We Are Makers

How the Maker Revolution is Changing Software Innovation

Human beings have been making things since civilization began, however as we move deeper into the digital world we are in danger of losing touch with the physical world. This has the potential to impact our levels of innovation because there is something about the physical world that inspires us to create. Recently, I came across the video below of a person making bicycle wheels at Campagnolo. His craftsmanship and passion for building things for people to use is clearly evident, and watching it inspired the creation of this article.

So how does this relate to the work we do here at Citrix? At Citrix we put people at the centre of what we do and believe that there is a correlation between the world of making physical things and the design and development of great software. Read on and let us convince you by showing how we are embracing the Maker Movement as one of our tools to strengthen our culture of innovation.

The Maker Movement

With the rise of the mass-produced consumer world, humanity has become desensitized to what it takes to produce the almost infinite myriad of physical things that comprise our human-made world.  The Maker Movement is reversing this. It acknowledges that we have moved too far into just being consumers and that the world isn’t something you just buy it is something you make.

The Maker Movement is a community that consists of “makers.” People who are not willing to take the world as it is but instead want to create their world. They are curious, willing to take risks to invent something new, and comfortable to give themselves the freedom to fail. Makers see new ideas at the intersection of different materials and techniques, and very often the intersection of the physical and digital worlds. As Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics puts it, “It’s the web generation meets the real world.”

Makers see new ideas at the intersection of different materials and techniques, and very often the intersection of the physical and digital worlds.

To understand more about the Maker Movement, take a look at the documentary “Maker” by Muris, itself a Kickstarter project.

Work and Play …or Play and Work?

For many of us, our first taste of making happens at an early age. Many toys for children involve the use of imagination to build and construct. Perhaps the most famous example is LEGO. Many children spend countless hours erecting castles, space stations, cities or vehicles. This is often the first way that we learn to play by building. If you ask anybody what the most fun part of playing with a LEGO set is, most will tell you it’s not following the instructions; rather, it’s using your imagination to experiment and build your own creations with the pieces.

Moving into adulthood, LEGO may not be the toy of choice, but makers still create, craft and build. Innovation is everywhere in the maker movement. From starter robotics sets like LittleBits to build-it-yourself computing components like the Raspberry Pi, it’s never been easier to turn an idea into a creation – and many companies are starting to see the value in encouraging their employees to “make at work.”

For years, Google has encouraged many of their employees to “make” their own desks from tinker-toy like pieces as a way to encourage creativity at work. Workers can make simple platforms or complicated hanging systems – anything they like. Google also offer many different ways to simply play at many of their campuses with funky furniture, themed common areas and even rooms dedicated to play. Those Legos from childhood even have a place at Google – an entire room full.  Google sees the value of play for their employees. Workers who are happy and engaged creatively during free (play) time will be more energized and ready to get to work on assigned projects.

Making and Enterprise Software

Let’s now take a look at the theory behind how making and playing influence software innovation by exploring three premises; a bias to action, the use of experimentation and the act of working collaboratively.

A Bias to Action

The maker movement emphasises learning through doing – a bias to action. Rather than reading about how to do something and never putting the knowledge into practice, or paying someone else to do it; makers roll up their sleeves and try things. Perhaps this is best captured by the maker philosophy that “you don’t own it unless you can take it apart.”

This same approach, a bias to action, can be applied to innovation in software solutions; and it isn’t restricted to writing lines of code. It could start with something as simple as a storyboard or a paper prototype. What is important is a rapid advancement towards showing the customer the solution because the sooner they see it, the sooner feedback can be received to ensure the right solution is being created.

Just as a picture may paint a thousand words, a prototype is often the best way to showcase the potential of an idea to a customer.

Experimentation

Over recent years we have seen the rise of experimenting and hacking as a proven method for creating software innovations. Just as a picture may paint a thousand words, a prototype is often the best way to showcase the potential of an idea to a customer through physically interacting with the digital idea.

