It’s been said that innovation is what distinguishes a leader from a follower, and it’s clear that Venkat Ramakrishnan has bought into this leadership ethos. As VP of Engineering at Portworx, he’s more than doubled his engineering team in the past year (from 15 to over 40 and growing!) and he’ll be the first to admit that some of his processes for hiring and managing are a bit unconventional. His “secret sauce” for scaling a team of exceptional engineers? Always be interviewing — even when you don’t have a role open. People who reach out on Portworx’s website, LinkedIn, or through his network, will all have a chance to interview with Venkat, no matter if there’s a job available for them at the moment. “Hiring — and hiring right — is the most important task of a startup leader – not just in engineering. I spend a lot of time interviewing candidates and I am constantly looking to network and seek out great talent in the industry. If they look interesting, I’ll talk to them. If the conversation went well, when the time comes and a role opens (and they’re in a place where they’re not too happy), that connection is already created. It has helped me scale the team tremendously and bring in great hires who make a huge impact on the product and overall execution.”
Always having a pool of potential candidates to pull from has greatly helped Venkat and Portworx hire based on the candidates they want to bring on board, rather than hiring out of desperation to fill a role. Not only does he do this with his own network, he’ll also build relationships with external recruiters to find potential future employees even if a role is not opening for a few months, especially if certain skills are required. “You have to be creative and keep your network open, even when working with recruiters. I’ll tell them if there’s a role that could potentially open in the future and ask them to send me any matches they come across. By the time the connection is established and the conversation has begun, in 2-3 months [after the initial conversation with the recruiter] the role is open and we’re ready to bring them on board.”
When it comes to interviewing, some might find Venkat’s style equally as unconventional. “If they exhibit a trait I call fire in the belly, I’ve always seen them do well. Hire for a great attitude, energy and skills — but remember that attitude and energy are things that develop over a period of time, and skills can be taught. As long as there is not a 100% mismatch in skills and if the person we’re hiring has done similar work or in the same technology space; if they demonstrate a great attitude, an eagerness to learn, and if they try to attack tough problems you pose to them — these people will do well.” It’s nearly impossible, he says, to find anyone who’s a perfect fit for any role. Instead, he says, hire for the right attitude and skills can always be taught. That being said, there obviously can’t be too large of a gap, but it’s about finding the right mix. “I look for whether they’ve taken on additional responsibilities in their current or previous role. Can they adapt? What kind of work have they done and can they apply it in the new role? Is there a gap I can help them bridge?” Also important, he says, is to always remember to go into interviews with the understanding that not everyone interviews very well, and not everyone interviews all of the time. Make sure you make the candidate comfortable, and see beyond the “perfect answer.”
Finally, when interviewing candidates, it’s important to remember that the onus is not solely on the interviewee. “The interviewer has an equally important duty to demonstrate eagerness and to come across as someone who the candidate would be able to work with as a partner and someone who will invest in their career, be a coach for them.”
His strategy of always connecting and interviewing, along with seeing potential in candidates throughout the interview process has lead to some incredible success. Venkat has done an extraordinary job scaling his team, and certainly has his work cut out for him. In March 2019, Portworx received $27M in Series C funding, following a record year of revenue and customer growth (and a whopping 400% year-over-year bookings increase). With a total of $55.5 million in financing to date, Portworx will use the latest round of funding to expand into new global markets, continue developing its flagship platform Portworx Enterprise, and grow its world-class engineering, sales, and channel teams. Venkat’s focused recruiting strategies will certainly help Portworx in scaling to the next level.
Portworx is the cloud-native storage company modern enterprises trust to manage data in containers. Portworx dramatically reduces storage, compute and infrastructure costs for running mission critical multi-cloud applications with zero downtime or data loss for customers such as GE Digital, Lufthansa Systems, HPE and thirty members of the Fortune Global 2000 or federal agencies. The company is headquartered in Los Altos, Calif., and investors include Mayfield, Sapphire Ventures and GE Ventures, Mubadala, Cisco, HPE and NetApp. For more information, visit portworx.com or follow @portwx.