Interview with Brad Pedersen, Chief Architect and Senior Fellow at Citrix

After over 25 years at Citrix, Brad Pedersen recently announced that he is retiring to spend more time with family, photography and do some traveling. This interview covers his reflections on his time at Citrix and a broad array of technology topics, both past and present.

By Brad Pedersen

Brad Pedersen is Chief Architect and Senior Fellow at Citrix, a position he has held since 1993.  He joined Citrix in 1989 as a senior software engineer, and was an original member of the company’s software design and development team.  In fact, Brad was employee number 7 at Citrix!  He holds 37 issued US patents, including several on the design of the Citrix Independent Computing Architecture (ICA) protocol, which is now called HDX.

As Chief Architect, Brad is responsible for overseeing the architecture and design of all Citrix technology, including ICA, HDX, XenApp and XenDesktop.  In 2009, Brad recorded a video retrospective of his then 20 years at Citrix.

After over 25 years at Citrix, Brad has announced that he is retiring at the end of April to spend more time with family, photography and do some traveling.  You can see some great examples of Brad’s nature photography online. Following is a recent discussion I had with Brad that covers his reflections on 25 years at Citrix and broad array of technology topics, both past and present.

Retiring after 25 years with Citrix

Bruce:  I’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions on 25 years in the company, and the technology and market changes have you seen.

Brad:  Actually it’s been pretty amazing when you look back 25 years.  Citrix was started in 1989 – the Internet wasn’t really prevalent and only used by some universities - it certainly wasn’t being used by small business or consumers.  Back then I had to go out and buy programming reference books… I had a bookshelf full!  Today, you use Google to do a search and you find all the information you need on the Internet.

Bruce:  I remember the first time I understood what Lotus Notes was capable of when I was working at Lotus Development… it sounds quite dated now, but having an online library of information available at your desk  was amazing at that time.

Brad:  Yeah… now we take Google Maps or Bing for granted, or the GPS in your car, or your smartphone.  I remember buying some very early Microsoft mapping software and the first time I looked at satellite pictures on the Internet.  It was very primitive before Google maps existed, but I could find (based on GPS coordinates) my house even in those days.

Take the recording industry – when I was in college, albums and records were the norm, and occasionally you would record an album on a cassette tape.  In the recording industry… vinyl record albums were replaced with CDs, which were then replaced by MP3s and now they are being replaced by audio streaming.  So interesting how a particular industry is transformed over and over again.  The key is that all companies need to remain flexible, be open to change and adapt quickly to change. Figuring out new ways of doing things, how to leverage change, how to create a product, how to benefit customers.

Bruce:  That’s for sure…  it’s incredible as we reflect on what’s happened.

Progress and  technology changes everywhere

Brad:  In your day-to-day life, you don’t realize how much has changed and when they are occurring you don’t really notice it.  There were few mobile phones when Citrix started and no smartphones.  Now,  pretty much everyone walks around with a small computer in their pocket.

Bruce:  Absolutely!  I did a lot of travel overseas with several companies before my time with Citrix… before smartphones you’d rush to the airport lounge to download email over an analog phone line and make your phone calls through an international calling service like AT&T.  Now we carry in our pocket these communication devices that are essentially powerful computers.

Brad:  That and VoIP technologies are transforming the telephone.  It won’t be long before landline telephones are obsolete and replaced by the Internet, using Voice over IP.   When I remember the early days at Citrix, wireless networking was unheard of, and yet we take it so much for granted now.  Everywhere we go we have wireless connectivity.  Another example of new technology is online shopping… you no longer have to go to a physical store.

A personal favorite for me is photography.  I used to shoot a lot of film photography when I was young.  I grew up with a black and white dark room, but now it’s all digital and computers.   It is amazing what you can do with digital cameras today that you couldn’t do before.  The low light capabilities and the auto focus, auto metering… drastic changes.

Bruce:  With digital images, you can do a lot more with photo editing software.

