The Happy Engineer Podcast

018: Stereotypes and CTO’s with Sam Tam

What is happening behind the closed doors of Human Resources? Do you know what it takes to become a CTO level leader? How do you deal with engineering stereotypes?

In this episode, go behind the scenes with my good friend, Vice President & Global HR leader at Visa, Sam Tam. You will immediately feel his energy, experience, and passion to see leaders like you succeed. He is in the room for the highest level talent decisions and development planning for Fortune 200 organizations.

Now you are too.

Originally from Ghana, Sam spent his childhood years in Athens, Greece. He has lived and worked for leading companies in New York, Boston, Michigan, Italy, San Francisco, and Asia Pacific. He loves traveling, eating and more traveling! Discovering new cultures, exploring the unknown and being adventurous and spontaneous is what keeps him ticking. His passion for food is balanced with a love for being active and outdoors

Sam is a true Lifestyle Engineer at heart.

So press play and let’s chat… it’s time to accelerate your career with insights from the inside.


The Happy Engineer Podcast




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You may not be the gregarious, outgoing, extroverted type, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have other things that are going for you in a major way. Use those to your advantage.

Listening is not enough. What is the action that you are going to take, and how do we use it to accelerate your career and get what you want? The first thing I want to go back to are these three key areas that Sam pulled out as that golden through-line between all the engineering leaders that he has seen and interacted with both in big business – places like Whirlpool, Electronic Arts, and Visa – as well as what he saw in the entrepreneurial world there in the Bay Area, when he lived in California. All of the common threads revolved around these three areas.

One was that passion. I love that. One of the things that I see with the engineers who I coach, is that after a decade, maybe two decades in engineering, we disconnect and lose sight of our passion. The original driving force of why you became an engineer in the first place, fizzles out and gets buried under red tape bureaucracy, frustration, bad bosses, toxic culture, colleagues who drive you bonkers.

All of that buries the passion for engineering that is so necessary for you to (1) just love your life, love your work (and 2) to create the success and the achievements that you want to create in your life. If you’re not connected with your engineering passion and with a passion for life, I would encourage you to go back and listen to the episode with Seyka Mejeur, where we talked about choosing passion. But also, I want you to know it is not out of the question to get reconnected with that passion right now. So if you need help with that, let’s connect. 

Number two, intelligence. I know that you have this, if you’re an engineer and you’re listening to this podcast. But it’s a reminder that you still do want to continue to nurture and build your intelligence, your knowledge, your skill set, and stay up to date. Even as you move into management and people leadership roles don’t get completely disconnected from the technologies and the products, et cetera. You always want to maintain that edge. 

And number three, those communication skills. So cliché, in some ways incredibly obvious, but I just want you to pay attention that here’s a vice president of HR who is in the room when the engineer promotion decisions to director and VP are being made, telling us that communication skills are essential.

That ability to bring a complex engineering problem down into the basic basic fifth grade level communication is essential. I want to give you a little tip, a little hack on how to practice this. Speak into a voice recorder on your phone and transcribe what you’re saying into text, then take that text and load it into an app such as the Hemingway app. This app will take what you’ve said (now in written form) and help you simplify it so you can make it easier for others (especially the non-engineers around you) to understand the core concepts you are trying to convey.

Another great way for you to check yourself on this is to go into your inbox and grab your last couple of emails that you sent to someone who was not an engineer about engineering topics. Take that email that you sent them, copy and paste that text into the Hemingway app and see what grade level that writing is.

Challenge yourself then to edit it down to something extreme, you know, a third grade or second grade level, and actually realize just how simple the sentence structure and the word selection must be to reach a fifth grade level. It may surprise you. So use a tool like that with your practice. 

The art of feedback is something that we do not take advantage of enough.

Sam mentioned that practice makes perfect. Well, I want to put a little spin on that. Some of you may have heard that practice makes permanent, but perfect practice makes perfect. So if you practice communicating the wrong way over and over, you’re not becoming perfect. In fact, quite the opposite. You’re reinforcing the bad habits. This is why feedback is so important because practice makes permanent, and it is perfect practice that makes perfect. So make sure that as you do this, you’re doing it the right way and that you’re getting the coaching and feedback you need to improve.

Now, for those of you who want to make it truly to the top levels of the organization. I want to take the next couple of minutes and talk specifically to you, if you’re not sure, or you’re content with your career at a level that’s below director or vice president that’s completely fine. There is no judgment for that, and there is no problem with that. 

I love it when I hear someone who has a clear vision for their career to stay at a lower level, because it works for your life balance. It works for your goals, and you’re happy right where you’re at. That’s great. But for those of you who do want to make it to those high levels, I want to come back to this topic of having a sponsor. Sam Tam, VP of HR at Visa, giving us his perspective on what it takes to break through to those senior level leadership positions.

