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Why I joined Instruqt — Sean Carolan, Head of PreSales

This month I started a new job at Instruqt as Head of PreSales.

No, it’s not a typo. It’s Instruqt with a Q! You’ll get used to typing it after a few tries.

Instruqt is a hands-on virtual IT lab platform that helps software companies drive engagement and help people see the value of their products in the entire customer lifecycle. Instruqt is based in the Netherlands, and I’ll be working with prospects and customers mainly in the United States and Canada.

I want to share a little bit about my journey, why I am a huge fan of the Instruqt technology, and why I decided to join the team.

First encounter with Instruqt

classic ui

I first heard about Instruqt back in 2018 at HashiCorp’s yearly developer conference. The co-founder, Erik Veld, was giving a talk called “How Instruqt is Powering Arcade-Themed Learning Machines with Terraform

I had no idea what these arcade-themed learning machines did at the time, but I loved the concept. I’ve been playing video games since I was five years old. In fact, my first arcade game was Space Invaders, and my first console game was Pong.

I really wanted to go to the arcade talk and get a look at these machines up close! Unfortunately, I was unable to attend because of a conflict. I figured Instruqt was some kind of gaming company that used Terraform to enable training sessions in a video game environment.

Later I realized that the arcade cabinets were simply a frontend to a powerful web-based training platform for cloud software and infrastructure.

Early introduction to technical training

My early experiences with the C64 and Apple computers at school opened up a whole new world of educational software. I played games like Hangman, Oregon Trail, and MasterType and got a subscription to Compute! magazine. The personal computer opened up a limitless new world of learning and technical knowledge to my young mind.

People love games! My early experiences with video games and educational software taught me that technical training was more effective when fun. More recently, the term gamification has been used to formally describe the process of transforming boring educational tasks into something more like an adventure game.

Working in the gaming industry

After college, I started a small web design company and eventually moved into Linux system administration. Later this led to my childhood dream job at a gaming company called Electronic Arts (EA)! They had just opened up an office in Austin, Texas. While working at EA, I got to help support games like Battlefield, FIFA, and SimCity. I loved my time at EA and still have many friends in the industry.

The cloud computing meteor

sysadmin dinosaurs

One day, a fellow sysadmin at EA pulled me aside and asked me to help him build a custom configuration for Amazon Web Services. “Hmm, what’s this AWS thing?” I wondered. 

I jumped at the opportunity to learn this new technology and was blown away by how fast and efficient it was. Immediately I could see the meteoric impact of cloud computing endangered the traditional sysadmin role.

Later a former coworker who had taken a job with the automation company Chef reached out to me. He wanted me to join his team and become a technology evangelist. Being a fan of automation tools, I jumped at the opportunity to work with AWS and cloud computing as part of my job. 

So in 2013, I joined the professional services team at Chef (which was still called Opscode). I left the world of the cubicle and pager behind for a life of travel and technical training.

New learning technologies

sprinkle on the devops

My first week at Chef was spent in the Chef Fundamentals training course. It was basically a two-day boot camp where students would learn the basics of Infrastructure as Code and server automation. My instructor, Charles Johnson, was charming, funny, and super intelligent. Thankfully I took good notes from the course because I had to teach the same training my second week on the job! 

This was my first customer-facing job and also my first training gig, so I was understandably nervous. Fortunately, we had a great slide deck, and I had all the notes I took from my own training. The Chef team sent a smart intern who understood the Ruby programming language. We taught the fundamentals class as a tag-team and got great feedback from the students and managers.

Since that first Chef Fundamentals class, I’ve taught hundreds of technical training sessions and workshops. I’ve also developed custom training material and workshops on all major cloud platforms. During my time at Chef, I gained a ton of valuable experience and learned what works well and what doesn’t. One of the things that really stuck with me is how participants learn better and retain more knowledge if the instructor makes the sessions fun.

One of the exercises I like to do with students is building a simple website. After some experiments with a boring plain text website, we let our participants customize the site with their own images. Later we incorporated the Kittens-as-a-Service API, placekitten.com

One of the most important takeaways I have from working at Chef and Terraform is that; learning new technologies is more fun when there’s a reward at the end of the training exercise. It turns out cute furry cats are a powerful motivator for completing the coding exercise!

Instruqt — first contact

Fast forward to the fall of 2019, I was working at HashiCorp, and my coworker Lance told me about this new tool the developer advocates were using called Instruqt. “You mean the guys with the video game cabinets?” I asked. “Yep, you need to check out this platform,” Lance responded.

Lance and I spent several hours camped out in the Google office building in Austin overlooking the city. This was back in the pre-corona “before times,” so we decided to visit some Googler friends and have a little hack-a-thon over coffee and kombucha (thanks, Google!). This was my first experience getting hands-on with Instruqt, and I was immediately hooked. I quickly learned the basics of the platform and started developing my first track.

I published the track a few hours later and took it for a test run. Instruqt was fast, 100% browser-based, able to create full cloud environments on-demand, and infinitely customizable, all built with simple markdown and YAML files. It was everything you would want in a training platform.

After building a few prototype tracks, we expanded our effort to include workshop content for Terraform and Vault. A few months later, a novel Coronavirus swept across the world, and the rest, as they say, is history. I won’t repeat the whole story here. Check out the case study and blog post if you want to learn more about how we pushed the Instruqt platform to the limit and revamped HashiCorp’s field marketing strategy.

An evolving tech industry

demo gods displeased

If there’s one thing we can be certain of in the tech industry, it’s changing. Technologies change, and new ways of building and managing infrastructure become available. Innovative software companies and technology organizations don’t want to manage their own cloud accounts for demo and training environments. Sales, marketing, and education teams need reliable access to cloud resources without heavy management overhead. 

Instruqt can help you achieve the following business outcomes:

  • Quality Lead Generation. Users who complete an Instruqt test drive are more likely to turn into opportunities and sales. Instruqt can quickly pay for itself by expanding your pipeline of highly qualified leads.
  • Higher User Satisfaction. End users love the Instruqt platform because it gives them an easy way to test drive your software with minimal effort. Users can educate themselves on your software with self-guided training in real cloud environments.
  • Reduced Support Costs. Users who complete Instruqt training tracks are less likely to need extra support and hand-holding. All your basic use cases and functionality can be learned in an interactive environment that complements your documentation. This reduces the number of support tickets and newbie questions sent to support.
  • Increased Efficiency. Technical trainers, solutions engineers, and sales teams enjoy the simple, easy-to-use Instruqt platform for technical demos and workshops. Don’t waste your expensive technical resources building homegrown demo platforms!
  • Better Security. Shared cloud accounts represent a significant risk to the organization. Instruqt puts every user into an isolated and secure sandbox with their own cloud accounts. Instruqt automatically cleans up the infrastructure, and you never have to worry about security issues in long-lived accounts. Security teams love Instruqt because they don’t have to own it!

Now you know a little more about my background and why I joined Instruqt. As a sales engineer, I get excited about selling software that I use myself. If you’re looking for a demo, training platform, or maybe even a new job, feel free to reach out to me here on LinkedIn or at sean@instruqt.com.

Sean Carolan
Sean is the Head of Presales at Instruqt. With over 10 years of experience as a technologist and sales engineer, Sean understands how to take complex concepts and simplify them for customers to understand. For Sean, nothing beats engaging your customers with fun, interactive product experiences!

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