Brad:  Yeah, the digital darkroom.  I grew up with the chemical darkroom – it was cumbersome. While it was interesting, it wasn’t very flexible and difficult to do things.  Nowadays with Photoshop and other editing programs you can quickly transform your photos, you can catalog them, you can do image editing, you can index them, and store them online.

Software-as-a-Service

Bruce: What are some of your thoughts around the transition we continue to see in the enterprise from on-premises computing to software-as-a-service, and the hybrid models that companies are adopting.

Brad: I find the whole software-as-a-service area fascinating. Citrix has been primarily been a premises-based product company. Now companies are looking to use more and more software-as-a-service, and it’s not just IT departments, but it is also business units within the company that are looking for better ways to get things done. They don’t necessarily want to rely on their IT department for all their computing needs.

SalesForce is a good example… IT can get a service that’s provided, managed and monitored by someone else. The whole model of software-as-a-service is very flexible and provides a lot of benefits to the users using these services. This is really transforming IT departments and companies that traditionally have “owned” everything.

In some cases, the IT department is getting totally bypassed… as a result, IT departments are needing to reinvent themselves. IT needs to be responsible for compliance, which is very important to ensure that things are secure and company assets are being protected. You don’t want someone arbitrarily uploading sensitive financial information to some third party product without knowing exactly what’s happened to that data and how the data is protected. The IT department still has a very important role, but it is changing and I think it is for the best.

Bruce: Yes, absolutely. These kinds of services enable great agility and elasticity in terms of seasonal employment, changing needs and the cycles of a growing or shrinking business. Incredible what is taking place in that whole space and certainly Citrix has been evolving with the services model with our own offerings.

Brad: As a developer, software-as-a-service is also very appealing… to contrast, when you build a premises-based product you collect requirements from the customers, define features, build the product, and then test it. That whole engineering cycle is very lengthy and very time consuming and you don’t get much feedback during the process. You can do some betas and alpha tests, but the customer feedback is very limited.

Contrast that with software-as-a-service, where you typically do very small releases, very quickly. The point is you have an idea for a feature. You develop a minimal implementation of the feature. You get it in front of the customer. You measure and you see how customers use it. So you have an idea, a hypothesis, you test it with a subset of your customers.

Depending on the feedback, you either iterate on the feature or you kill it. Maybe the idea was a terrible idea. The point is that you have this feedback loop and you learn from your customers, quickly iterate, get more feedback and test very quickly. You can roll it out to a small percentage and make sure everything is working well before you roll it out to all your customers. If something goes wrong, you can easily roll back to an earlier version. Once you are happy you can start working on your next feature. In the end, you are making much better software for your customer… you aren’t guessing as much.

Bruce: That’s an excellent point you are making. The flexibility and chance to try things but then pull back if it is not right or modify it to be a better fit.

Brad: It is an amazing model from both a developer and user standpoint… everyone wins. I see software-as-a-service going forward as the primary way of doing computing.

Disruptive technologies

Bruce:  What are some of the disruptive technologies and trends you’ve seen over the years and the way they are shaking up the industry?

Brad:  We’ve already touched on a couple of areas… the whole idea of smartphones has obviously really shaken up the industry.  It is interesting how many people favor texting versus voice or email, particularly with the younger generation.  If you have kids, you know that they favor texting over email or talking to you on the phone.  In fact if you send an email to someone in high school, it typically never gets read, but if you send a text, you’ll get a response in less than 30 seconds.  Each of these technologies have disrupted the previous ones.

We talked about vinyl records being replaced by CDs, and CDs being replaced by MP3 players, which are now being replaced by streaming services where you can have a personalized audio channel.  The same thing is now happening with TV and video. The broadcast industry was really paranoid when VCRs were first introduced and they thought it would destroy TV and movies.  In the end, it actually increased revenue. Then VCRs were replaced by DVD players, and now DVD players are getting replaced by internet streaming services like NetFlix.  DVRs have disrupted how you watch TV – everything is now available on your schedule.  This is shaking up the whole advertising and marketing industry since you can skip over commercials.

