Being the Smartest Person in the Room

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In this lively #NomadFuturist podcast recorded at Data Center World 2021, Phil and Nabeel speak with Dennis Hahn, a cloud and data center subject matter expert and conference speaker. Hahn recounts the varied career path that led him to become Senior Analyst, Data Center Storage at OMDIA—one that encompassed mechanical, industrial and software engineering, plastics design, strategic planning, project and product management.

Hahn always knew that he wanted to be an engineer and studied industrial and mechanical engineering in college. He did a ten-year stint as a mechanical engineer at NCR National Cash Register focusing primarily on packaging. He ended up becoming an expert in plastics design, working closely with the molders who make plastic parts. This led him to computer analysis and learning CAD systems.

Hahn then pursued an MBA, moving from mechanical engineering into project and product management. When presented with the choice of moving into management or pursuing a career as a subject matter expert (SME), Hahn followed his natural proclivities and selected the SME path.

“There’s nothing like coming into a room and being the smartest guy in the room on your product…as I think about my mid-career especially, that goal has really served me well.”

It was a natural progression from subject matter expert to product management.

“Product management is a great career within the IT industry…it’s good to have an MBA and an engineering degree. You’re constantly straddling business and engineering while doing the job.”

The next focus in Hahn’s career was strategic planning which allowed him to work closely with software engineers. He also had the opportunity to work with executives which in turn led to advanced development roles, leading software teams on major cloud projects.

Hahn talks about the opportunities within the IT industry for both individual contributors and managers.

“You can go up the technical side, you can get very technical, you can get very well paid, or you can go up the manager side. You manage people, you motivate people. I see value in all that.”

Hahn’s parting advice for the young:

“Engage in continual learning and be curious!”

His own journey was one he could not have predicted.

“I’ve had some pretty major transitions. To think that I’m doing plastic design one day and years later I’m in the data center picking up the fiber cables into the fiber channel switch and turning it on and it actually all works!”

Dennis Hahn is a cloud and data center subject matter expert, working for OMDIA to lead data center storage research, covering SAN, NAS, DAS, cloud storage, NVMe over Fabrics (NVMeOF), and software-defined storage (SDS). He has more than 35 years of broad industry technology experience, which includes server and storage design, product and project management, corporate and product strategy, and storage innovations development and market insight. Prior to joining OMDIA in 2018, Hahn held positions at NetApp, Symbios Logic, Engenio, and LSI.

Hahn holds patents in storage systems design, data caching, and hybrid cloud data migration. He earned a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and an MBA from Wichita State University. He is also certified in Agile development practices and cloud solution architectures.

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