Leader talks: Pure Storage’s Paul Melmon on Prague’s new Silicon Valley

Rapidly growing U.S. tech leader Pure Storage is opening a new research hub in Prague to steer its global innovation.

William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 04.10.2022 16:54:00 (updated on 04.10.2022) Reading time: 5 minutes

The IT sector is among the most desirable industries for workers in Czechia right now. Nothing epitomizes its appeal more than the new research and development office opened by global data storage leader Pure Storage in Prague’s trendy Karlín district.

Set alongside the Vltava river, the building gleams with bustling modernity. It’s designed to be a place where the country’s leading tech professionals can do their best work, even while sitting out on the balconies overlooking the river.

The impressive facility is an expansion of Pure Storage’s presence in the Czech market, a logical step given the company’s remarkable recent growth. Pure Storage’s tailored data storage software solutions redefine how customers handle and interact with their data, allowing them to fully capitalize on the possibilities of the digital age.

The company first established its Prague R&D center in 2020 and has doubled the number of employees at the site each year since. It plans to continue this rapid growth in the future, predicting that its number of employees in Prague will double again in 2023 and 2024.

As we sit down to talk about Pure Storage’s plans for the location, Paul Melmon, the new Head of the Czech R&D center, tells me that a quality working environment is necessary for attracting the top talent needed to make these ambitions come true.

Your emphasis on research necessitates attracting the best local talent, so how do you go about this in a competitive IT environment such as Prague?

We have a multi-pronged strategy. We have over 30 nationalities represented in the Prague center today, so it’s not just a question of looking at the Czech ecosystem, but also of looking at the broader region and recruiting there too.

One factor is continued outreach into the broader community through forums in which we participate, helping us reach the local IT community. And we have an incredibly high-caliber talent-acquisition team, without whom none of this growth would be possible.

Of course, having a facility like the one we’re sitting in now is a factor in offering talented professionals a reason to join us. We have a culture where people enjoy coming to work, and which supports diverse ideas and diverse backgrounds. And we have a customer base that allows us to innovate and try out new ideas. All these factors together mean that when engineers look at us, they see that we are the place to be.

What are the benefits of diversity in the workplace? Does a mixture of Czech and foreign workers lead to particularly good results?

Diversity leads to better outcomes, better thinking, and new ideas, which ultimately leads to a higher level of innovation. We’re strong believers in this. A cultural mix leads to solutions that serve all our customers as a global organization.

One way of understanding this is that our customers are global, and our engineering organization is global by nature too. So it’s also a reflection of where we want to be in terms of our customers.

Here in our Prague center, we already have female leadership on the engineering side, and this is also something we support and want to see more of. Boosting female representation will necessitate more graduates coming through, which of course stems from earlier education; in the US there are various organizations with this aim forming part of the local ecosystem.

What about your own background? What led you to take up the leadership of this R&D center in Prague?

I grew up in Silicon Valley. Like most things in life, the story of how I got here was something planned and unplanned!

I spent most of my career working in venture-backed start-ups, heading up engineering, and helping those start-ups grow. I was involved with six different start-ups. Later, I was introduced to Pure Storage through a colleague with who I worked at another company.

Initially, I helped to formulate a strategy for Evergreen//One, a model which is all about thinking of storage as a service. As we worked on our plans in this area, our initial R&D investments were targeted here, in Prague. So I started working with the team here in Prague, and one thing led to another.

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We ultimately made a strategic decision to not only operate in Prague but to also turn Prague into our regional R&D center, the heartbeat of our activity in this area.

Why was Prague chosen as the focus?

The decision was based on prior success with other initiatives led here in Prague. We spend 20 percent of our revenue on R&D, and we realized that this is an effective place to make that investment by staffing our Prague center with the best engineers. And we already had a track record of recruiting top talent here. What’s more, there’s a higher level of investment to support IT infrastructure here than in most other EU countries.

We had also already figured out a way of working together between America and Prague, which is a challenge: how do you solve that nine-hour time difference? There’s no magic bullet, but there are ways to manage it well. It’s all about effective communication and minimizing dependencies between Prague and North America.

And how independent will the Prague R&D center be from the U.S. headquarters?

Let me illustrate how serious we are about this center. As a company, we were recently discussing new employee on-ramping, as it’s always important to measure how long it takes a new employee to get up to speed.

Prior to the pandemic, we would take any new hire around the world to Silicon Valley for two weeks. But we’ve now looked at this ‘mothership’ mentality and decided that it doesn’t make sense anymore, because there is so much expertise here in Prague and the company culture is so well established here. 

How do you come up with ideas? Where does the impetus for your research come from?

A mixture of factors comes into play. We have programs that allow us to incorporate customer feedback into our product development. We also hold events such as hackathons, and the participation rate here in Prague is actually higher than at any other of our sites. This helps engineers develop ideas that might ultimately become part of the product roadmap.

The pandemic didn’t fundamentally change customer needs, but it did change our interaction model with customers. We find that sometimes, face-to-face dialogues lead to more innovative solutions. We recently held our Accelerate conference in Prague, for example; to be able to once again be in the same room with our customers will offer greater opportunities for innovation to occur. As we believe there is value in being together in person, we use a hybrid work policy.

We then communicate our solutions to customers using a multi-channel system, digitally and through events here in Prague. And our approach is always tailored to individual customers; it’s never a one-size-fits-all approach.

Together with our commitment to re-investing 20 percent of our revenue into R&D, this way of working is part of a model which has made Pure Storage successful to date. And it’s a model that we’re going to stick to, as it has proven its value.

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