Social media is another area that is disrupting advertising and marketing.  Every large company now has to leverage social media to be competitive.  Everything from Facebook to Twitter are being used to connect to customers and connect to other experts.  These changes may seem minimal at the time but if you reflect back, you can see that they have been pretty significant.  If you sit still you become obsolete very quickly.

Bruce:  That’s true both for companies, departments in companies, and also for individuals. You really need to be adaptive to new things that are dramatically changing the way we do business and in many ways are accelerating the way we do things.

Brad:  A task that used to take a long time can now be done very quickly, giving you time to do other things.

Bruce:  You have had a wide-angle lens on the whole technology field from years of following various developments… what are the technology areas that interest you the most these days?

Brad:  As we were talking earlier, the whole software-as-a-service area I find very fascinating as I think it is transforming the software industry.  Another thing on a personal standpoint… I still like programming.  At Citrix I really haven’t had much chance to do programming in recent years.  But at home I have several programming projects I’m working on.

Technology transitions

Bruce:  What are your thoughts as much of new application development is transitioning to web apps and Java?

Brad:  That’s an area that has certainly changed in the last 10 years.  Web-based programming using JavaScript has really changed the industry.  It’s now possible to create web applications that are just as interactive as native applications.

Bruce:  Another transition occurring over recent years is the move from IPV4 to IPV6 and the various changes that have to be made to make technologies compatible with IPV6, which allows orders of magnitude more unique IP addresses.

Brad:  Yeah, that’s been slow coming, but understandable.  IPV4 is entrenched and it’s non-trivial to switch low level plumbing like IPV4.  We are seeing it happen, but very slowly.

Bruce:  One of the buzz words in the industry these days is Internet of Things as there are more and more connected devices out there in the consumer field, healthcare, manufacturing, automotive and other industries.  Could you share your thoughts on Internet of Things?

Brad:  That’s another fascinating area and a hot topic right now.  Take my car for example…  it monitors the engine and different aspects of the car.  It will notify the dealer if there are any major issues, and it’s keeping track of usage and will recommend when it needs a service.

As another example, the power meter on my house was recently upgraded.  For years you had a mechanical meter that measured the watt hours you’ve used.  But now it’s all connected and you can go online and see your power usage and so can the utility company.  So now utility companies have much better visibility into how electricity is getting used across different neighborhoods and hopefully they can do a better job in generating power.  And, it gives consumers better visibility into how they are using power, so I think everyone wins.

When most people think of Internet of Things they think of their refrigerator connected the internet, or a fitness band… it’s more the personal stuff, but the point is that the Internet of Things is much more than the stuff you have in your house… it will significantly impact most businesses as well. 

Security challenges…

Bruce: We are seeing more and more security issues with cybercrime, cybersecurity, and threats around the mobile devices we use. I’m curious about your thoughts around the measures that needed over time to deal with security risks.

Brad: First of all, I think it is a hard problem to solve. As you know, wherever the money is where people will attack.

If there’s anything that’s left unguarded and open, let’s say a bank vault with no lock on it, then the cash in it would not last very long. The same is true with computing devices. We put up barriers, we try to make it difficult for the bad guys to break in, but it becomes an arms race. They continue to come up with new ways to break in and we put up new walls, and it repeats.

Going back to our earlier discussion, 25 years ago we didn’t even talk about security. I would argue that most of the same security issues existed back then but the use of mobile devices wasn’t prevalent enough to make it worthwhile. Now a lot of focus is put on security compared to 25 years ago… back then security wasn’t a concern and the lack of attention caused a lot of code to be created with security issues. In the last 10 years or so, security has become very important and is now prioritized much higher.

I believe the situation will improve since we are now much more focused on security. But we still have a lot of work to do to make sure all the legacy code doesn’t have security issues. Now that doesn’t mean that we’re all of sudden going to be done because I think it is an ongoing journey, and as we go forward we will come up with better ways of protecting our information.

Citrix has always been a good security solution with remote access, centralizing and keeping all the important information central in the datacenter, accessing that information in a very controlled manner all over the HDX protocol… that’s one way of securing sensitive information. Software-as-a-Service has a potential to be more secure than premises-based software.

