Neil G. McGowan is vice president of Sales for Americas Global Accounts at NetApp.
He drives revenue with NetApp technologies into the top 50 headquarter accounts in the United States. These range from banks to life science companies to tech companies. In so doing, he must facilitate transactions with companies that service their own needs, and at the same time, address the needs of NetApp, which created the world’s first networked storage appliance.
NetApp builds software and hardware, data storage, and data infrastructure systems that enable its customers to store, organize, access, retrieve, and share information. NetApp technology used by their customers and partners helps their businesses transform to meet the demands of B2B. Those demands include getting their applications and services to their customers through data centers onsite at the customer and in the cloud.
“These transactions are complicated and require everything from legal prowess to accounting prowess to financial prowess to engineering technology prowess,” McGowan said. “My role is to make sure I have a vantage understanding of the entire business that NetApp conducts and how different functions relate to each other and to transactions that I put into play.”
As a Silicon Valley veteran, McGowan says it is important for young and upwardly mobile professionals to understand the industry and not just the technical side of the business.
“Often, I find kids coming out of college are not sure what they want to do,” he said. “The tech industry is more than just engineers; it’s marketing, it’s sales, it’s accounting, it’s finance. Whatever your interest, the technology field has a place for you.”
McGowan also said community colleges have wonderful programs that train people just as effectively as any four-year institution, enabling them to qualify for four-year institutions in a much more affordable way.
“There’s so much demand for talent that universities cannot produce all the talent that we need,” he said.
According to McGowan, two attributes ensure success in an ever-changing industry. You don’t have to come to the door with all the knowledge in the world, he explained. However, “it’s a people business in a big way, so a positive attitude is needed. Lots of things get done with teams, so an ability to work with others is key. Attitude and aptitude are qualities valued highly in the sector.”
McGowan got his start after some advice from a professor. As a student, McGowan’s goal was to get a job as fast as he could to generate income. Soon he started taking technology classes and graduated with a computer science degree. He got his first job as a systems analyst working for a tech company supporting customers in the Wall Street area.
“I spent my formative years working with banks and brokerage firms, providing our technology for them, and supporting the technology that we sold to them,” he said. “Over the years, I got a taste for the selling side of the business, but I was more active in being a technical person.”
McGowan’s career went from product marketing to support technical instructor, and ultimately, sales. NetApp educates and trains its workforce through its NetApp University.
“We train everyone through classroom training and online courses,” he said. “NetApp also trains our partners and customers. Also, we have an annual boot camp. For example, I did a camp at the Research Triangle in North Carolina to help folks learn more about the industry. We focused simulations on finance, life sciences business, retail, energy, and manufacturing.”
McGowan says individuals preparing to work in the tech industry need to understand what technology is and does. “So, if somebody says storage, understand what that means. If someone says network, understand what that means. If someone says computer, understand what that means,” he explains.
“The industry is about three things: network, storage, and computing. Companies are taking those core technologies and applying them to different types of solutions for themselves and their customers,” McGowan adds.
Each year, NetApp hires people via its sales and engineering track. “We also have internships for college sophomores through seniors, and we hire on our website,” he said.
“Learn as much as you can: Whether it’s technical pieces of information or business pieces of information. Technology is a thinking person’s game. Things are changing so fast that anything you knew yesterday may not be true today.”
“Be curious: Keep questioning what you know. You don’t know where you’re going to end up. I’m learning things as a general manager. So be prepared for things you end up liking, which may be different from the early part of your career path. You can only stay on that path if you’re prepared.”