Sam Newnam started his first business when he was just 14 years old. As someone who has operated within the world of technology for nearly 20 years, Sam made the decision to work with Nutanix four years ago because he is passionate about technology that makes a difference.
Taking a few minutes out of a packed schedule at the .NEXT conference to chat with us, Sam reflects on how the culture at Nutanix is what makes the work fulfilling. “It’s kind of fun walking through conferences like this because you can see people who are not just coworkers but are also true friends. Some of the smartest and brightest brains that work in our industry are here, and they’re willing to take 30 minutes to teach you what they’re doing. And they’re never too good or too busy to help out. It’s just always been that culture of connection and friendship first. And then we’ll get to business. And I think that keeps a lot of people here even through turmoil and the trials that a growing company goes through.”
Respecting and enjoying the people you work with is what can take a job from “just a paycheck” to a fulfilling career. Sam fosters an encouraging environment for his team through mentorship opportunities and by building relationships. “A lot of people here love mentoring people. It’s kind of funny, the things you learn are always things you want to share. Because most of us trip across the same problems.”
Everyone Deserves a Chance
Sam recalls when he was first starting out, “At a young age I could never find anyone that would give me a chance.” When he brings people onto the team, he is willing to take a chance on someone. “That’s something I carry through my career, I’m much more willing to give people who have the passion and desire a chance to prove themselves.”
So many companies lose their way when they “take a chance” on the less obvious choice but then don’t invest any time in that new employee’s development or success. Sam explains, “When you’re the one making the hires, you’re the one who gets blamed if it’s successful or unsuccessful. You put your personal brand on the line. You have to be willing to extend your own credit a little bit.”
Sam invests in the people he takes a chance on by building them up in onboarding and training so that they can really shine. “Because you’re on the hook, you make extra time. For us, work doesn’t go from 8 to 5. It goes, ‘Hey, let’s go grab a beer after work and talk about the challenges you’ve had.’”
We Succeed Where We Are Inspired
Sam explains that at Nutanix there is an investment in the person more than just the position. “From the top-down here, we want people to succeed where they are inspired.” When interviewing a current employee for a new position, Sam noticed that this employee’s heart didn’t seem to be in it. While the end of that interview could have been the end of that particular career path, Sam reached out instead. “A lot of times these interviews are less about your performance and more about how much time you spend internally figuring out who you want to be when you grow up,” Sam explains. “People are going to do their best work when they love what they do, so why not let them find what they love?” Sam helped his fellow Nutant reflect on that. At the end of the interview process, the employee said, “You’re the first person who ever sat down and actually helped me think about career path and where my actual inspiration comes from and not just what the next logical step in my career should be.”
Tech companies can lose direction because “it’s all about the 1's and 0’s and bits and bytes.” Ultimately, the winning formula is putting people before a product or position. “We’ve got to think about what resonates and inspires people. What gets them up in the morning? What inspires them, and how can I continue to feed that? Because their own personal desires are really the key to success. If I can’t figure that out or meet that, then we fail from the start.”
Human to Human
This approach works for Nutants and customers alike. “We’re selling to humans, so we have to relate to other humans.” While some tech companies get lost in pushing the newest app or development, Sam has found the most useful thing is to start by listening to clients. In placing the focus on people over product, they can have conversations that make clients feel heard and discover an unmet need that could have been overlooked if they hadn’t listened to what the client was actually looking for.
Sam creates that environment for his team as a manager by building relationships. “I believe that good managers here put people in front of the job. You’ve got to understand their life situations. You’ve got to be approachable so people feel like they can open up and share where their struggles are. Because if we can’t identify the problem, nobody’s ever going to be successful.”
“I make sure to know all my employee’s kids’ names.” When he checks in with a team member, the conversation is about more than numbers and productivity--it sounds more like, “‘How did your daughter, Mary, do on her test?’ We have to get back to the personal respect of working with people.”
Diversity Requires Investment
Sam’s biggest advice for advancing diversity and inclusion in the tech industry is, “Make time. Even though it’s probably the scarcest resource we have.” Taking the time to help out a team member is an investment in that relationship and the success of the company. The secret to bringing more diversity to the industry can also be found in Sam’s idea of taking a chance on someone and investing in them. “Our industry depends on finding new ways to do stuff. If we’re built on a culture of innovation, we can’t expect innovation out of the same people and the same minds that we got it from yesterday.”