Growing pains of a startup company

Bruce: 25 years ago you actually joined a startup… what do you think about some of the lean startup methodologies that are used to develop products in early stage companies today?

Brad: Initially Citrix did not use lean startup methodologies. With the lean startup methodology it’s all about building something, measuring and then learning. It’s similar to what I was talking about earlier with software-as-a-service. You figure out an idea, you build a product, you get the product to customers, you get their reaction. You have customers try it, see if they like it, give feedback, and then iterate.

Bruce: In the beginning, was the company first called Citrus Systems?

Brad: For the first few months of the company it was called Citrus like the orange. I understand there was an issue with trademarking Citrus, so the name was changed to Citrix, which was a combination of Citrus and Unix.

The whole point with a lean startup mindset is that you’re not going into a room for two years while you build something and then say “here it is”, believing the masses will come and buy it.  Funny thing is that’s what Citrix did initially.  The first product Citrix created was called MULTIUSER.  It was a multi-user version of OS2 and it ran OS2 text-based applications.  It was nearly two years after the company was started when we released MULTIUSER.  That initial product was a failure.

But we were able to learn from the initial product, and this is where we started applying some of the lean startup methodologies.  We learned what customers really wanted. The initial product was used with RS232 locally connected terminals… customers wanted remote access, so we added remote access and then we went back to customers and we learned they also wanted to access their Novell networks.  So we added support for Novell networks.  Pretty soon we had a remote access product that had the ability to run 16-bit Windows and DOS applications remotely from a Novell network.  And that’s what customers wanted and it became very successful.  Initially, Citrix almost failed because we did not apply lean startup ideas, but fortunately we quickly learned that we had to listen to our customers . That shift in mindset led to a really successful product through iteration and learning.

Bruce:  I think every successful company probably goes through the same type of evolution.  One of the interesting things to me is watching startups today in how many of them are being funded through the Kickstarter program.  The traditional VCs and banks are clearly still out there, but there is certainly  major activity around Kickstarter these days.

Brad:  I figure if you have a good idea, other people will recognize that good idea and will be willing to help fund it.  It’s a very interesting way to get a company started.

Citrix industry impact over 25 years

Bruce:  Could maybe comment further over how Citrix has changed over the 25 years you’ve been with the company?  Also, maybe you could name one or two things you are most proud of in your time with Citrix?

Brad: What is actually surprising to me is what hasn’t changed in 25 years. What comes to mind is the culture of Citrix. 25 years ago when Citrix was founded, everyone but one person came from IBM, which had a large software development shop in Boca Raton, FL where the original IBM PC was created.

I was at IBM only for a short period of time, but I realized at IBM that I did not like the culture. It may have changed since then, but at that time I was a worker bee – not going to make any difference. It was very layered with far too many levels of management. So when we founded Citrix, we purposely went out of our way to create a great culture. If IBM did it one way, we were going to do it the opposite way from a culture standpoint.

We wanted to create a culture that was very collaborative and open, where everyone is equal, everyone contributed, everyone had a say, and everyone could make a difference – I would argue that culture continues within Citrix today. I’m proud of that Citrix has been able to maintain that original culture. I think most folks in Citrix are trying to do the “right” thing. They are trying to do what they think will benefit the customer, the company and the people they work with – and that’s not true in a lot of companies. It makes it enjoyable to come to work, and that’s why I stayed at Citrix for 25 years.

Citrix has really changed the computer software industry and has changed how IT departments do computing. The bottom line is that Citrix has made a difference and now companies are dependent on XenApp, XenDesktop, XenMobile, NetScaler, GoToMeeting and other products – these products have transformed a lot of companies and a lot of industries and have made a real difference over the last 25 years. That’s what makes it so interesting... that we can cause change. We’ve talked about all the changes occurring in the IT industry… well, Citrix has been behind many of those changes and that makes it all very fascinating.

Bruce: Thank you Brad for a really interesting discussion and sharing your thoughts on so many topics. I’m sure everyone at Citrix, including all our customers and partners will join me in wishing you all the best as you commence a new and exciting chapter in your life!