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An Oxymoron? I Don't Think So...

Building a Knowledgeable and Empowered Force

We all know the story, right? In today's high-tech world, technical support has suffered a demise worse than Darryl Strawberry's life after baseball. It's virtually impossible to get anyone knowledgeable on the phone. Support is the lowest item on the totem pole. Qualified folks move on while the no-ops remain. Support engineers are bitter, angry, disgruntled individuals, bordering on inhuman. Tech support is such a rip-off. The executives allowing this blatant disrespect toward their customers should lose all of their stock options.

Got that out of your system? Good. Because what I'm going to share with you in this column is not only going to bring back some of the warm fuzzies you used to get from technical support, it's going to show you what BEA is doing to make WebLogic support vehemently defy the pathetic support standard set (and accepted) by the dot-bomb generation.

In this first column, I'd like to introduce myself, describe the column's purpose, and tell you a little bit about the WebLogic support organization at BEA. I'll also share with you why we truly believe that we transcend articles like Jon Katz's acrid article on www.slashdot.org/features/01/04/30/1627201.shtml. I read this and half the responses and just couldn't take anymore - though it did give me some ideas for content. Finally, I'll give you a preview of some future topics and show you how you can improve your support experience with BEA and contribute to this column's success at the same time.

So, let's get started. First of all, I'm John Greene. I'm the Backline Engineering Interface manager for WebLogic Server in the San Francisco office at BEA Systems, Inc. I've been with BEA for more than two years - the first as a DRE and the next as a manager (managing a group of 10 DREs). I know, I know, what is a DRE? We'll get to that. Before coming here, I worked in the computer science department at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a SysAdmin, Web/database programmer and Mac/UNIX support specialist. Prior to that, I did various consulting projects, mostly in the database arena, while getting my degree in computer science (also from UMass).

BEA's Support: "Developer Relations Engineers"
BEA's principal core value is: "Customer issues transcend all others." Delivering on this mission requires a knowledgeable and empowered support force with good communication skills as well as a solid understanding of object-oriented programming, J2EE, and the internals of WebLogic Server. These valuable engineers build and maintain relationships with customers through support cases filed with BEA. Since our customers are developers, BEA adopted the term Developer Relations Engineer as a more appropriate title for our support force.

But DRE isn't just a title, it's a mindset. The DRE is one of the highest-profile and prestigious positions at BEA (and is compensated accordingly). While troubleshooting support cases, DREs often work directly with CCEs (Customer Centric Engineers), development engineers, high-visibility customers, and their managers. Because of their multifaceted view of the product and their unique understanding of how customers use WebLogic in the real world, senior DREs are often coveted by other groups in the organization. While some DREs do move to other areas after some time, many choose to stay in support. Surprising? Not to me... maybe to Katz. You see, there is a pride and dedication that comes with supporting a product like WebLogic, and DREs have accepted the challenge with dignity, courage, and a desire to learn and excel. Just two years ago there were only about a dozen people supporting WebLogic in the Americas; now there are more than ten times that number. What a roller-coaster ride!

AskBEA
Of course, world-class support isn't just about the people. Last year, we unveiled AskBEA, www.bea.com/support, our answer to self-help on the Web (see the related article in this issue). Within one year, AskBEA's usage has increased over 500%, with daily queries averaging over 3,000 since April 2001. As some customers are able to help themselves through the Natural Language querying capability of AskBEA, DRE resources are freed up to spend more time with the customers whose problems aren't solvable by AskBEA.

Now What?
In my next columns, I'm going to cover topics such as: "WebLogic Self-Help: What to do before filing a support case," "Streamlining the customer/DRE experience," and "Comm101: Effective customer/BEA communication." I'm also going to share current support experiences, tidbits, lessons we (and customers) have learned, etc. Beyond that, well, that's partly up to you - the developer. What would you like to see in a column devoted to WebLogic support? This column is for you! So let me hear from you: [email protected] (no Lakers fans, please).

More Stories By John Greene

John Greene joined BEA as a WebLogic Developer Relations Engineer in June 1999; he is now a Support Manager. John has a Computer Science degree of the University of Massachussets and is a rabid fan of Philadelphia sports teams.

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