What is a Customer-Facing Engineer?

Increasingly, organizations are creating hybrid roles that position their workers at the intersection of business and technology. This web site is all about “customer-facing engineering,” a term I use to describe engineers who work at this intersection, under the conditions I specify in the remainder of this post.

To help define a “customer-facing engineer” more specifically, I will first distinguish between a “customer” and a “client” in two ways:

1. A customer buys a good, while a client buys a service.

2. The words “customer” and “client” can be defined by the type of relationship between a buyer and a seller. A customer has minimal interaction with the seller. For example, a customer who buys an item at a grocery store would probably have minimal interaction with the store’s employees other than to ask where the item is located and to check out at the cash register. Compared to a customer, a client engages with the seller in a more interactive way, forming a deeper relationship with the seller. For example, an Implementation Engineer may work with a client in an ongoing capacity to implement software in the client’s environment; this work may involve gathering requirements, designing and deploying the software, and providing training and support.

It’s often the case, as in the grocery store and software implementation example given above, that the purchase and delivery of a service is a more interactive activity between the buyer and seller, as compared to purchase and delivery of a good. So, in such a case, both definitions apply.

But I would like to focus on the second definition in the remainder of this section, since it will carry more emphasis in the tutorials found on this web site. Using the second definition, I define a “customer-facing engineer” as a worker who meets these conditions:

1) Works with technology in a hands-on capacity.

2) Has an ongoing, highly interactive and deep relationship with his/her customers.

But there is an inconsistency here– The way I defined a “customer” when distinguishing between a customer and a client contradicts my use of “customer” when I defined “customer-facing engineer.” Although the former definition is technically the correct one, I will use the latter on this web site since:

  • The words “customer-facing” and “client-facing” are often used interchangeably in practice.
  • In the technology space, use of the word “customer-facing” often implies an ongoing, deep relationship instead of a short term relationship.
  • Using the term “client-facing engineer” would potentially cause confusion with an engineer who works with client-server technology.