Distribution world – A smart career path

Distribution world – A smart career pathThe role of field applications engineer (FAE) is a popular career choice for the electronics engineer looking for a marketing role. Andy Johnson is one FAE who has charted a course in and out of distribution. FAE profile: Andy Johnson International Rectifier
I think there is still a general feeling that FAEs are there purely to solve problems when, in reality, over 80% of the work I get involved in relates to new designs and new business opportunities,” says Andy Johnson with a smile, and he should know. having spent the last ten years in FAE-related roles. The last two of which have been with power semiconductor supplier, International Rectifier, where he provides FAE support to the company’s UK distribution network.
Johnson is one of a growing breed of engineers who have moved away from the traditional design engineering environment to take on what could be described as highly technical sales and marketing roles. And it is proving a smart move to make for the right type of engineer. The increasing competitiveness of the electronic component market is opening up opportunities for FAEs which are finding themselves increasingly in demand by distributors as well as manufacturers.
The key buzz phrase today is specialist technical support. Everyone seems to want it, which is good news for FAEs like Johnson. However, twenty years of experience has convinced Johnson that the role of the FAEcan be different when you are working for a manufacturer or a distributor.
He began his career in 1978 as a design engineer with Lucas Aerospace in Birmingham after achieving a BSc. in electronics at Coventry’s Lanchester Polytechnic. As with many local engineering students, Lucas had sponsored Johnson’s studies. “It was the classic electronic engineering route,” he says.
Things went well. Following a succession of promotions, Johnson quickly decided to seek out a role that would combine his technical expertise and managerial status, while still providing hands on design and development experience. A combination of roles which is not always easy to find.
It was at this point that a Scottish-based power semiconductor company approached him with an FAE role which opened up an entirely different career path. When this company folded Johnson headed back south, joining specialist distributor Kudos Thame in FAE and product management roles.
However, it was a further valuable period of experience of semiconductor manufacturing resulted in Johnson eventually moving to his current post at International Rectifier. “There’s a difference between the FAE role at a manufacturer and that at a distributor,” he says. “With a distributor, the emphasis is on sales, while with a manufacturer you also have a high level of input into product development and other marketing activities.”
By becoming a distribution FAE at International Rectifier Johnson seems to have the best of both worlds. “My key role at IR is to provide FAE support for the company’s distributors in the UK, Ireland, the Middle East and South Africa,” he explains. “My involvement at design level also provides specific feedback essential to product development.”
When asked about the key attributes needed to be a successful FAE, Johnson is quick to specify a combination of skills that include technical knowledge, good commercial awareness and strong people skills. He also points out that working from home and travelling extensively also demands very high levels of self-motivation.
So what does he do when he’s relaxing away from the early mornings and late nights of the working week? “My passion is yachting,” he says, “and whenever I get the opportunity I try to get away from it all by taking to the open sea. She’s not quite a gin palace yet but maybe, if I keep working hard.”

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