The process of hacking involves people taking existing software components, and combining them in new ways through a process of experimentation to create something unique. This process can lead to some surprising combinations and is covered in further detail in our 2018 CTO Council Technology Landscape.

In a similar way, maker culture is based upon the novel application of diverse technologies, and exploring new intersections between traditionally separate domains and ways of working including digital technology, hardware, materials (wood, metal, plastics) and arts (drawing, calligraphy, photography).

Working Collaboratively

History is full of creative geniuses that preferred to work alone. Artists, sculptors, mathematicians, architects and engineers – many did their best work in solitude.  When it comes to the maker movement however, there is a strong element of community evidenced by the shared spaces where makers can come together to share, learn and create. Whether it is a formal facility such as a TechShop or a community maker space like Eastern Suburbs Makers, people come together to share resources, learn from one another and ultimately translate their ideas into reality.

At Citrix, this approach to creating is echoed in the way we are moving beyond traditional teams embracing novel approaches to working together with internal hackathons, Innovators Program and “Spark Park Innovation Boot Camp”. In each of these, teams work for short intensive periods to advance an idea in a collaborative environment. CubeFree and GoToMeeting Free are recent successes from these programs.

3D Printing at Citrix

At Citrix, we’ve always had a strong culture of innovation through building however in 2014, we took a big step toward integrating making into that culture of innovation. Recently, we purchased a 3D printer to encourage Citrix employees to experiment and change the way they think about design and iteration. Our 3D printer is installed in our design studio at the Citrix Santa Clara Campus to create the Citrix Maker Lab. It includes a MakerBot 3D printer, 3D scanner and finishing tools. With teamwork in mind we’ve used our virtualisation software to make it available to anyone at Citrix that wants to design and produce physical objects.

The Citrix MakerLab serves as a new creative outlet by allowing employees to experiment with computer modelling and rapid prototyping of fun, and sometimes-useful objects. Citrix makers have devised fun ideas to hack their desk setups, compete in the office Halloween costume contest or even house a Raspberry Pi portable arcade.

3D printing has also had a secondary effect at Citrix by helping to make social connections within the company. In the first week following the printer’s quiet installation, a steady stream of visitors from other parts of the business began to flow through our floor. From engineers to administrative assistants and security guards – almost everybody is interested in the new equipment and the possibilities that they bring to our company and our culture. Some employees have even asked if they can bring their kids in to see our setup with the hopes of getting them excited about creating things.

Some of the printed objects created in the Citrix Marker Lab

3D Printed tiles that represent cloud networking components for use in customer engagement.

But it’s not all just fun and games – the Citrix MakerLab is being used to help create fun, new interactions that we can use with our customers. Erin Smith from our Information Experience team collaborated with the Creative Strategy Team in January to print physical representations of various cloud networking components. These small, tactile icons are being used to conduct interviews with customers and partners around how they use our technology.

Having pre-printed objects eliminates the intimidation factor of formally presenting a problem or sketching it on a whiteboard. Customers can simply move pieces around and draw connecting lines to show us where they’re having problems and where they’d like to see improvements.

The Creative Strategy Team recently designed and created a scale model of a proposed new workspace for the Santa Clara campus. This model was used to socialize the concept and facilitate discussions with our Real Estate & Facilities teams. Printing the model also sparked the idea of a larger campus model, currently in development to help guide visitors around the buildings on the Santa Clara campus.

3D-printed scale model of a proposed new workspace for the Citrix Santa Clara campus.

Closing Comments

The maker movement is helping to ensure that future generations continue to have some level of connectedness to the physical world. The techniques and skills used by makers are in close alignment with the latest innovation techniques used in developing great software. At Citrix we are using these techniques as well as encouraging employees to engage in the physical world to inspire further creativity. Using maker techniques like 3D printing is a current example of this that is already witnessing some unexpected uses and outcomes.

To learn more about how we are exploring these kinds of things at Citrix you can subscribe to the Citrix Trends and Innovation LinkedIn page.