How can NetApp be sure that its talent pool has the skills needed to shape the future of tech? How can the company influence the diversity of its future employee base? How can new grad hires hit the ground running in their first days and weeks of employment? NetApp employees working on advisory boards at its core recruiting colleges and universities are sharing fresh ideas and new connections that will help define its future workforce—and they’re having a blast doing it. Part 1 of this series profiles five employees who serve on advisory boards—one at California Polytechnic State University and four at North Carolina State University. Part 2 explores NetApp’s work with Wichita State University to build unique relationships with top students through Ennovar Institute.
In his spare time, he runs with a wolf pack. That is—the Wolfpack at North Carolina State University (NCSU), which is the name given to the university’s athletic teams. He attends many of NCSU’s games. His car boasts a NCSU license plate. And the glowing red of dozens of NCSU cups, mugs and other tchotchkes brightens up his workspace.
Meet ONTAP Engineering Director David Schmitt, NCSU alumnus and advisory board member.
As a member of the Wolfpack and proud NSCU parent, Schmitt enjoys his visits on campus, no matter what his reason is for being there. He’s seen great candidates come to NetApp from NCSU (he’s hired some) and remains intensely interested in its College of Engineering (he earned his BSEE there). So when Senior Director of Performance Engineering for ONTAP Greg Keller asked Schmitt if he wanted to take over his seat on the university’s Computer Science Strategic Advisory Board), Schmitt jumped at the chance. This is now Schmitt’s third year on the board, whose 22 members represent a who’s who of the tech world (think Cisco, SAS or IBM) and other industries (think Merck or Eastman Chemical Company).
“Much of the time, these board members are senior leaders who can share not only what skills and knowledge organizations like NetApp need now but also where the industry is headed and what our future needs will be,” says University Relations’ East Coast Campus Manager Stephanie Chalk. “Our employee board members convey our culture, as well as their passion and knowledge. Their presence adds that personal element of NetApp that universities don’t usually see.”
Each of the five employees interviewed for this blog has a distinct board experience to share. Each was inspired by very different passions to join a different kind of board. Each interacts with a variety people as part of his or her role and each makes singular kinds of contributions. Here are their stories.
Keeping curriculum on track, giving students a taste of NetApp
The most recent annual board meeting both Schmitt and Keller (as an emeritus member) attended focused on the School of Computer Science’s curriculum and research. After professors gave talks on their research, the board engaged in an active discussion about whether the curriculum they have is what companies need and whether the research that NCSU plans is aligned to industry trends.
Both Keller and Schmitt are concerned that academia is struggling to keep pace with the direction of industry—especially in the areas of computer languages. (The board constantly debates which languages to keep teaching, to add or to stop). They worry schools are too slow to add new areas of focus, such as cloud computing and hybrid cloud. They, and other board members, have also urged the administration to emphasize greater competency in soft skills because of the new focus on Agile development, where teamwork and communication are absolute musts for new employees.
Keller and Schmitt frequently leave their NSCU board meetings with new projects, like an afternoon at NetApp RTP for high school summer camp students sponsored by the Computer Science department—or, for example, arranging for NetApp to host a Wolfpack Investor Network (WIN) event. WIN connects young, entrepreneurial NCSU graduates with alumni who can invest in their businesses—a prime opportunity for a sponsoring company to hear fresh ideas.
Although Keller is phasing out of his board involvement, his network still taps him for help and advice. A potential location for a smart city program pilot, the city of Raleigh, North Carolina, recently asked for Keller’s input. And, he notes, the pilot ties in beautifully with NetApp’s Data Fabric vision.
Both Schmitt and Keller remain involved with NCSU recruiting programs and events at NetApp. Take Senior Design Projects, where small teams of Computer Science majors are each given a project to do with a specific company. NetApp sponsors one student team each semester, giving students real-world exposure and allowing employees to get to know potential job candidates better.
Activities like these lure Schmitt and Keller back to campus three or four times a semester. Both say they love immersing themselves in the youthful energy and excitement they find there.
“It kind of pumps me up when I go,” says Keller.
Guiding executive education into an agile future
With a BSEE from Virginia Tech, Open Source Ecosystem Senior Engineer and Product Owner Marty Turner does not have a degree from NCSU but he loves spending time there. His relationship with the university began with NetApp’s Business Growth Innovation Consortium (BGIC). Offered at NetApp’s RTP site, BGIC brings together professors from the university’s North Carolina State Executive Education program and its Poole College of Management to give participants a high-level view of innovation and a framework to organize and advance their ideas within a company. After Turner completed the program, he returned as a mentor, wanting to help others through the course and also hoping to stay connected with the NCSU professors, whose insights he founds inspiring.
In late 2016, the director of the NCSU Executive Education Program invited Turner to join its advisory board. Experienced in using Agile methodologies to build and manage his teams, Turner saw the invitation to join the board—and “build not only NetApp leaders, but leaders at other organizations”—as incredibly exciting. An interview with Turner is featured in the NC State Executive Education Newsletter for December 2017.