I remember so vividly, being at Whirlpool in my career, looking around the organization and seeing the results that some of these leaders who had, I used to say, “been picked” by someone. It’s like, how do you get picked to be the one who gets all of the attention, opportunities, and promotions? That was the way I always thought about it as if somehow the stars had to align and the universe had to be favoring you in order for this to happen. Yes, some of you will get picked to be sponsored. 

Congratulations to those of you who do, you should celebrate that. You deserve it, you earned it, and I’m so happy for you! But for the 90% plus who don’t get picked, 99.99% of you are not going to do anything about it, except complain. And stay stuck, stay on a slower path, or you’re going to try and grind it out by working even harder and somehow prove to everyone that you should have gotten picked. (Good luck with that)

Begin by sponsoring yourself and then go ask for a sponsor. Just do it. Go and ask for a sponsor. This is not a hard thing. I wish that someone had come up to me when I was at Whirlpool and said, “Hey, quit waiting around hoping someone will come help you. Go find someone to build a relationship with and ask them for help.” This isn’t a Marvel movie, nobody is coming to save you. You have to step up and be your own hero. Even if all that means is to find someone more powerful than yourself to help you achieve the success you desire. If you find this idea uncomfortable, or even frightening, then reach out to me. That’s exactly the kind of thing that we help our clients to build the courage to do.

“Ex-e-cution. Get things done. Do not come talk to me about promotions or moving forward if you’re not able to really – consistently, by the way – execute, do your job, and get things done.”

Remember this, you’re not ready to go find a sponsor until you’ve got the basics covered. If you’re so busy dreaming of being VP that you’re dropping the ball on your daily responsibilities then take a moment to check yourself. Make sure you’re consistently and reliably delivering results as you should be. Make sure you are seeking that feedback, developing a reputation of being coachable, and making your intentions clear of what you want and where you want to be in the future. Then, when you’re ready, start searching for your sponsor. 

If you need help with this, just ask. If you don’t feel confident in how to do it, we’ll show you how to make that conversation easy and make it something that is not this big, ominous, scary, impossible thing. Thank you, Sam Tam for bringing that from the outside perspective, in that it is okay and encouraged to go ask for a sponsor.

And in fact, there are people in your organization right now who want to sponsor someone. I hope this conversation spurs you into action because it’s action that gets results. That’s what we’re about here, and that’s what this podcast is all about. So connect with me, shoot me some feedback. Let me know how this episode and this show in general is working for you. Share the results that you’re getting. I love being connected to all of you – let’s do this.

Previous Episode 17: Social Anxiety with Mark Metry




Sam currently serves as Vice President, Head of HR Business Partners (HRBPs) in Asia Pacific for Visa. In his role, he leads a team of HRBPs consulting with executive leaders to drive the talent agenda across Asia Pacific. Visa is the world’s leader in digital payments technology and its mission is to connect the world through the most creative, reliable and secure payment network – enabling individuals, businesses, and economies to thrive. As the world continues to become more digital, Visa applies its iconic brand, products, people, network and scale to reshape the future of commerce.

Sam joined Visa in late-2016 as the Head of HR for the Global Merchant Sales and Acquiring organization and a few years later assumed a role of increased responsibility leading HR for the Product organization at Visa. 

Originally from Ghana, Sam spent his childhood years in Athens, Greece. He came to the US to pursue his undergraduate degree which he earned from the College of Wooster with a BA in International Relations & Economics. Immediately after his undergraduate degree Sam moved to New York City and Boston where he worked, respectively, in Finance for JP Morgan and Sales at EF Education.  

Upon completing his MBA from Thunderbird, Global School of Management, Sam spent several years with Whirlpool Corporation, based in Michigan, where he held various roles of increasing responsibility. During his tenure at Whirlpool, he was also stationed in Italy for 2+ years where he led the Whirlpool EMEA HR team for the Procurement, Engineering and Industrial Design groups. 

After Whirlpool, Sam relocated to San Francisco to explore the world of Silicon Valley and technology. He spent 3 years with Electronic Arts (EA) in a global HR capacity where he partnered with some of the most creative studio leadership teams to launch stunning products. The last year at Electronic Arts Sam spent time building out the Mobile Gaming organization as EA embarked on a digital transformation journey.

His hobbies include traveling, eating and more traveling. Discovering new cultures, exploring the unknown and being adventurous and spontaneous is what keeps him ticking. His passion for food is balanced with a love for being active and outdoors (running, biking and soccer more specifically).





Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach: Engineers. I am so pumped to have you back today with one of my old good buddies from what was kind of a past life now, my man, Sam Tam. And when it comes to happy people, if you could see the smile, those of you who are listening, you’ve got to go check out the YouTube version of our podcast here and just see, Sam Tam is one of these guys who radiates energy and happiness around him from the very first time I met you, Sam until reconnecting today.

[00:00:34] It’s just obvious. So thanks a ton for making time.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:37] Sam: you for, thank you for connecting. It’s been. All right back at you, right? Like I remember that smile I’m remember that energy. It looks like you still got it. So this is we’re awesome to be here. Thanks for, thanks for having, 

[00:00:50] Zach: uh, here. You’re welcome.

[00:00:51] So we have to start with a story that many of the listeners here are going to potentially laugh at. So if you go back to the spring of my junior year at Purdue university west Lafayette boiler up for all the boiler makers out there. I had not yet lined up an internship for the summer, which all of the engineers remember how important it is to land those great internship companies, trying to beef the resume to get a good job and live the American dream.

[00:01:24] Right. So. I don’t have anything lined up for the summer. I have the kind of energy that this guy has. Next thing I know I’m at a, a dinner event with the Whirlpool folks. You invited me to some thing that night and the next day I’m in an interview. For an internship at Whirlpool. And so Sam, can you just, whatever you remember about meeting Zach, I think our listeners would love to hear how you remember that 

[00:01:52] Sam: situation, by the way, talk about traveling down memories, layman as you’re going through that story.

[00:01:57] Even for me, it’s just a lot of just emotions, a lot of just feelings coming back because it’s been it’s, it’s been a while. Right. And frankly speaking, I’m totally dating myself here, but I completely remember. You know, at these career fairs at these booths, I’m representing Whirlpool, you’re such a baby, you were in school and I’m like, who is this guy?

[00:02:17] Like, first of all, who are all these little kiddos running around here? Right. But I think for me, especially because I think at that point in time was recruiting for primarily engineering and manufacturing at Whirlpool. And that was my rope. Right. And for me, what really, really, really kind of sticks out when I’m talking to candidates, when I’m talking to the kids at school and so forth are very simple things like.

[00:02:36] Passion and Hughes the ASM, uh, just reading that positivity, good interpersonal skills as well, too. And so that’s why I latched onto you and people like yourself because you know, the truth of the matter is very stereotypical. Right? When you think about engineering stereotypes, you’re kind of thinking about. You know, more of those, uh, you don’t necessarily get that vibrant kind of like personality and you had that.

[00:03:00] So that’s why I remember sticking on you. I crazy and be like, who is that guy? And why is he not at Whirlpool? And one thing led to another. I was okay. Let’s have a quick conversation with this kid. See what’s going on? You nailed it. Good fun times. You’re a baby, but I love the energy. And then of course it was all about inviting you to different events, meeting more people.

[00:03:19] And I was pretty sure that people would see what I saw you in the first time. Right. Which again, for me, it was just that energy and I was right, right. I mean, when you eventually got to Whirlpool, I think ultimately speaking, if we fast forward a couple of years, you did your internship. Yes. Then you finally came on, but what made you stick out from most of the engineers and frankly speaking, most of the people was that energy, that ability to radiate that the ability to.

[00:03:43] Connect with people that positivity, great communication skills and so forth. That’s what made you, who you were. 

[00:03:50] Zach: So, first of all, thank you. And I also, one other little piece about this. I remember when you called to give me the office. That you specifically told me that you loved the fact that I was a ballroom dancer at Purdue 

[00:04:06] Sam: that’s so, well, by the way, what?

[00:04:09] Oh my God, what you, at some point teaching ballroom dancing. Yes. Yes. So I just thought that was the not straight. Which is very different, right. I was like, wow, I’ve never seen anyone do ballroom dance or have this type of extracurricular activity. And again, as an engineer and I keep reading that, but it’s just not as common.

[00:04:30] Right. And so that stuck out to me quite a bit. I was like, okay, this is cool. And I just happened to like dancing in general and just entertainment and theater and all that stuff. So that kind of caught onto me as well. 

[00:04:42] Zach: So let’s connect then who is Sam Tam and for the engineer listening, why do we care about your perspective here?

[00:04:49] Right. So Sam is currently VP of HR at visa of leading the Asia Pacific region. And Sam, tell us just a little bit about what you’re doing, the scope of what you’re doing there. 

[00:05:02] Sam: Absolutely. Thank you for that. Uh, so yeah, I just recently moved to Asia Pacific and more specifically Singapore. And my scope is I essentially lead what they call the HRBP function, HRBP organization at visa Asia Pacific.

