The S3 Academy is a hands-on, face-to-face learning and development program based in RTP for new hires in Sales, Support and Services, that, beginning in August 2018 will offer training to university grad hires from all over the world. Part 1 of this story gives readers a sense of the Academy’s dynamic curriculum and amazing results so far. Part 2 will explore how the Academy also gives these new hires tools for resilience and renewed confidence in an exciting future here.


Most of us remember the feeling of being fresh college grads, excited about our first “real” jobs. There was that sense of excitement, curiosity and, of course, triumph about scoring a plum, entry-level position.


And of course, there were anxieties—very real and very justified.  We were starting from scratch and may have wondered if we’d ever learn how to do the job, let alone make strides toward our career goals. Maybe the folks we were working with were somewhat intimidating and so we stayed pretty quiet and felt a bit disconnected from them. There may have been times when some of us even questioned if we had made the right industry choice.


We probably never realized that the first few months of our new job was a very vulnerable time, for both us as new grad hires, and the companies that made us the offers.  An IBM 2014 Tech Trends Report, “The Value of Training,” concurs, saying that new employees who doubt they can achieve their career goals at their current organization are 30 times more likely to consider leaving than those who are confident they can make them.


University grad hires who were part of the S3 Academy’s first class on their third day at NetApp.

Getting the right training is key to that confident feeling.  The report also reveals that while only 21 percent of new hires intend to stay at companies that do not offer training for their current jobs, 62 percent of new hires intend to stay when training is provided.


Providing professional development to new hires is as important to a company’s success as to the employees’ own career success. Suppose a new grad hire does decide to move on. The investment a tech company like NetApp makes to fill the same role again is substantial. The same IBM report mentions that the total costs of replacement can reach 200 percent of that employee’s annual salary.


In 2017, NetApp took a major first step in offering a comprehensive development opportunity to university grad hires working in the Worldwide Field and Customer Operations organization by creating and launching the S3 Academy. The three-month training offers preparation, product knowledge and basic-skill enhancements across the three areas that will not only help NetApp retain university grad hires, but, launch them, in S3 creator and Manager Stephanie Chalk’s words, “up, up and away” towards a stellar career.

An exceptional experience

S3 Academy graduates emerge prepared and psyched for a very unique career “lift off” that new hires at most companies are seldom offered.


“I have never heard about a company so large investing so much in young talent,” says Theresa Teggi a Technical Support engineer and graduate of the first S3 Academy class. “During my senior year of college, I looked at several companies and spoke to many recent graduates about their experience and what to prepare for when entering the corporate environment. Yet, no one ever mentioned the kind of time, passion and investment that NetApp leaders, managers and colleagues would make to create a positive environment and help us grow a career. Our people are unique.”


The S3 Academy focuses on empowering recently graduated new hires by providing a foundational stepstool that will help launch their careers within the company and beyond.


NetApp is already realizing measurable, bottom-line benefits from the program. These new hires have the tools and knowledge they need to get productive much faster than previously. And longer term, it will help the company promote from within rather than buying talent externally.

A curriculum like none before

The program’s basic aim is to give Teggi and her classmates the basic soft and technical skills that will help them long past their first NetApp role.


“I wanted to give our university grad hires a landing spot that could launch them forward into their entire NetApp career,” says Stephanie Chalk. “I envisioned sharing knowledge with them that has never been shared with anyone else at an entry level job at NetApp before—and transferrable soft skills that will help them achieve great heights in the long term.”


As part of the Executive Speaker series, Vice Chairman Tom Mendoza shares his wisdom with the class.

Chalk worked with leaders and teams companywide for a year before launching the S3 Academy. Facilitated by NetAppU in partnership with Talent Acquisition’s University Relations team, the program provides students with a basic understanding of the storage and data management industry, NetApp and our products and solutions.

Fast feedback and changes on the fly

The S3 Academy is unique for its practice of modifying curriculum on the fly, based on daily and weekly feedback from the students as well as daily, weekly and monthly assessments through classroom discussions, role-playing activities and other critical check-points.  Fifteen minutes of each session were devoted summarizing key takeaways.  If Chalk, who was present throughout the course, did not see the key takeaways aligning to the daily goal of the session, she knew the curriculum needed to be adjusted to allow more time.


A team of S3 Academy students at the whiteboard.

“Weekly feedback was taken each Friday and we emphasized to everyone we needed them to be honest and open,” she says. “We reviewed it over the weekend, and on Monday, we’d adjust the curriculum as needed. Now we’re seeing how impactful making changes along the way has been.”


“With the schedule and curriculum being so dynamic, we were kept engaged and eager to learn,” says System Engineer and S3 grad Gerardo Pineda. “Stephanie made sure the curriculum could benefit us the best way possible.”


The program also solicited feedback from former students six months after graduation about how it may have helped them transition into their roles, what the training could do better and what additional help the students might need from the program in the next six months.


The program has shaved months off the typical learning curve in these customer-facing roles. Although not all days at Netapp will be filled with smashing sales successes or winning campaigns, perhaps most importantly, university grad hires are learning how to navigate through the valleys as well as across the peaks.


“I think that S3 prepared me for my current role as Technical Support Engineer by giving me a foundation of what the storage industry is, how the company works (especially in sales, solution engineering, and technical support) and who NetApp is,” says Teggi. “Without these experiences, I would not be as passionate or driven about working through the hard days. I think that because S3 gave me a foundation as to why I am here and how much of an impact that I am having, I can push through with a smile and know I am always learning and growing.”

Betsey Flood

Betsey Flood’s specialties are strategies, programs and content that enhance company culture. An MBA with a wide-ranging background including consumer and business advertising and both executive and employee communications, she helps companies create and manage programs that boost employee understanding, engagement and sentiment. An author of hundreds of blogs and online articles about all things culture, she is currently working on recognition, philanthropy and communications projects with NetApp, Inc.