We regularly hear from Citrix customers who want to embrace the transformative power of cloud services, but seek guidance on how to navigate that journey. We’ve been experiencing that journey at every level at Citrix, so I’ve been interviewing leaders across the company to hear first-hand how this Cloud-first approach has changed their jobs through my blog series The Way We Work.
The engineering team at Citrix has gone through some profound changes at Citrix as we’ve redesigned our entire portfolio to run in the cloud, and be offered as cloud services. Every facet of our engineering process has changed to adapt to this new model. To explore this transition in-depth, I met with Juan Rivera, Citrix Vice President of Cloud and Server Engineering, and Modesto Tabares, Vice President of Cloud Services Engineering, to walk through the fundamental changes they’ve had to make within engineering over the past four years.
Joe: Let’s start by describing your responsibilities here at Citrix.
Juan: I oversee all cloud and server engineering at Citrix, which includes all Workspace Services and Citrix Cloud. My journey through all of this started in 2011, when I joined the Citrix Content Collaboration (formerly ShareFile) team, which was born in the cloud.
Modesto: I manage engineering for the Citrix Cloud management platform. I came from the Citrix Service Provider team, where we had created the architecture for our partners to host Citrix products like Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops and offer them as a service. I was tasked with creating the Citrix Cloud platform that would enable all of our Citrix products to be deployed and managed as a cloud service. It took a long time for people to understand what that really meant.
Joe: It is hard to understand the complete transformation that had to take place within Citrix engineering to move to offering our entire portfolio as cloud services. Let’s start by talking about what was required to evolve engineering to that model of continuous integration and deployment.
Juan: It’s hard to know where to begin. From a development perspective, we had to move from a traditional software development model to embrace agile development. Everything had to accelerate. Instead of extended development cycles, where we introduce a new version every year to 18 months, we had to move faster, to the point where we are releasing new features quarterly, monthly or even daily.
The real challenge for us was cultural. Frankly, technical transformation is easy; people transformation is difficult. Moving to the cloud requires an entirely different mindset. Without a reference point, it’s really hard for people to understand what the move to the cloud really means.
That transition is far more than just migrating your technology to work on cloud infrastructure; it’s really about understanding the possibilities of this completely new way to approach engineering. It means getting hundreds of engineers to change their approach to development at the most fundamental level, which then enables coding to get easier, and faster.
This fundamental change is tough, and many engineers have not yet grasped the potential. They feel threatened by this new engineering model.
Joe: It’s clear that you faced a lot resistance initially as you made this change. How did you overcome it?
Modesto: The tipping point really came when Kirill Tatarinov took over as CEO. He was the first senior leader make it absolutely clear that we were a cloud-first company. He completely ended any ambiguity about which direction we were taking the company. Then he brought in Jeroen (van Rotterdam, senior vice president, engineering) and PJ (Hough, executive vice president and chief product officer), and they drove new continuity in our push to the cloud.
At that point, people embraced our new approach, or they ultimately left.
Juan: Moving to the cloud services model requires every aspect of engineering to change. When we built and sold licensed software, the goal was the sale. Now, the sale is just the beginning, because our customers can change to another service if they don’t like ours.
You have to look at every function and change your entire mindset. You’re no longer simply building and shipping products. Instead, you need to make it easier to deploy, manage and use, because that’s how you’re being measured constantly based on active usage.
It takes an operational shift. You need to see your customer as a partner, because your success depends on them successfully using your product, and ideally increasing that use. If your customer is successful, then you are successful.
Cloud services means you need to embrace a new financial model. We used to spec the product for customers, giving them infrastructure requirements to make sure it ran successfully. But engineering a cloud service means you have to factor in processing, storage, and other infrastructure costs. Suddenly, high processing and infrastructure costs can eat into your margins. It’s important to offer a compelling service without incurring high infrastructure costs.
Today, we’re constantly thinking about the value we provide our customers.
We need their employees to want to use our workspace services to drive adoption. By focusing on the total value we provide customers, we build a virtuous circle, where they benefit from the product, and use more of it, which in turn fuels better revenues and growth for Citrix.
Joe: What would you say to other companies going through a cloud transition?
Modesto: Focus on your people. That’s your priority. They need to know what success looks like, and it has to be clear. And that clarity and those changes require strong leadership, so everyone recognizes where you’re all going, and how you’re going to get there.
Juan: You also have to break down barriers between product groups, particularly if you’re going to offer comprehensive services. There is a huge difference between bundling products and selling them together, and offering a unified cloud service, where everything just needs to work, seamlessly.
To deliver a unified service, you have to bring engineering together, like we have at Citrix.
That means breaking down any barriers that prevent collaboration between engineering teams. When David Henshall took over, he really broke down barriers between product and engineering groups. We now function as a single, unified engineering team, and that gives us a critical advantage.
Modesto: By Moving to the cloud and unifying, we move faster. We’re able to break every product objective into smaller pieces, making it easier to execute. Now the accelerating timelines have actually become reasonable, because we’ve removed a lot of the friction that used to slow down development.
Juan: Today, we can iterate and introduce new features and capabilities based on real-time feedback from customers.
Ten years ago, it would have been impossible to do that, especially if it required working across product groups like we do now.
Joe: What’s next?
Juan: We’re really just getting started. Now that all of these fundamental changes are behind us, we’re continuing to accelerate.
Modesto: We just beginning to see what we can really do as an engineering organization, and we’ve just scratched the surface of our potential. It’s a great place to be.
Juan: At the same time, I think it’s important to note that cloud transformation is not limited to the product and engineering organization. To succeed in the cloud, every function of the organization needs to embrace the cloud mindset, and what that means for their function in the organization.
Joe: Exactly. My other interviews with people throughout Citrix reinforce that point. Whether we’re talking about procurement, sales, IT, security and even marketing operations, every part of Citrix has embraced the cloud mindset, and it has dramatically changed how we operate.
We look at our customers differently, we use more SaaS applications, and we have used the power of cloud services to accelerate everything we do as a company, and as a culture.