[00:05:14] So at a super high level, if you think about HR, there are multiple facets. Are there multiple functions and disciplines within HR organization? Right. So you’ll have, let’s say. Compensation you’ll have benefits. You’ll have the talent organization and then you’ll have the HR BPS where frankly speaking, that’s where my passion is.

[00:05:33] So the HRBP is known as human resources, business partners are the folks, the internal HR folks who are working in partnering with leaders, the employees, and working on things such as leadership development, coaching engagement, uh, org, design, org effectiveness, all that stuff that is internal to an organization.

[00:05:53] So we partner in face-off with leaders in the organization for any HR related stuff. So that’s my, that’s my passion. So I lead the HRPP function within visa Asia. 

[00:06:03] Zach: So Sam is a very humble guy and I’ll say on his behalf that when it comes to talent development, finding great talent, developing great talent and helping people to break through in their careers, he’s got an incredible skill set.

[00:06:17] And so that’s why I’m so excited to hear your perspective on this. And I actually want to come back to the. The thing that popped up in that story over and over again, the idea of, for an engineer as an engineer, and there are real stereotypes and challenges and things that are faced in many cases, you’ll have truth behind them in different aspects.

[00:06:38] And somebody listening might be saying, okay, what if I don’t have that natural, bubbly, positive enthusiasm that Zach has? Does that mean I won’t get those results or. If I’m an introvert and this isn’t my natural style. What does that mean? Am I destined to not be successful in my career? If that’s something somebody might feel like, Hey, I’m not Zach.

[00:07:01] I’m not that person. What would you say? The truth versus how you have to navigate that. Just kind of talk to us to do with this whole as an engineer for an engineer considering engineering stereotypes. So 

[00:07:13] Sam: it’s still funny. And I was actually kind of mentioning the single sentences on purpose in the beginning because the truth of the matter is it is a bit stereotypical and there are a couple of things that play into that, right?

[00:07:22] The first of that plays into that just to be very Frank and very honest, Firstly, I pleased that it is me, right. Because of the fact that I tend to be also much more bubbly. And so like, I generally get attracted to that type of personality as well, too. Right. So that’s part of it. Having said that, to answer your question more specifically, if that doesn’t naturally come to you or you don’t necessarily generally have those traits and characteristics that by no means, right, is the end of the world for you.

[00:07:51] It’s just. Of many traits that somebody could have that could attract different types of recruiters, different types of organizations to that individual. A little bit of background additional to that is I went and lived in Silicon valley for about four years after Whirlpool XFL left USEC. And to me, that was so fascinating because talk about going into an environment.

[00:08:13] Of all sorts of engineers coming from different walks of life, with different personalities, with different approaches, different styles, and yet all of them extremely successful. Well, I shouldn’t say all of them, but a lot of them write extremely stressful in different ways. And that’s when for me it was the bigger, humble, and they’re like, oh yeah, no, you don’t necessarily need.

[00:08:36] Specific personality trait to be successful, right? There are many different ways of going about it. And it’s all about, at least what I noticed when I was in, when I was at San Francisco is really, you know, finding that passion, what you want to do going after it prioritize by the way. That’s one of the biggest things in my, in my life.

[00:08:55] Personally, and from a work standpoint. So you may hear me say that quite often, which is just prioritizing and finding out what’s important for you and then kind of going for that and using your positives to make a difference. So you may not be the gregarious, outgoing, extroverted type, but that does not mean that you don’t have other things that are going for you in a major way.

[00:09:17] Use those to your advantage, right. And find companies and find individuals that actually validate. You know, so you can take advantage of that 

[00:09:26] Zach: across those different personality types, different approaches that you’ve seen. Many of them are extremely successful going about it, different ways. Have you found any through line?

[00:09:39] Any common traits that engineers, whether they’re the outgoing, gregarious type or they’re the one who never says a word, but when they do, he listens, what’s the connecting line of those really successful engineers. 

[00:09:55] Sam: Th there are a couple of themes, right? From a, from a connecting line standpoint. One of them I already mentioned, which is passion for what they do, whether you’re an extrovert or not, whether you are a talker or not, the passion actually comes through.

[00:10:08] Once you start entering a conversation or discussing a specific project that you’re working on and so forth. So that’s. The passion, I would say the other one. And again, this may be a little bit stereotypical, but what I’ve seen come across as I’m talking to engineers is there’s a lot of smart man. I mean, I’m so jealous because I find engineers, one of the smartest people in the world, right.

[00:10:30] And the ability to just be analytical, problem, solve really complex ideas and make it into something very easy. Just that intelligence and those smarts, uh, is key for me. I would say another one is just having really good communication skills. Now. Unfortunately, communication skills is a very broad term, just like the leadership presence.

