Leadership3 min read

Purnima Padmanabhan: Passion Principle

Title: VP and general manager, cloud automation, VMware

Base of operations: Palo Alto, Calif.

Time at VMware: 5 years

How has your career journey evolved over the years?

I have been in the technology game pretty much right from the beginning. I actually started in the chip industry back in the 90s. I was doing chip design and then worked for a startup company. That's when I got very interested in entrepreneurship and building companies, so I went back to business school.

Post-business school, I have been in the cloud industry. I first joined Loudcloud. That was a really amazing journey, being part of that team and building out what I would call generation 1.0 of cloud.

After Loudcloud was sold, I joined a company called Marimba, where I was responsible for building out the data center management business. Within a few years, we sold that to BMC Software. As more of a startup entrepreneurial type, I didn’t think I wouldn’t fit in. But I was pleasantly surprised and ended up running data center management, all the way from monitoring, troubleshooting, the remedy platform, etc.

I eventually transitioned into helping launch another startup, and then started incubating my own startup in the container management space. I kept hearing from my customers that they wanted this capability, and I wanted to be part of a broader solution. Over the years, VMware had tried to recruit me several times, but that’s when the conversation really started. I thought this might be a perfect opportunity to take all my learnings and build it in a larger company, offering customers one solution set. And that's how I ended up joining VMware.

What are you most proud of during your time at VMware?

I really love the culture at VMware. It's just a very kind, collaborative culture. At the same time, within the cloud management business, we were able to really create a very entrepreneurial, innovation-focused culture. We drive things really fast and make rapid changes.

Over the last four years, we've transformed the business. Now, as the leader of the cloud management business, I'm very excited to see how we can continue to grow. I jokingly tell customers, “You pick your poison, and we’ll be there to manage it.” There will be many things customers need in their environment, and we will never dictate that.

Whether you're using our vSphere-based VMware stack, our cloud stack, our application stack or someone else's stack, like AWS or Microsoft Azure, we give you that single continuous pane of glass for visibility, cost, security, monitoring, troubleshooting. I mean, that's the very powerful value proposition we’re bringing to the market.

If you could see five years into the future, where do you believe the industry will be?

As a technology leader, I believe the world of the self-driving data center will become a reality. With the increase in complexity, we talk a lot about automation and cloud. Now, imagine for a moment that more and more of these systems understand our intent and automatically act on it. That is the world of self-driving.

Of course, it’s already available in autonomous vehicles, web-based transactions, on your social feeds, etc. Bringing it to the data center and to IT is one of the biggest innovations unfolding right now. Imagine that you just build your business apps, define your business needs and the rest of the infrastructure magically adjusts to meet your needs. It’s where the data center (and infrastructure) understands your application and business needs and adjusts to meet them. This is AI and machine learning becoming mainstream in our business.

What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?

“Enjoy what you do, and you’ll always be happy and successful.” When you find that joy for what you do, long hours or a few sleepless nights won’t matter. You’ll find yourself feeding off the passion, learning from your failures and pushing on to realize your goals. I suppose that is grit: passion together with perseverance. 

What advice do you have for technologists, especially younger women, exploring a career in tech?

Challenge the status quo. Please don’t hit the brakes because someone told you that you can’t do it. If the path you chose seems to be a dead end, carve out a different path to arrive at the outcomes you desire. We can’t all be waiting on the world to change. So, I would recommend that you take a practical approach to situations where you feel like you’re not being heard. I ask myself, “How would I say it differently? Could I be more precise or concise?”