This month as we continue to meet the people behind the technology, we sat down with Raj Rana, Director of Systems Engineering for Civilian and Federal Healthcare. Raj, a long-time IT professional at NetApp, shared his perspective on emerging technologies and STEM education. See what Raj had to say about his time at NetApp and what he is doing to give back to the greater community in these times of technological change:

raj ranaGovDataDownload (GDD): Raj, thanks for sitting down with us. Can you tell us about your role at NetApp?

Raj Rana (RR): First off, thank you for having me.

I have held a number of roles at NetApp, but currently I am the Director of Systems Engineering for Civilian and Federal Healthcare.

GDD: Can you tell us about your experience prior to joining NetApp and how it prepared you for your career with NetApp?

RR: Before I started at NetApp, I had very little knowledge of the company. What I was really attracted to at the time was the culture of the organization based on recommendations from peers that were already working there.

One of my peers, someone whom I trusted quite a bit, shared that NetApp, even as a growth company, offered unprecedented access to the executives at all levels of the company. That access and the freedom that came along with it and the opportunity to capitalize on that and create something was very appealing to me.

My professional background is heavily services-oriented, more specifically in software development. My experience with application development required that I have an intimate knowledge of my customer’s processes and challenges and helped refine my ability to capture customer requirements, allowing me to provide them with the best possible solution.

Now, ten to fifteen years later, my background in development has proven even more valuable with the increased presence of new technologies like cloud and the disruptive effects that it is having on traditional infrastructure, as well as the new movements it enables, such as DevOps.

GDD: What do you find most rewarding about working with public sector customers?

RR: What I like most about working with public sector customers is that it is like a Civics lesson every day. It has helped me appreciate the impact that the government has in my daily life and clarifies the impact government makes in our day-to-day lives. Every day, there is something new, and I’m fascinated by learning their missions and understanding how, where and what they do to for citizens day in and day out.

Ultimately, I would say that working with the federal government and understanding agency missions has been fascinating for me because it shows how much our lives are impacted by what they do.

GDD: Can you tell us something about you that we can’t learn from your LinkedIn profile?

RR: My children have given me a new appreciation for the rate of change in technology and have driven much of my activities outside of the office. I’m very passionate about STEM education and by extension, preparing children for the future.

The IT world is changing very rapidly. Looking back from when I graduated, the entire world is different, and even more so for the current generation. They are growing up with computers, tablets, smart phones, and so on. These devices and always being connected is their normal, and that is driving unprecedented access.

Additionally, we are moving from the Information Age to the Maker Age, where if you have a dream, and you have some degree of technical capability, you can create almost anything. While we were constrained to Lincoln Logs, Lego and other such toys, children these days can print their own toys using 3-D printers, and automate those toys using devices such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi. The potential and access are unprecedented.

To that end, a great deal of what I do to support STEM education is spending time with the NOVA Makers and the Children’s Science Center.

Children’s Science Center’s mission is to install a love of learning STEM in children. They want to make science fun and help children learn through exploring and creating. The Children’s Science Center recently opened the Children Science Center Lab in Fair Oaks Mall, and they are raising funds to build a full-scale science museum at the Kincora development in Dulles, VA.

In addition to the Lab, the Children’s Science Center conducts Family Science Nights, where they bring labs to elementary schools and expose students to a variety of topics ranging from human biology- such as how the heart works- or computing foundations- such as binary code. They offer access to topics elementary students don’t usually have access to in a fun and engaging way.

Personally, I do quite a few things with Children’s Science Center. One task I really enjoy is serving as a Presenting Ambassador, where I spend time talking about the center and what they are engaged in to increase STEM education and awareness of its import.

I also work with Children’s Science Center to actually deliver these labs, volunteering to assist with the set-up of the labs and conducting a lab from time to time. I find activities like these rewarding because they allow me to connect with the children and help parents cultivate the interest in their children.

To learn more about the people behind the technology and how they give back to the greater community, click here.