[00:10:53] Let’s say, you know, stuff like that. So if I were to break that down, when I say communication skills, I’m talking about the ability to be just naturally concise, but just very specific deliberate. No. What you want to say and get that point across in a very deliberate manner, right? So that you a. Over confusing people, you know, you’re using like 11 engineering stereotypes and jargon or being super complex, but also you have the ability to take complex ideas or problems and just break it down, right.

[00:11:24] In a very simple metaphor. The average person to understand what you have to recognize is I think engineers are probably some of the smartest people in the world, much smarter than, you know, a lot of us business folks. Right. And we don’t necessarily get all the technical details. So if you’re able to help us understand that in an easy way, Huge huge, huge winner.

[00:11:45] Right. And so that’s also one of the common threads that I see when I see successful engineers. So is that passionate? Is that communication skill and there’s that intellect and an ability to communicate ideas in a, in a concise way. This 

[00:11:58] Zach: is one of the things that’s really powerful and what you just said, a theme I see with my clients a lot, Sam, and I think this connects to what you just talked about with communication skills.

[00:12:07] There’s an idea in technology that there is simplicity on the near side of complexity. And then there’s the simplicity on the far side of complexity, which would be like your iPhone. You know, we look at that and say, it’s so simple to use it’s so. But in fact, it’s an incredibly complex system that has moved through complexity to a place of beautiful simplicity on the other side versus something that is simple.

[00:12:33] That is in fact very simple. That there’s nothing to it. It’s just a lever for example. Well, in communication, what I share with my clients is there’s simple communication on the near side of intelligence and there’s simple communication on the far side of intelligence and most engineers get. In the middle, very intelligent.

[00:12:53] And they communicate like an intelligent person and the true intelligence. It comes on the other side of that when you can then take that brilliance, but bring it right back down to the fifth grade level and say it again. That’s the way I think about that. 

[00:13:11] Sam: You know, that I love the way you said that I may have to copy you because that is so, so, so spot on coming from the stem world, let’s be honest.

[00:13:18] You folks have very, very, can be very technical, right, and deal with very complicated. If you are able to take those complex ideas, problems, issues, whatever it may be, and kind of bring it down to that fifth grade level. For anyone, people will love you for, it will love you for it because it doesn’t matter is we’re not that we’re not some folks, right.

[00:13:39] Are not that complex or not that intelligent if you will. Right. And so the ability to kind of understand those problems and break it down, it’s just, it’s pure gold. It’s magic. Being an HR will sit in a lot of talent discussions, leadership conversations. And what I mean by talent discussions is, you know, we’ll get the leadership team together.

[00:13:58] We will look at all of our talent in the organization. We’ll look at the population and then we’ll start taking a look at who are our, you know, super technical folks where a leader. And the reason we do that is because we try to understand how we want to invest in these individuals. Right. We don’t necessarily do that just to kind of segregate people.

[00:14:13] We just say, okay, this guy’s a technical person, you know, and wants to be kind of more in a technical role and does not want to be a people manager. Let’s make sure we’re investing them in the right way versus kind of throwing leadership courses at them in leadership activities. Right? So that’s the main reason we do those type of meetings and conversations.

[00:14:28] And I can tell you one of the things that comes up quite frequently, just recently we were doing this is you will. We will be talking about a talent. And one of the things we’ll focus on quite a bit is communication, especially for these tech folks, right? Payments and visa. What most people don’t realize, going back to your analogy behind the scenes paying is very easy, where you pull out your credit card, tap it somewhere, or you give somebody swipes a card.

[00:14:54] And all of a sudden the money is at the worship. Right? What you don’t realize is all the technology that goes behind that. Misa transact something like 65,000 transactions per second around the world. We’re talking trillions of transactions a year here. And so the folks that are successful at visa, because again, we have a lot of people who work very technical are the ones who can walk into businesses.

[00:15:17] Right now technology meetings, business meetings, and are able to just educate literally like in a very simple way and explain to us what’s going on and why and how we can make things better. And so that our business leaders can actually understand. And that comes up a lot in talent discussion and say, yes, this person can do that.

[00:15:33] That person can do that. That person can do it well. And so we use that a lot of times to help. Develop people and some get them into leadership roles. If that’s the way you want to go and so forth. So it’s, it’s a, it’s a big thing. This whole communication piece itself, it’s 

[00:15:45] Zach: really big. If the engineer listening is saying, you know what, I’d love to improve in this area, what would you suggest is one of the first things you can do to develop that skill?

[00:15:57] If it’s not coming naturally to 

[00:16:00] Sam: wait. So this skill is not natural for everyone, right? We have this issue, have it on the business side. Right? So somebody that you would expect to be a great communicator, let’s say you work in sales, marketing, or whatever. Maybe it’s not natural. You’ll find a lot of people in those types of roles that are also not great communicators.

