Joe Baguley: A Lot of VMware’s Products Start in Sofia

Interview with Joe Baguley, VP and CTO of VMware EMEA @Capital by Konstantin Nikolov

Your RADIO conferences that VMware holds internally and regularly are a very nice way to help build the co-innovation culture inside the company. How do you manage it?

The main word here is culture. I think the important thing to understand is that you can’t have a chief innovation officer, you can’t have a department for innovation in that context. What you have is an organization that brings innovation into their culture through events, activities, and through the way they behave. RADIO has been going for a long time at VMware, it’s quite traditional. For those who don’t know it stands for “R&D innovation offsite” and we’ve run it for years it used to be an in-person event in California back in the day and it grew. Then as we became a more global company, we started to have more local RADIOs but the idea is something like a science fair where people submit papers and ideas. Then they come together and we all listen to their ideas; they get voted on and the top ones get presented. It becomes very powerful for us; we’ve held RADIO 2020 which is the big one earlier this year and then we’re holding smaller ones. We had RADIO EMEA last week which was centered in Sofia. From the one we had earlier in June we’ve already had over 65 patents filed.

When you do innovation It’s not like you’re saying: “Okay, I’m going to present this idea to the big bosses and the big bosses make their mind up”. When you’re doing RADIO, you’re presenting your idea to the community, and other people that think that idea is going to be successful will join you in your quest. They’ll get behind you and they’ll form groups around you and it’ll gain momentum and become successful.

If I’m going to give tips to other people, I’d say it’s not about creating some innovation office or some innovation officer, it’s about looking at how you change your culture to be innovative and you do that by events and by celebrating people who are innovative.

What makes VMware such a preferable place to work at?

For me it goes back to that word “culture”, back to having people around you that care and that’s the most important thing everyone seems to care about, not just about themselves, but about the success of us as a team. We have our EPIC2 values that define what we are as an organization. In recent years it’s where people can be themselves and that’s really important.

VMware is a place that celebrates people for who they are and for their diversity. We don’t hire people, then teach them how to be part of VMware. We hire them and get them to bring their experience, skills, talent.

For me, it’s a place where more than ever I’ve been able to be myself. I am not afraid to be myself and I am able to say things, that I don’t have to fit into a mold. The most important thing for me is being able to be yourself.

Did you manage to transfer this culture also here in Sofia? How did you develop this R&D center to become one of the pillars in your EMEA business?

It’s not one of the pillars, it’s the main one, the biggest one. The most important one to us, one of the top three worldwide. The products out of the Sofia office generated over a billion dollars’ worth of revenue in 2019, that’s huge for us. A lot of VMware’s products start in Sofia.

Earlier this year we acquired Carbon Black and we’ve got 30 staff from the Bulgarian team now at VMware Carbon Black team. We’re looking more at how we integrate that into our global security business unit. That was a major investment for us that we made at the beginning of this year and it’s strategically important to the company. We are investing in people to take that strategically important product successful in Sofia.

I’ve been to Sofia many times. I always enjoy it when I go there. I’ve even met a couple of Bulgarian presidents at various events. I just feel like VMware is a big deal out there and that’s quite a nice thing. It is the community. It’s nice that we’re feeling love for what we’ve done in the community and that’s the same everywhere, to be honest.

What are the technologies that you are most passionate about in the next few years?

When we talk about VMware, we have five main areas that we work in. One of them is multi-cloud which I’ve talked about already. Another one is modern applications, which was the recent acquisition reintroduction of Pivotal to VMware and what we’re doing in that space around Kubernetes and around Microservices and around cloud-native applications. Obviously, we’re the leaders in the networking space, the data centers, there’s no question there.

There’s a couple more worth mentioning. I started with Workspace ONE which is our end-user computing product, which is enabling people working from anywhere. I think people have realized more than ever that VMware’s the leader in that space this year, and we are happy that we have a fast-growing team in Sofia which has a big contribution to the Workspace ONE digital workspace platform. The other thing, I should mention, is security. We’re a software company that did security but we were never a security software company. So, we had security intrinsically in everything that we do, in our platform, in our hypervisor, in every management tool. Obviously, with our networking products we kind of invented micro-segmentation and security in the network. But what we’re now doing and you’ll see us do more and more, is approach the market more as a security vendor, as someone who can change the security stance of a company.

If I ask a large enterprise what hardware vendors they have, they’ll tell me two different vendors – I buy desktops from these people and servers from the other. What about the operating system? – I have Linux and I have Windows. It’ll be two or three of everything right until you get to security vendors. When do you ask how many security vendors do you have? – I think it’s about a hundred to hundred and fifty plus tools that we use.

That must be wrong because security failures typically happen from gaps when certain things don’t overlap. With the acquisition of Carbon Black, VMware can provide one view and one operational model around security all the way from the machine that your programs with the applications are running on, the layer of the data center that’s running on, the networking storage and computing in the data center, etc. Аll the way across the network down to that end-user device that we’re managing with Workspace ONE. We are the only people that have that complete vision and I can tell you what’s going on from start to finish at every single point. If you then apply some of the machine learning techniques that we are working on, it’ll be easier to start to see where the gaps are and where potential attacks might take place. The important phrase here is intrinsic security. We want to make sure that security is built-in to what everyone does, not put on afterward. While these 150 products are usually bolted on after something’s been built. Why should a developer have to think about security? They should just be able to develop a system that already has security built-in.

On a more personal level what is the most profound lesson that you took out of this unprecedented situation in the last few months as a manager?

As I mentioned earlier, I lead mental health in our company – enabling people to understand this, a support network around them, and that what they feel is not unique. The one thing as a leader you realize is that your people are feeling isolated, they’re feeling disconnected, they’re feeling lost, to an extent may be confused. Anything you can do to reach out, to make them feel less isolated, or to make them understand that that’s okay because everyone else is feeling isolated too and you should not panic.

I think a lot of people had a lot of guilt when they first started working from home. “If I’m not sitting on my computer all day doing some work then I’m obviously bad”. No, It’s okay. The days of as we call it presenteeism are dead, for me certainly, for the teams that I work with. To be at a particular place at a particular time is becoming less and less relevant. To be doing and keep doing the job and getting things done, that’s exactly what you’re here for. I think we’re seeing people more task-focused. What we’re learning is that people have some really interesting patterns in their life and putting them through nine to five days maybe wasn’t the best thing. I’m finding some people now that work fantastically later at night, but don’t expect them to attend a meeting in the morning. That’s fine, my colleagues know not to invite me to a meeting before 9 AM because I just won’t be there. Because in my mind I start work later.

Don’t have guilt if you take two hours off for lunch one day or go for a walk or whatever, that’s what you should be doing. One of the things we’ve done at VMware is we’ve had what we call COVID days. We did a couple of things – the first thing we did was we gave everyone 10 extra holiday days for the year as COVID leave to take more time out, whether that was time off with their family or just a break from their family. In addition to that, we’ve had two COVID days so far – the whole company shut down, no meetings, no emails, nothing for the whole day, so we had two days off.

The last week of this year is a COVID week where the company is having no meetings, no calls. Obviously, some essential services will be available – support, etc. But for everyone else, it is time off to get away from things. We will continue these into 2021.

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