It’s Citrix Synergy time again and since it’s only my second Citrix Synergy, I began to wonder how this great group of 48 technical professionals was founded. How did this great idea for sharing technical information and focusing on giving back to the Citrix community came into existence?
I reached out to one of our founding members, Brian Madden, and asked a few questions to find out about the history of the group. Below is our discussion.
Perrine: What was it about Citrix that made you so passionate about having an influencer/advocate program?
Brian: At the time (mid 2000s), Citrix was the only game on the block, so to speak. Even then there was already a large and passionate community (centered around things like the THIN list, PubForum (now called E2E ), and BriForum. So many of us owed our careers to Citrix and were already passionate, and we wanted a way to share our feedback with the people within Citrix who could hear us and affect product direction and strategy.
Perrine: How did it start?
Brian: Ron Oglesby and I both became Microsoft MVPs in 2003. The first time we attended their MVP conference, we were blown away by how much access we had to the people building the products and by how much they valued our feedback. During that entire conference, Ron and I talked about how cool it would be if Citrix had a similar program. Over the next few years, various executives at Citrix made proclamations here and there about how they were going to start some kind of community program, but nothing ever came from it. Citrix was a very different company in those days. Back then Citrix employees weren’t even allowed to blog! (What a different time!)
Perrine: What role did you have in founding the CTP program?
Brian: Citrix didn’t move forward with any type of community program from 2003-2005, though I continued to write blog posts about it and advocate for the idea. Every time I’d go to events like PubForum we’d always talk about how much Citrix needed to reach out to the leaders in the community. In April 2005 we held the first BriForum as a sort of a more “open” and community-driven version of iForum. We had something like 20 speakers at that first BriForum—all well-known members of the community and passionate about Citrix. I scheduled a meeting the day after BriForum for all the speakers to talk about how we could extend the energy and community of BriForum the other 362 days of the year, and the idea of a Citrix MVP-like program came up again.
At this point my relationship with Citrix was improving. (It was touch-and-go there for awhile in the early 2000s, including some awkward legal things, as in those days Citrix was definitely not comfortable with an independent non-Citrix-sanctioned voice gaining traction.) We scheduled our second BriForum conference for April 2006. In March 2006 I flew down to Ft. Lauderdale to have serious conversations with Citrix about them creating a community program. I can’t remember how those conversations got started—whether I reached out to them or they contacted me based on the blogs or what, but I can say for sure that it was Sumit Dhawan from Citrix who made it happen. In those days Sumit was in product management for Presentation Server, and he basically said, “You know, I’m not sure what corporate marketing is doing, but let’s try to do something with my group and see how it goes.”
I spent St. Patrick’s Day 2006 in Ft. Lauderdale with Sumit, Orestes Melgarejo and some other folks. I gave these Citrix folks a presentation about how the MVP program worked, the value for the participants, the value for Microsoft, and how Citrix could build a similar program that wouldn’t really cost them anything (since there wasn’t any budget associated with this). We decided that the first CTP meeting (I don’t remember if we had the name “CTP” yet) would be at BriForum which was coming up the following month in Washington DC. Sumit and a few other folks would fly to DC and host a dinner for the inaugural batch of folks who were all presenting at BriForum. Sumit didn’t know who the most influential members of the community were back then (since they didn’t attend the first BriForum), so I actually picked the initial group myself and told them that we would have a special dinner after BriForum with Citrix to discuss their community. The original members were me, Shawn Bass, Doug Brown, Rick Dehlinger, Jeroen van de Kamp, Thomas Koetzing, Rick Mack, Ron Oglesby, Jeff Pitsch, Benny Tritsch, and Stefan Vermeulen.
As a funny side note, Shawn Bass was also in that first group, but accidentally. (He knows this story so I’m comfortable sharing it here. 🙂 Sumit left it up to me to notify the presenters we’d picked, which I did sort of on the down-low because I didn’t want anyone’s feelings to get hurt. At some point that day during BriForum, Sumit came up to me and said, “Hey, I thought you were going to tell those speakers about the dinner tonight?” I told him that I did that already, and he said, “Well that’s weird, because I mentioned it to Shawn and he didn’t know about it.” I said, “That’s because Shawn’s not on the list.” (Awkward pause.) “Well,” Sumit asked, “What do you think about adding Shawn?” 🙂
Of course it worked out great with Shawn. At the time I just didn’t know him. BriForum 2006 was the first BriForum he’d presented at, and he was just starting to get involved with the forums and the community. And now he’s one of the most outspoken CTPs of the whole group!
So that dinner after BriForum 2006 in Washington DC was the first official CTP meeting. Then Citrix hosted as all in Ft. Lauderdale in July 2006 and we were off and running! (I can’t remember who all from Citrix was involved back then. I’m pretty sure Chris Fleck was, and I think Brad Nunn too? I know we spent time with Mark and Brad Pedersen and a lot of the other Citrix “old timers.”)
Perrine: How did your role evolve?
Brian: I spent the first part of my Citrix career (beginning in 1997 with WinFrame) as a consultant, actually doing Citrix projects and spending time in the datacenter fixing servers. I wrote my first book about Citrix in 2001 and started blogging in 2003. So in the early days of the CTP program, I was still making most of my money consulting and training. But over time my role evolved, slowly shifting from 100% consulting / 0% writing to 50/50 and ultimately to today where I spend 90% of my time writing and speaking. So in 2006, I was a Citrix consultant. Today I am something more like a journalist (albeit a highly-technical one).