[00:16:18] And so to your question about what could these individuals do to try to improve across the board, both in stem engineering stereotypes and on the business side, I would say a few things practice. Such an old school term, but practice makes perfect. You have to be able to, they recognize that this is what you want to do.

[00:16:36] You want to do you want to improve on this and then try to practice it as much as possible? What I’ve done in the past. And what I’ve asked people to do is say, when you go into an audience, or if you have different colleagues, friends that you trust that are around you. Ask them to keep an eye out as soon as given and say, Hey, when I communicate this, or when I have this presentation or when I have this conversation, this individual, any you around, let me know how I did.

[00:17:02] Could I have done this a little bit better? How would you have done it? Did you understand the art of feedback is something frankly, that we do not take advantage enough? And that’s also another buzzword, which unfortunately has become a buzzword. But it’s probably one of the most critical development tools out there, which is ask for feedback, try to get people like your closest allies, your sponsors, people that you trust to give you feedback, to help you understand how you can get better to help you understand where things could have gone a little bit better.

[00:17:42] Try to get feedback on that as much as possible. I think the idea of getting a coach or a sponsor is huge because they will give you really objective perspective. And obviously their goal is to try to help you improve in a lot of different facets. But the challenge is the coach is not there with you all the time.

[00:17:59] Right? And so this is why I got to go back to the feedback pieces. Yes. The folks who were there, ask them to just help you understand how you did typically things that you’ll learn from the coach, right. Take one or two of those ideas and just practice those. Right. Whether it’s like. Don’t say this or simplify this, practice that for a little bit.

[00:18:19] So it becomes more natural for you and then go on to the next skillset and then go on to the next skill set. And you just keep building on that. I

[00:18:25] think

[00:18:25] Zach: about feedback that I love. I tell my clients you want to ask for feedback for yourself. Absolutely. But the other benefit of asking for feedback is the individual who you’re asking.

[00:18:37] It, it categorizes you as a person with a growth mindset and the desire to improve. Even if that’s happening subconsciously for them, they may not think about it that way. People want to promote and work with and be around. Those folks who are constantly seeking improvement. And when you’re the one who’s consistently showing up and asking for feedback, it moves you out of the average bucket into that elite bucket of people who are always getting better.

[00:19:07] And so it’s an unexpected benefit. You get the actual feedback, which is great. Plus. The personal branding aspect of that, of who you are inside the organization also gets, gets a boost, which is really nice.

[00:19:19] Sam: 100%. One of the things we look at to your point, Zach, you know, again, in these leaders, conversations is something I like to call it the coachability factor, right?

[00:19:27] Leaders love individuals and tell it that wants to be coached that are willing to be coached, um, and want to get better exactly. To your point. If you start asking for feedback, people will start thinking, oh, okay. This guy is highly coachable. Let’s focus on this individual and see how we can help improve

[00:19:46] Zach: coach.

[00:19:47] As a coach I’m of course, beaming with happiness, that, so Sam, before we went out of time, there’s one other topic I really wanted to hear your perspective on, because from your vantage point at the top of the organization and partnering with senior leaders in all functions, top level engineering leaders, CTO.

[00:20:08] Director level, you have had a lot of exposure and even been in the room when these promotion decisions and talent decisions are being made at extremely high levels of the organization. So what is the thing that you’ve seen that separates the people who come out of middle management and move through into these leading the enterprise roles and make that transition effectively versus the.

[00:20:33] It gets stuck in the middle band of the organization. What is the catalyst or the thing that, that elevates people who, if they want to be a VP one day or a CTO, one day start thinking about these kinds of things and avoiding engineering stereotypes.

[00:20:47] Sam: If I were to highlight maybe two or three things, the first thing is, and people forget this, unfortunately is execution, like get things done, do not come talk to me about promotions or moving forward.

[00:21:01] If you’re not able to really consistently, by the way, execute. Do your job and get things done. I mean, that is table stakes, and I know it’s table stakes, and I shouldn’t even be saying this right. But surprisingly, you’ll get people in the bucket where they’re thinking about next level, they’re thinking about future and so forth and they can hardly get their job done in the right way.

[00:21:22] So that’s the first thing again, table stakes, it’s the foundation of everything. And then I would say there are a few things that on top of that, which again, will help people kind of get to that next level. Some of these things we talked about, right. That feedback piece communication with your boss, with colleagues with leadership, do not be afraid of.

[00:21:43] Communicating and visualizing and telling folks what you want out of your rope, because you’ll be surprised how many times we will be in conversations or how many times we’ll be in these leadership discussions. And we won’t know, we won’t necessarily have an idea of what this engineer, what this individual wants to do.

