close collaboration?
At least at imc, Technical Consultants and Business Consultants work together very closely. However, us Technical Consultants tend to join the projects a bit later. The Business Consultants advise our customers on how the imc Learning Suite – our learning management system (LMS) – works, and how they can leverage that. They explain how different processes are mapped, what can be configured and such.
We take care of the more profound technical details. We discuss, install and support aspects like database servers, operating systems or single sign-on. We also help to ensure that the LMS rollout runs smoothly for the customer and handle customised adjustments – both in the project phase and during operation. Sometimes, we are roped in at an earlier stage to assist with steps like feasibility studies.
So, you are always in contact with the customer?
That’s correct. Sometimes even before the actual project kicks off, but definitely throughout the installation phase, and we continue to support them after the system goes live. We either communicate with the customer’s IT team, or directly with the project owner. And internally, we always stay in touch with the Business Consultants, as well as Support, Hosting and even Sales to answer queries related to the offer.
How big is your team? Where are you all based?
In total, 16 people work in Technical Services, split across two teams. I lead one of these teams, and my colleague Patrick Penkala the other one. As Director Technical Services, Andreas Schweitzer supports our Australian and UK colleagues. Rather than all of us being based in Saarbrücken, some of us permanently work from home in various parts of Germany. We are also currently hiring both at our locations and for home office work.
You’re saying it’s OK to work from home?
Absolutely. At imc, we are extremely flexible in general. Nearly all departments allow for a large part of the work being done from home, while keeping the office available. However, we have no desire to completely switch to remote work. Our full team regularly meets in the office, and on those occasions, we also go out for meals together, hold workshops and have longer meetings. Personally, I come in at least once a week. That helps me maintain a personal connection to my team and other colleagues.
To be quite honest, I think corona was actually good for our company. I doubt this shift in mindset towards greater flexibility would have been realised this quickly otherwise. It has now become apparent that productivity is not compromised when people work from their home office.
In fact, they even tend to get more work done. That removes any real need to force everyone back into the office or establish fixed office days. Each team can decide for themselves what works best for them.
What skills, qualifications and training do you need to become a Technical Consultant?
Most of us have a traditional IT degree. But that’s not really a prerequisite. While we do look for appropriate technical understanding, we equally welcome applicants who gained this through an IT-related traineeship or other professional experiences.
The ability to think holistically and analytically is far more important than qualifications: To see the big picture and be creative in finding solutions for the issues at hand. Java is our core programming language. We also use JS frameworks for the frontend and employ various relational databases.
What other skills are important?
Above all, customer centricity. The ability to put yourself into the customer’s shoes, to understand their problems and find solutions. I consider it crucial to be willing to learn, to try and test things, to always seek new understanding, to remain curious.
Now, you are never just left to your own devices – We really are and work as a team. We also made a point of looking out for each other throughout the lockdowns. We are not beyond telling a team member off for working late into the night. We consider ourselves a unit and take responsibility for one another. We can only achieve the best results for our customers if we work as one. And ultimately, that is our goal.
To come back to your question: Communication skills are hugely important and must not be underestimated. This might not be as much of an expectation for us techs, but we do work closely with various stakeholders, both internally and externally. If clear communication is lacking, things go wrong.
Personally, I really enjoy the fact that there are many sides to this role. If you are motivated and this prospect excites you, you should think about joining our team! We will welcome you with open arms.
What does your typical day at work look like?
First of all, I check my emails, sort tickets, and look at the calendar to see which customer enquiries need to be dealt with and what meetings are scheduled. I also look after my team and ensure that everyone’s on the same page.
During corona, I learned that I need to keep work and my private life somewhat separate. So, when I finish work, I actually switch the laptop off, and go for a walk or meet up with friends. I do need to draw a line.
What do you like best about your job? What are you looking forward to each day?
Most of all, I look forward to my team. As I said earlier, we really do have a great relationship. There is no competition, and nobody tries to pass thankless tasks on to other.
I also very much appreciate the opportunity to learn something new every day. It never gets boring, as every customer is different. We usually receive direct feedback from our customers, and knowing they are happy with your work is a great feeling.
You’ve been working at imc for a while now. Can you recall a particularly funny or odd situation?
As soon as you said that I had to think of my early days with imc. Back then, Andreas Pohl – who is now Director Research and Development – and I visited a major customer. We were meant to do a system migration over the weekend to avoid any disruption to their operations. So far, so good. Everything went smooth and the system go-live was planned for Monday morning.
Sunday night, we were already heading back home when the customer ran a final test and a problem occurred that we had not encountered before. I think it was some display that failed to work properly. We had to make a decision.
Where do we go from here? Postpone the go-live? Press ahead with it regardless? As Andreas was driving, I got to work. He told me a few things, and I resolved the software issue while on the road. It worked. The go-live went according to plan and the customer was happy. I will never forget my “very mobile” office, and still have to laugh thinking back on it.
What did you want to be as a kid?
I never had a specific dream job, but I always knew I wanted to do something with technology. I started programming at a very young age and basically turned my hobby into a career.
You are originally from Sri Lanka. When did you move to Germany?
My family came over when I was twelve and my dad found a job here. It was very tough in the beginning, as I didn’t speak a single word of German and nobody spoke Tamil, my mother tongue. But I learned German pretty quickly, and my parents were very proud when I started my university studies.
Final question: Which imc office are you longing to visit?
Melbourne, of course!
Of course. Thank you for your time, Gajan, and all the best going forward!
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I have been working in the Marketing & Communication Team at imc since March 2019.
Communication, creating unique content and social media are my passion.
"One can not not communicate" - Paul Watzlawik.
To explain complex content in an understandable way and thus make the topic of e-Learning accessible to everyone is an exciting challenge every day.
Privately I love to read, play poker and travel a lot.
I am always happy to receive feedback or suggestions.