Father Knows Best: Part 2

In honor of Father’s Day and Graduation week, we asked NetApp employees to share recommendations they have for students and young professionals entering careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Forget the GPA and test scores; passion and curiosity were the common themes viewed as most important. Read on for more advice from NetApp C-level to individual contributors around the world.

What skills do you see as most important for students seeking a career in a STEM-related field?

“The top two skills I see as most important are coding and strategic thinking. Increasingly, we are becoming a digital society. This creates a tremendous opportunity for programmers as companies and organizations look to create highly intelligent products and services, and connect those products and services to customers.” – Rip Wilson, Product Marketing Manager


“The most important thing is to be well-rounded and work well with others. Being an expert in just one area is career limiting, and you run the risk of knowing everything about one thing and nothing about everything else. Almost more important than that is learning how to work well with your teammates.” Derek Leslie, Principal Product Manager


“Communication. It doesn’t matter how much you know or how well you can solve a problem if you aren’t able to clearly articulate the problem and the solution. Practice sharing your knowledge with others through various formats, such as presentations, writing, video, etc.” – Josh Atwell, Developer Advocate


“Good fundamental skills in writing, reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and mathematics are helpful in any career including STEM. Because STEM careers are usually in industries which are rapidly changing, having intellectual curiosity, courage to take risks, and the discipline/ability to learn continuously (especially from mistakes) are also important.” – George Kurian, Chief Executive Officer

Beyond core skills, what personality traits or habits lead to success in the tech industry?

“Be selective in how you apply your skills and time. Find a field that inflames your passion, and work with people you want to grow old with. It’s exhilarating to find an area where you can change the world.” – Lee Caswell, Vice President of Product, Solution and Service Marketing 


“Courage and good instincts. Our industry is changing so fast that you can’t always have the certainty of good data to make a judgment call. Therefore, the courage to take that step into the unknown coupled with the gift of having the right instinct are critical.” – Henri Richard, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Field and Customer Operations

“The most important skill beyond the ability to work well with others is a strong, empathetic curiosity. Knowing what motivates others in an interaction allows the IT professional to shape his/her message to those motivations. Get to know people beyond the surface-level issues. Understanding what the other person wants out of the negotiations (and everything in life is a negotiation) puts you in a position to come to an agreement. – Mark Conley, Director, Central U.S. Channels


What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far and how did you handle it? If you knew then what you know now, would you have handled it differently? How?

“I made a bad career decision once. Two weeks into that new chapter, I knew I had made a mistake. But I basically stuck to it and didn’t even consider turning around. It ended up being a fantastic ending that propelled my career. So in a way, I am not sure I would do it differently today. Nevertheless, it taught me the importance of due diligence—in particular in the dimension of culture. A company with great financial results and an awful culture is not a good place to be!” – Henri Richard, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Field and Customer Operations

“The biggest challenge has always been knowing when to say ‘no’ and when to say ‘yes.’ You only have a limited amount of time to accomplish things. You must make good choices. The same goes for knowing when you’ve done well enough for what is required. It’s easy to want to do it ‘perfectly,’ but the reality is that the perfect implementation often has diminishing returns versus the time spent.” – Josh Atwell, Developer Advocate

“As you start your career, gain confidence with every accomplishment and milestone achieved. Don’t be meek in critical meetings just because you’re young and lack experience compared to other colleagues. Trust your initial instincts (as in the book Blink). Given the accelerating pace of change in mainstream society’s adoption of new technology, your business opinion is actually worth MORE when you’re in the young demographic and ironically gradually loses relevance as you age.” – Val Bercovici, SolidFire CTO