CIO Spotlight: Wendy M. Pfeiffer, Nutanix

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? "Cloud skills shortages are an issue throughout the world of IT."

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Nutanix

Name: Wendy M. Pfeiffer

Company: Nutanix

Job title: CIO

Date started current role: January 2017

Location: Northern California

As the CIO of Nutanix, Wendy Pfeiffer's focus on enterprise adoption of modern technologies fuels the company's global mission. Pfeiffer also serves on the boards of Qualys (NASDAQ: QLYS) and SADA Systems. A consumer tech enthusiast, Pfeiffer has led technology and operational functions for Robert Half, GoPro, Yahoo! and Cisco. Her recent accolades include being named one of Silicon Republic's Tech Titans, ORBiE Bay Area Enterprise CIO of the Year, the Fisher Center for Data Analytics' CIO of the Year, and one of HMG's Top Technology Executives. She was also ranked first on Enterprise Management 360's list of Top 10 Tech CIO's, named one of Silicon Valley Business Journal's Women of Influence and listed as one of the National Diversity Council's Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology.

What was your first job? I worked in the Space Biology Research Program at NASA Ames Research Center as a Junior in high school. Our funded project was Cockpit Displays of Traffic Information, and I designed and ran the interaction design testing with future space shuttle astronauts and pilots.

Did you always want to work in IT? No, I originally wanted to be a scientist - perhaps finding cures for blood diseases or discovering new stars or planets. However, I discovered large-scale computer systems in the scientific environments I was a part of, and, in the end, those systems became more compelling to me than the scientific output of the systems they supported.

What was your education? Do you hold any certifications? What are they? I received my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Management, and Operations from the University of Phoenix. I have numerous technical certifications, including a now-lapsed early CCIE, a number of cybersecurity certifications, and, these days, a number of certifications related to my public Board service.

Explain your career path. Did you take any detours? If so, discuss. I know this sounds a bit trite, but for me, my life and my career path has never been about the destination or the achievement, it has always been about the journey - the people and the experiences along the way. One of my favourite influencers of all time, author Kurt Vonnegut, wrote something that profoundly affected my attitude about my career, and it still holds true for me today: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”

Like Kurt Vonnegut, I learned from this statement to ignore the myth that things are only worth doing if you can win. Things are actually worth doing for their own sake, if you have an abiding interest in doing them and can make a meaningful contribution. In that context, I don’t think I’ve ever actually been on a career path - I’ve always wandered through the wilderness, making my own trail and pursuing the next great experience.

What business or technology initiatives will be most significant in driving IT investments in your organisation in the coming year? Remote and hybrid work will continue to drive our extended adoption of Hybrid cloud, Machine Learning/NLP and technologies that enable us to utilise Infrastructure as Code.

What are the CEO's top priorities for you in the coming year? How do you plan to support the business with IT?

  • Employees: Enable productive remote and hybrid work for the long-term.
  • Customers: Run an exemplary hybrid cloud utilising Nutanix technology. Provide templates, examples and references for other IT departments.
  • Investors and Shareholders: Ensure that all capabilities are delivered in a cost-effective manner, utilising automation and machine learning.

Does the conventional CIO role include responsibilities it should not hold? Should the role have additional responsibilities it does not currently include? Although I have the best team in the business and wouldn’t trade them for the world, I’ve never understood why IT owns A/V! That’s like having us own print advertising because we also own Collaboration tools!

Are you leading a digital transformation? If so, does it emphasise customer experience and revenue growth or operational efficiency? If both, how do you balance the two? We are actively engaged in transforming our services from high-touch, hands-on services to autonomously delivered services. In the past year alone, we’ve gone from delivering 15% of our services autonomously to well over 50%. At the same time, our employee-generated NPS scores have also improved. Ultimately, enabling employee productivity in this way is both cost-effective and positively impacts revenue. And the impact in IT has been so powerful, that we are now deploying autonomous operations to every other function in the company.

Describe the maturity of your digital business. For example, do you have KPIs to quantify the value of IT? Our digital business is relatively mature. We use two high-level measurements to quantify our value to the company: First Time Right (FTR): A quantitative measure to indicate how much re-work is required for all of our services, and Net Promoter Score (NPS): A qualitative measure of how happy our employees are with the way that we deliver those services. We believe that efficiently delivered IT services that make employees happy are strong contributors to employee productivity, and ultimately, product quality and profitability.

What does good culture fit look like in your organisation? How do you cultivate it? I love this question because I get to be a contrarian in my answer. I have worked incredibly hard to create an extremely diverse team. I over-index on finding and retaining people who think differently from one-another, and then ensure that we have inclusive strategies, tools and tactics to ensure that we benefit from the mix. We don’t want people who “fit” the culture. We want people who break the mould!

What roles or skills are you finding (or anticipate to be) the most difficult to fill? Cloud skills shortages are an issue throughout the world of IT. In a recent survey we conducted, we found that most organisations are facing challenges in ensuring their IT staff has the necessary skills to manage a hybrid IT infrastructure. Additionally, over half of the survey respondents reported that their organisation finds acquiring and retaining IT staff with the skills to successfully do this as one of the top challenges they are facing. Enterprise IT teams spend significant budget ensuring that they find and retain specialists for all of the clouds and technologies in which they run and many companies often underestimate the degree of specialisation required for each public cloud vendor’s technology.

What's the best career advice you ever received? Keep showing up every day. Eventually, they have to give it to you.

Do you have a succession plan? If so, discuss the importance of and challenges with training up high-performing staff. I do have a succession plan, and every one of my leaders also has one for their teams.  It requires creativity and humility to enable and retain high performing staff. One of my secret weapons in this regard is the knowledge that I can change up my organisational structure as often as I like - and those changes force new collaboration and new skills in a way that years of verbal encouragement can’t replicate.

What advice would you give to aspiring IT leaders? No matter whether you are asked to deliver something new technically or something new operationally, if you want to lead, you have to say “Yes”, every time. It’s OK to say “Yes I can, but…”, or “Yes I will, although…”, but start with Yes.

What has been your greatest career achievement? I am proud of the leaders whom I’ve mentored and encouraged, who have career and financial success in part due to my investment into their lives and their capabilities.  These people are the reason I get up each morning, and the reason I sleep peacefully each night. 

Looking back with 20:20 hindsight, what would you have done differently? I would have gone over budget more.

What are you reading now? I tend to read a number of books in parallel, but one I can’t put down these days is The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power from the Freemasons to Facebook, by Niall Ferguson.

Most people don't know that I… Am deeply interested in Steampunk and Cyberpunk devices and styling. What a fascinating subculture!

In my spare time, I like to… Watch Hallmark Mystery movies or read Culinary Mysteries. I love the escape and the simple mental exercises to figure out who the killer is. Plus, there’s usually a happy ending, and who doesn’t like that?

Ask me to do anything but… Clean house. It’s just going to get dirty again!