The job scenario in the IT world looks a bit gloomy with the current economic slowdown. But companies like NetApp are all set to buck the trend and continue with ‘smart’ hiring. Diksha P Gupta from Open Source For You spoke to Santhosh D’Souza, director, Systems Engineering at NetApp India, about the hiring of engineering talent in the company. Excerpts:
Q In general, do you find a growing acceptance for open source technology?
Oh yes, absolutely! If you look at the IT environment, you will find a whole set of technologies and products that have emerged directly out of the open source environment. If you were to look at the operating systems side, various Linux distributions have become widely accepted across verticals in India. If you take the application environment and Web server environment, a whole lot of open source technologies are being used in both, including projects like Apache and so on. In the case of databases, open source databases are perhaps not as ubiquitously deployed as commercial database software, but they are deployed in a variety of organisations. With messaging and collaboration, a wide array of open source technology is being used there. In default desktop browsers, a large share of that market is based on open source technology. So over the years, we have seen increasing acceptance of open source technology.
The one thing that probably hindered the adoption of open source technology earlier was the uncertainty around support and the continued enhancement of products. But, open source communities have proved themselves to be viable in the long run, in terms of continuity and product enhancement. Communities like Apache are a testimony to that. This was a primary concern earlier and it has been addressed over time. The other aspect is that increasingly, there have been IT services and systems integrators, who have incorporated competencies around open source platforms, so that they can effectively support the deployments in the enterprise market place. That has begun to alleviate concerns around the portability of open source technologies. So, service providers also incorporate a wide variety of open source technologies in their environments, particularly because they have hired the skillsets that enable them to support open source technologies effectively. So, there has been a significant increase in the adoption and acceptance of open source technologies, both in the private space as well as in the government set-up.
Q What kind of engineering talent do you hire at NetApp?
We have a fairly big R&D set-up in India. We seek architects and engineers who are familiar with the IT environment across the region, and are conversant with the trends that drive industries like banking, telecom and manufacturing. We also keep in touch with how the government and its nodal agencies are connected with citizens and provide citizen services based on IT. We focus on service providers that capture the public cloud space, too. We look for talent that is conversant with the trends that drive businesses and therefore impact the kind of applications and workloads that, in turn, place certain requirements on the storage platform, which is basically the product portfolio that NetApp carries. On the other hand, there is the R&D department, which seeks talent that shapes product and technology directions. We have the largest technology centre across NetApp, globally, based here in India. Most of these engineers are engaged in actual product research and development.
So we look for talent across the programming and storage technologies and environments. Apart from this, we are fairly participative in the open source and open standards space, and obviously require talent that helps us contribute to the open source and open standards communities. That is the broad nature of engineering talent that we employ in our organisation.
Q What kind of open source technologies do you use and sell at NetApp?
The technologies that we use are a reflection of the kind of communities that we participate in and contribute to. For example, we contribute to the Linux kernel community. We have employees who have contributed directly to the Linux kernel. Another community that we work with very closely is FreeBSD. Other open source and open standards communities that we work with include the CDMI standard for data interoperability in the cloud environment. We support the standards in our products and technologies. For example, we have a product called Storage Grid, which provides a content repository that embraces all of the storage that exists globally in multiple data centres, into one single logical entity, which can be accessed from across the world. One of the standards that we use to allow consumers to access the data on this content repository is through the CDMI standard, which is popular and prevalent in the consumer cloud space. So we participate in the CDMI community, and incorporate support for CDMI products and technologies.
Yet another community that we work very closely with is OpenStack. It provides vendor agnostic standards and interfaces that allow us to build pooled infrastructure resources for private and public clouds. NetApp is one of the founding members of OpenStack. We contribute code to OpenStack releases. In the Folsom OpenStack release, we contributed code for the OpenStack compute and OpenStack Block Storage modules. We continue to work with OpenStack for its upcoming release, Grizzly, as well. We have proposed adding to the object base and block storage modules, extending them to incorporate support for file services in the OpenStack platform. There are engineers across our R&D department in India, and globally, who work vigorously in these communities, not only in terms of evangelising the standards and open source code, but also contributing to these in a major way. Some of these technologies are also used internally, not only to drive our innovation back into the community but also as part of the workplace resources that are required for our R&D environment.
