Community Spotlight: Thao Le (mmhmm)

How curiosity and rock climbing helped her build a career in Solutions Engineering

Thao Le
February 22, 2022
Community Spotlight: Thao Le (mmhmm)

Product-Led Sales (PLS) Community Spotlights were born out of a desire to celebrate the members of our PLS community. In this series, we shine a spotlight on our forward thinkers, uncovering the career paths that brought them to the product-led space and highlighting their advice and predictions about the future of PLS. 

Become a part of the club by requesting to join Pocus’ high-value, invite-only Slack community.

Meet Thao — Senior Solutions Engineer at mmhmm

Self-described as “extremely adventurous and consistently curious,” it makes a lot of sense that Thao Le was the first individual contributor (IC) hired for mmhmm’s go-to-market team, where today she’s a Senior Solutions Engineer. 

Thao is a big believer in the unofficial Silicon Valley motto “build fast, fail fast.” So when she’s not doing that at work, she's training for her next outdoor adventure in a rock climbing gym — where she goes to find community and where, funnily enough, she was first introduced to the solutions engineer role. 

Let’s hear from Thao about her work at mmhmm, the slightly unconventional path that brought her there, the value of curiosity, how the PLS revolution has impacted her job, and her biggest hope for the future of solutions engineering. 

What Does Your Role at mmhmm Entail?

Thao: I am a senior solutions engineer (SE) at mmhmm. I was the first IC hire for their go-to-market team. I've been an SE for six years and I have only chosen to work for disruptive tech companies. I like companies that empower people to do things differently or think about the standard problem differently — from monitoring your load within a fleet to thinking about how to compliment REST API infrastructure. 

I am very passionate about building out mmhmm’s team in regards to tools, systems, processes, and also acquiring our marquee logos and our top-dollar deals over time. So, the foundation of building out what we need for a team is what I'm most excited about. And then, of course, all the things that come with go-to-market.

What Does mmhmm Do?

Thao: At mmhmm, we are building a complete video and presentation platform. It offers the tools people need to make, watch, and talk about the content that they're building within their organization. We also have the supported infrastructure to do so. I like to describe it as a platform that's similar to YouTube or Netflix, but geared toward the business user.

The Rocky Road to Solutions Engineer 🧗

A chance meeting may have started Thao down the path she’s on today, but there was a specific trait — curiosity — that she brought to the table that made her a fit for the SE role. 

Thao: I got started in solutions engineering through a friend I met at a rock climbing gym. She was a solutions engineering lead at that time. Now, she's a VP. 

I had just moved to the Bay Area and, for me, where I find community is by way of rock climbing. At the time, I was in biotech sales and she mentioned, "You should really check out this opportunity." She really convinced me to go into sales and tech, but I didn't make the cut at first because I was coming from biotech.

So I took a year to really get into coding. I went to Hackbright Academy. I did a coding bootcamp part-time, and then I also did a full-time program. From that, I knew early on that I didn't really want to code 24/7, or at least for 8 to 12 hours a day. I wanted to interact with people. So, it was an easy transition from biotech sales into solutions engineering, or sales engineering.

How to Cultivate the Curiousness a Good SE Needs

For Thao, a sense of unquenchable curiosity comes naturally, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be cultivated — along with a few other habits anyone early in their solutions engineering career should develop. 

Thao: I would advise a person who’s new to solutions engineering to be open to networking, asking questions, and being curious about people, what they're doing, and how they approach problem solving. That’s the way to truly connect and build relationships with others.

Also, over time, knowing how to ask a question and knowing how to receive information is incredibly important in your professional and personal life. It’s about understanding the why behind the why, versus just taking things at face value.

I think that I am inherently curious by nature, but if I were to teach someone how to be curious, I think I would lead with empathy. Getting them to really think about “Why is this person saying this to me?” or “Why is it being done this way?” And then stepping out of their headspace to try to empathize and be curious about the other person, company, or product.

The Best Part About Being an SE

Thao: Connecting with customers is hands down the best aspect of working in solutions engineering.

I have a lot of customers who become my friends, or who become people who are part of my network. I get to build relationships that go beyond the technical aspect, and build a bigger community of people that support each other’s work.. Hands down, it's the people.

Challenges Thao Has Faced as an SE

Thao: One of the more challenging aspects of being an SE is truly being able to approach the sale as an art and a science.

The art of it is the art of storytelling, the art of ensuring that you're meeting their MVP or their requirements. But, at the same time, you also have to set the proper expectations around the product, given that maybe whatever they're looking for isn't readily available. It can be a challenge to quickly traverse between the two worlds while you're trying to assist your account executive to close that particular deal.

Another challenge is the task of navigating key internal stakeholders. You have to learn how to effectively advocate for your customer in front of product, or how to quickly make a selling point to the product team when a feature is required and is necessary for the product to evolve. 

How Thao Would Like to See Solutions Engineering Evolve 

For Thao, the best future for solutions engineers in the tech space is one in which there are more women in the room. And she has some ideas on how to make that happen.

Thao: Less than 20% of solutions engineers in the tech world are women, and I’d like to see more. I think one solution for that is building the talent pipeline, ensuring that women can first deliver on the technical skill set. And, at the same time, we have to ensure that women have the support in the community that they need in order to truly thrive and be successful in the role. 

I think that there are some communities that are helping with this. The PreSales Collective is a great resource. I'd also like to shout out the Society of Asians in Sales & Success (SASS). They've been great and a great resource. 

Where Product-Led Sales Has Impacted Solutions Engineering

Thao: PLS has had a tremendous impact on solutions engineering. And it has been a positive impact that enables us to work faster and more efficiently because we have access to product-led user information that was previously haphazardly shared within a homegrown internal tool. 

Knowing that the market is moving toward Product-Led Sales and tools that provide the insights that we need, we're able to truly demo more relevant use cases to our users. We're able to connect technically and build technical trust faster than we would have otherwise, because now we have the information we need to be more precise in how we sell. PLS allows us to close deals faster.

Rapid-Fire Questions: Faves Edition 

Favorite TV show? Euphoria 

Favorite emoji? 🤣

Current travel fantasy? Mongolia, for the climbing and to attend the Golden Eagle Festival (naturally 🤘)

Join Pocus’ PLS Community to Connect with More People Like Thao

We hope you enjoyed this peek inside Thao’s career path and passions as much as we did!  

Connect with similar PLS experts when you join Pocus' Product-Led Sales Slack community by requesting an invite. Want to nominate a member of the community to be featured in a spotlight? Connect with Sandy via Slack.

Thao Le
Senior Solutions Engineer at mmhmm
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