[00:22:02] And part of the reason is. Because individuals not necessarily communicated it to us. Right. So being clear about what you are interested in now, here’s the deal. We don’t all necessarily know what we want to do when we grow up. So we don’t, we don’t want that, but at least we have an idea of what really kind of interests that, whether it’s in the short term, Midterm or some folks do actually know what they want to do in the group, but you have to be able to communicate that and articulate that to leadership because that’s the only way we can kind of help people get to that next level.

[00:22:32] You know, that’s a long-winded way of saying articulation of what your aspirations are with as against short-term or long-term and just really kind of planning and working towards that. Having a sponsor is also very helpful, which is very different from a mentor by the way. Right. So I think the mentor piece is key.

[00:22:49] The sponsor is. In many ways, even more key because you’ve got that person in these conversations really sponsoring you and really pushing you forward.

[00:22:57] Zach: So Sam, can you just pause and define for the listener? What do you, when you say sponsor what that really means versus.

[00:23:06] Sam: Yeah. Yeah. So the way we view a mentor is somebody who an individual, whether it’s in the organization or outside of the organization, who is just helping you with a lot of your day-to-day activities, uh, helping you navigate things within the organization, helping you, somebody that you can kind of come and talk to and seek advice.

[00:23:24] A lot of times, again, it could be within the organization outside of the organization, but just that partner and that advice seeker and. Sounding board, if you will, within the organization, again, it can be sorry within or outside the organization, but at least it’s in that ecosystem. A sponsor is very different.

[00:23:40] A sponsor is a person in the organization, usually at a higher level. But I suppose as the one who is advocating for you, In the right meetings, in the right conversations with the right people, being your voice for pushing you forward for to reach your goals and your objectives we could, which could be lateral moves, or it could be whatever it is.

[00:24:03] But a sponsor is like your biggest advocate and has a voice in the organization and it’s pushing you forward. Whereas a mentor is kind of more helping you on the game day stuff and being perfect.

[00:24:13] Zach: And so the question everybody’s asking. How do I get a sponsor? Oh

[00:24:18] Sam: yeah. Yep, yep. Yup. By the way, it’s it’s it’s not easy.

[00:24:23] Sometimes it comes naturally. I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes it comes naturally. As you are interacting with individuals in the organization, you will form a relationship with somebody who is higher in the organization and that relationship happens naturally. And all of a sudden, you get you’re entering into a sponsorship.

[00:24:39] That’s a small group of people, again happens naturally, but I tell you what, what we don’t do is ask for it. Surprisingly enough. People want to be sponsors. This is a crazy thing in organizations, you ask leaders, they want to be sponsors, especially if it’s good talent. Just ask for it and you’ll be shocked.

[00:25:01] We’ll be like, oh yeah, you want me to? Yeah, I’ll sponsor you. That’s great. Because eight you’re good. You get your stuff done. You deserve it by the way. Right. I can see XYZ in you. Yeah. I will absolutely sponsor you. But if you don’t ask people you’re missing out. If you don’t ask

[00:25:19] Zach: so huge, this is huge.

[00:25:21] Maybe Sam. Thanks. Thank you for saying that because, um, if I, if I say it, it comes with a certain level of believability, but this is the vice president of HR. Who’s been in a lot of rooms with a lot of leaders saying this. So engineers listening, pay attention. I see all the time, Sam, where an engineer won’t even ask.

[00:25:42] For a 15 minute conversation with a brand of engineer and another organization on LinkedIn, because they don’t want to bother somebody. And it’s like, whoa, we have to get out of this mindset that it’s going to interfere with other people’s lives to ask for things, or you don’t deserve to ask for things, or it’s impolite to ask for things, or like you need some sign from God to ask for things.

[00:26:05] If you want it and, and you have shown these qualities that Sam just mentioned, you’re executing. You have a vision, you have these things clear and you want to. Just go ask for it,

[00:26:20] Sam: save that. And it’s, it’s crazy. Like a lot of the things that everything that we talked about, it’s all coming back right. In this conversation that you’re seeing.

[00:26:29] So you’re spot on. Just ask for it. People just get out there, talk to folks, you know, don’t be shy. Your initial question about extrovert versus introvert. What happens in these cases is all the extroverted folks like myself, like you and so forth, feel comfortable going to ask for it, right. And rule. So that’s where we have a little bit of an edge, but I guess what I’m trying to say is reaching out to you, introverts to non Zach’s and non Sam’s is find a few minutes, find someone that you connect with as a leader in the organization.

[00:27:03] And we tell to them, talk to them, right? And so it goes back to the beginning of the conversation. It also goes back to what you were saying a little bit earlier. It kind of in the middle of our conversation, when you say, you know, some of those, what is that common thread? That one thing that helps people.