Q You contribute to these projects from the India facility also?
We have some engineers who are part of our contributory groups for these open source and open standards environments.
Q Keeping these open source projects and open standards environments in mind, what kind of skillsets do you look for in the engineers when you take them on board?
There are some basic classical development environments that are pretty much considered as standards, whether it is object oriented coding, the C/C++ or the Java environments. These are being rapidly supplemented by other tool sets and make more sense in the kind of Web scale deployment languages like Ruby and Ruby on Rails. In fact, a whole gamut of open source development environments is used at NetApp in Web scale deployments and initiatives. So in our R&D environments, we look for the classical development skills around traditional languages like C/C++, Java and so on. In addition, we look for core operating system architectural skills, because the storage platform is a fairly comprehensive one that we have developed over the last 20 years into more or less a storage operating system. It provides a kernel — a set of data services on top, which will be the basis for features in our products like SnapShot, Compression, De-Duplication, etc. So familiarity with operating system development is something that would be highly desirable in an environment like NetApp.
Q Since it is not such a favourable time for the economy, do you still have plans to hire and grow the workforce?
The economy going through a difficult time is definitely a challenge. It is an opportunity for people to look closely at IT. When we talk to customers who are using our products, we can see two distinct trends that incorporate the economic realities of today. On one hand, there is a whole set of efficiencies that customers are looking to bring in to their IT architecture, whether it is in enterprises, service providers or government. One of the areas that they will be keenly looking at is to optimise the cost. The second aspect that’s linked to the first is that given the economic environment, and with enterprises looking to get a bigger share of what is probably a stagnant market, enterprises and services providers would need to differentiate their products and offerings in the market space to appeal over their competition. So the ability to provide differentiated solutions, the ability to reach products to the market faster, or provide services that appeal to the consumers and end users is something that is very much in the minds of enterprises and service providers.
In a market that is not growing sufficiently, one way to continue with growth is to optimise on cost and another way is to increase revenue by reaching out to more and more consumers and acquiring a higher market share. So enterprises are also focused on reaching out to more customers to respond to the fluctuating conditions.
Over the last 20 years, we have focused on both sides of the picture. We are trying to offer the best of technology, which reflects in the hiring that we continue to do in the areas of focus decided by us. Our technology makes sense to the market place, and therefore we continue to invest in the right skills in areas that we want to focus on to deliver innovation.
Q Do you hire freshers or do you prefer lateral hiring?
We span the entire gamut. NetApp places a lot of emphasis on the culture of the workplace. Our culture is enriched by the diversity of the talent that we have in the company. We believe that each new hire brings something unique and valuable to the company. While we do lateral hiring at NetApp, we have a fairly programmed approach to hiring new graduates from colleges. This happens both in the R&D and sales departments.
Q Do you feel that the certifications in IT add value to one’s profile and are helpful in getting professionals hired?
Certifications definitely help. There are a whole lot of reputed organisations in India that offer certifications. These supplement the curriculum that the colleges teach. This is an interesting development that helps students improve their profile. I can remember that during my years as a student, I was completely isolated from what was going on in the development environments around the world. But today, college students have unprecedented access to the general trends in the applications and the platform development space. They have opportunities to participate in and contribute to a wide variety of open source communities even before they start working. If all this can be supplemented by certifications, there’s nothing like it. But that is definitely not all. The few important things that are looked for include skills from the technology stand point, the right attitude in terms of innovation – how prepared is the candidate to face the anticipated developments and trends in the technology space, and an attitude that fosters an enterprising initiative, like working with open source communities across the globe. Good coding skills and the correct attitude can get you hired.