“I thought that I could add value on how they should be formulating their curriculum and their executive education group,” he says. “I bring perspective on what software development looks like today, what organizational structures look like, what kind of training we do at NetApp and how we build engineers into leaders. It’s more conceptual than other board roles might be—it’s all about building the curriculum of the future.”
The regular members of the advisory board, mostly HR professionals, meet several times a year. This year’s meetings have addressed the curriculum for the school’s data science program and explored new ideas about targeting different age ranges, such as first line managers.
Turner believes he has helped the program by bringing an outside expert in Agile human resources to speak on how Agile software methodologies are changing HR departments—and how tech companies who may be hiring NSCU graduates are beginning to use an Agile approach to activities like recruiting, hiring, reviews and merit increases.
“It’s an honor to be advising a highly regarded state university about their curriculum,” Turner says. “I think it’s pretty cool that NetApp’s culture of a flexible work-life balance allows us to do these things that are very important to us.”
Giving women and minority engineering students a boost
“I’m 50 percent techie and 50 percent social, and my passion in the social part is giving back to my community,” says Senior Engineering Program Manager Tamara Nichols Helms. “I love to see our youth striving, and I feel sad that our underrepresented culture groups don’t have the visibility or awareness of the types of careers like the one I’m in. Just making them aware can open up such a bigger opportunity for them.”
An alumna of NSCU, Helms was a member of the university’s Women and Minority Engineering Programs as a student. Her unique experience with co-ops, internships and other programs has earned her a seat on NCSU’s Minority and Engineering Board.
“This board is not about curriculum,” she says. “It’s a support structure for these students. I can give them insight on how they can structure their programs to be beneficial to corporate partners, as well as to the students—and as an MBA, I can converse about strategy—or brainstorm about the budget with them.”
The board meets twice a year and members are asked to help champion NCSU’s minority program within their companies. This includes arranging events like minority student site visits or looking for volunteers who can facilitate “chat talks” at the Society of Women Engineers’ on-campus events.
Helms has also been a facilitator at one of NCSU’s minority engineering program’s summer programs. She loves student face-time and has worked with the students on activities like mock interviews. She also enjoys sharing her career story with the students and frequently talks with them at networking functions prior to her board meetings.
The dramatic decrease in minorities entering engineering has been a frequent topic of concern at board meetings, and Helms has joined in the board’s efforts to introduce STEM concepts and careers to local middle and early high school students through a summer program. She has also brought this idea back to NetApp in the form of a successful pilot where eight WIT-sponsored volunteers helped Raleigh fourth and fifth graders with STEM-related exercises and activities in May 2017. The goal is now to make the program a monthly occurrence.
“NetApp culture embraces giving back to the community,” Helms says. “It embraces diversity and encourages us to find something we are passionate about. It feeds that non-techie side of me.”
Bringing people and Cal Poly boards together
The love Senior Manager for Finance and Operations Tim Calder has for his alma mater, California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), is tinged with nostalgia and gratitude. “I’ll never forget that my Cal Poly experience gave me the skills to be successful in my career,” he says. “And it wasn’t just the classes but also the leadership opportunities I was offered, like being elected president of the on-campus chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.”
Calder aims to bring as many Cal Poly students as possible onboard at NetApp because he passionately believes they are top talent and worth hiring. Throughout the 15 years Calder has been with the company, he has developed an extensive and deep network with Cal Poly’s university administration and professors. He has also helped NetApp’s University Relations team build out the Cal Poly partnership by keeping track of the current “army” of 74 employees who are Cal Poly alumni and asking for their help with onsite recruiting, workshops, job fairs, guest lectures—and even board membership.
When a VP-level NetApp executive who was representing the company on the Orfalea College of Business Dean’s Advisory Council left, Calder was hoping to backfill the position with another VP-level NetApp executive, but at the time, none were Cal Poly alums. Then he boldly asked the dean if he himself might join, even though he was not at the normally-required VP level of most other board members. Invited to attend a meeting, Calder was accepted onto the board, which expects a financial donation as well as a time contribution from each member. The most junior member of the board, Calder enjoys the opportunity to network with people who are founders, partners or vice presidents of companies ranging from Clif Bar to Morgan Stanley.
As well as participating in thrice-yearly board meetings, Calder will be facilitating an upcoming joint project with NetApp’s Interproject Reporting Data Management team and Orfalea’s Business Analytics Master’s program.
“It would be great if more people at NetApp would serve on advisory boards wherever they graduated from,” he says. “It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of time, and it adds more value than just giving to the school financially.”
For the good of the community
All these advisory board members agree on two things: the relationships they have with these academic institutions are of great mutual benefit to the school, NetApp and themselves—and they feel honored to help shape the future of NetApp. And their sense of pride goes beyond just the company.
“This is also an opportunity to make a difference,” adds Greg Keller. “We have a chance to not only influence the direction of curriculum and research and diversity for NetApp, but what we’re doing absolutely empowers the broader community.”