[00:27:17] That’s one of it as well, too. There’s a piece of sponsoring yourself in the, in the organization, right? For the 1% of us or 10% of us, whatever it is, we will get tapped on the shoulder, by individuals in the organization because of XYZ reasons who knows for the other 90%, you are going to have to sponsor yourself.

[00:27:36] You’re going to have to get out there and do one or two things that gets you out there that gets you kind of in front. Right? So again, going back to that middle conversation, What is one of those things that common thread sponsor yourself, get up.

[00:27:50] Zach: So good. Sam, I want to land the plane here and make sure you can get on with your day.

[00:27:54] And I know we respectful of your time. This has been so good though. You got a hundred more questions, but one of the things, one of the things. I say in every conversation we end this way, you know, great engineering, like great coaching has in common that the questions we ask lead and the answers follow, and we want to ask better questions in our engineering, and we want to ask better questions in our life.

[00:28:20] And so. For the engineer, listening to this conversation who wants that success, they want to be happy. They want to be fulfilled. They’re trying to figure all this out. What would be the one question that Sam Tam would lead them with to start into that journey today?

[00:28:39] Sam: Uh, I would have to go back Zack. And I think I mentioned this in the, in, you know, early in the conversation, the prioritization piece is, is pretty, it’s pretty important for me and it leads my life and it leads to success at work.

[00:28:53] So if I go back to that and I used that as my framework, if you are as my kind of foundation, The one question I would, the leading question would be, what am I trying to get at today? What’s my ultimate goal or objective with what I’m doing. Right. And that becomes my north star for all the actions that I take.

[00:29:18] If I wake up in the morning and say, What do I want to get out of the day-to-day? And then I plan around that, or if I walk into a meeting and I say, okay, what is my goal? And objective of this meeting, what am I trying to get out of? Like, if we walk out of this meeting, what are one or two, three things that I want them to walk out with?

[00:29:37] And I plan around that if I leave work or go out at night and turn meat, I’m trying to network or whatever it is, what is the one or two things that I’m trying to get out of this? And I lead with that, right? So it can be from like small things like that to. Bigger broader things. Right? So when I was at San Francisco or when I was at Google headquarters visa, it was, Hey, where do I want to be?

[00:29:57] What’s my ultimate goal for the next like two, three years is I want to be overseas leading a function within the HR organization. Okay. What am I going to do to. So that’s always going to be my leading question again for my personal life and for my professional life, by the way, part of that is, and I know I never talked about kind of my personal life, but it’s, you know, my partner, uh, Leland was obviously the, the rock and the center of my world.

[00:30:22] Part of my questions about her and for her sometimes is. What do I want to make sure I get out of the day with leeway today? Or how do I want to make sure that we’re meeting our personal objectives today? You know, yesterday I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her, but today, you know what? I want to make sure that we do XYZ, whether it’s a nice dinner spend some time together or whatever it may be.

[00:30:42] Right. So just having one or two priorities. And asking what I want to get out of it. That’s my leading question all the

[00:30:49] Zach: time. That’s beautiful, man. What is that priority in this bucket? Whatever that may be for you. And I’ll tell you Sam practices, what he preaches here because in our email exchange, Seeking to get this conversation set up.

[00:31:04] There’s a point in the thread that made me laugh where you said, I think it was something close to things will never slow down. So let’s just, let’s just prioritize this and make it happen. And for you, it was that priority moment. Like, Hey, this, I need to make it a priority. And now we do it. So Sam, I can’t thank you enough for the time.

[00:31:23] If someone wants to learn more about you or get connected with you, is there any way someone could do that if they wanted to reach out or just say hi? Yes,

[00:31:31] Sam: yes, yes, yes. Yes. And by the way, I am all about meeting people. You know, I love hearing about people’s backgrounds connecting and so forth. So yeah, you can reach out to me, LinkedIn, you can find me on LinkedIn at, at Samuel.

[00:31:42] Tam Instagram. I’m a big Instagram follower in general. That’s a S K T a M seven a. So that’s an easy way to get out, get out to me or, you know what, shoot me an email. at Again, I’m all about connecting meeting folks and would love to grow into.

[00:31:59] Zach: Amazing. Well, we’ll put all of that in the show notes for folks, you can find this whole conversation and those [email protected] and check that out.

[00:32:07] But Sam, again, it’s been a true pleasure and I wish you a ton of success out there in Singapore and Asia Pacific. I know you’re the man for the job, so thanks again,

[00:32:16] Sam: Zach. This is a great way to start my morning. So I appreciate the time. Good connecting with you again, it’s been way too long and this is very energizing for me.

[00:32:24] Thanks. Thanks so much, Zach.