One of the wonderful aspects of the Citrix CTP program is the amount of trust that Citrix places in the CTPs, specifically around their ability to respect NDAs and to keep quiet about future announcements and directions. The program has always been like that. I remember talking about VDI (well, it wasn’t called that then) in those earliest meetings, and those kind of early conversations must remain confidential.
As my role as a journalist evolved, it became logistically more difficult for me to be involved in NDA conversations with vendors. At one level it’s purely logistical. I make my money by writing articles. So if I have a three hour conversation with a vendor that I can’t write about, then that’s not time well spent for me. Then there’s the fact that my role as a journalist is to sort of “sniff out” what companies are doing, and if I have full access to Citrix and all their strategies, then I can’t really write or postulate about the company since I secretly know the truth. So my work suffered because I wasn’t able to cover Citrix in the same way as other companies. It was just too awkward. And finally there was the simple fact that it’s really hard to keep track of what’s NDA and what’s not, especially when I’m covering over 100 companies. To my knowledge I’ve never broken an NDA (either purposefully or accidentally), but I definitely didn’t write everything I could have over the years because I always had to err on the side of caution.
So I made the decision last year that I would not sign NDAs with any vendors. This wasn’t from a “don’t tell me any secrets because I’m going to publish them” standpoint, rather it was like, “I don’t want to know your secrets. You do your job and I’ll do mine.” This is why I withdrew from the CTP program after Synergy 2013. It wasn’t fair for me to be in the program if I wasn’t able to attend any meetings or share my feedback. (And hey, I have a blog, so it’s not like Citrix doesn’t know what I think about something. 🙂 I wanted to do it in a non-controversial way which is why I wrote the blog post explaining why I was leaving. I didn’t want anyone to think it was like when I left the Microsoft MVP program (which was because I was pissed at them for their BS Windows desktop licensing policies).
Perrine: Would you do it again? (Why? Why not?)
Brian: Well, it depends on what you mean. The good news is that the tech world is so different than it was ten years ago. I can’t imagine any company in today’s world not recognizing the value of community feedback, advisory boards, and sharing visionary conversations with thought leaders in the community. So today programs like the CTP program don’t have to rely on bloggers to get them started.
But if you’re asking about whether I would do everything I did ten years ago to get the program started? Yes! Absolutely. Citrix is a very different company today than they were back then. Certainly it’s not just because of the CTPs, but I like to think that we were one of the hundreds of little pieces that helped Citrix grow into what they are today.
Perrine: What do you see as the future of the CTP program and advocacy programs in business?
Brian: The CTP program is going to grow to match Citrix’s growth in the industry. Originally there was only one type of CTP—a “Citrix” CTP. But now Citrix has so many products that are all very different technical disciplines, so the program has to evolve into “XenApp/XenDesktop CTPs,” “NetScaler CTPs,” “XenServer CTPs,” “Enterprise Social CTPs,” “Citrix Online CTPs,” “XenMobile/EMM CTPs,” etc. This means that the CTP meetings will grow, with parallel meetings with different groups and in different cities, with more new faces and more ways to interact.
The program is also evolving due to the fact that Citrix has a lot of competition in the industry. In the early days when everything was smaller, Citrix was the only game in town with no real competition. Today Citrix has strong competitors in every market they’re in. Unfortunately this means they can’t be quite as open as they were in the early days. I mean can you imagine Citrix disclosing to CTPs that they’re thinking about a $1B acquisition? There’s just too much risk in terms of the competition, the stock price, the SEC, etc. Some of the CTPs are really upset about that, but I chalk it up to a reality of today’s world. (It’s kind of like pining for the old days when you could smoke a cigarette as you strolled through airport security with a jug of whisky, no ID, and with your shoes on—it’s just not happening anymore!)
That said, the CTP is still (and will continue to be) valuable at a level that’s closer to the products. Having the experts in the field be able to stack rank future product features and to sit down with the men and women who build the products that they support is hugely valuable. The same is true for Citrix. Sure, Citrix’s executives might not be asking the CTPs if he should spend $1B on some virtual networking company, but the XenDesktop product managers can ask the CTPs what they think about a certain future feature or whether they’re having success with a recently-released feature. That kind of value can be there forever. As long as Citrix remembers that the CTPs are not an extension of Citrix’s marketing department, and as long as the CTPs remember that Citrix is a commercial for-profit software company, everything should be fine.
As for these types of advocacy programs in general, there’s tremendous value for all types and sizes of vendors. In fact my friends (and fellow BriForum speakers) Kevin Goodman and Randy Cook just started a company called FSLogix. I had dinner with them early on, and I told them, “If you don’t do anything else I say, do this one thing: Create a community of trusted advisors whom you can bounce ideas off of and get feedback.” And actually they did that at BriForum last year by taking some partners, speakers, and potential customers to dinner to brief them on their direction and get their feedback.
So a program like the Citrix CTP program is the best ‘free’ thing a vendor can do!
Perrine: Thanks, Brian, for sharing the history of the program with us.
To complete the story, today, 44 of the 48 CTPs met in Anaheim, CA for our twice yearly meeting with Citrix Product Managers and Architects. Our best turnout yet!
Here is a photo of some of the founding CTP members taken today with Citrix CEO Mark Templeton.