“The importance of open source will only keep growing” – SUSE talks trends and changes

After introducing the Linux enterprise back in the ’90s, cloud-based firm SUSE has successfully introduced the open-source system to a range of businesses, governments and retail firms.  Recently, the company appointed its first female CEO and so Thomas Di Giacomo,  president of engineering and innovation at SUSE, discusses the importance of diversity as well as what he sees for the future of cloud.

Your firm created the Linux enterprise market. Why was there a need for this to be created?

There was a general need to provide IT professionals with a modern, flexible, efficient, secure, open (in the sense of vendor agnostic and more easily customisable) operating system. Linux was the technology answer for that, but lacked professional enterprise testing, packaging, integration, certification, migration, upgrade and overall support.

As the world’s largest independent open-source software company, SUSE takes a “Lego” approach, where we have a broad portfolio of offerings that we combine to form compelling, industry-leading solutions. SUSE is about meeting a customer where they are and helping them get to what success looks like to them, not about trying to get the customer to adopt a singular version of the right way to do things.

It has been going for a long time, but what are the biggest changes you have seen in this time?

Today we have very similar themes to the ones that were prevalent in the early nineties: compliance, automation, security, hardware and software integration and optimisation. However, what has changed is the scale and speed of new technologies being developed to help accelerate the needs and opportunities for enterprises to benefit from their IT infrastructure. Right now, we are seeing innovative use cases such as public cloud, multi- and hybrid-cloud, Edge computing and IoT. In addition, we see new, redefined or modernised technologies (containers, AI and ML, DevOps) that require the same level of security and management; no lock-in and agnostic, as well as automation and optimisation across the entire IT framework, applications, and data landscape.

What unexpected changes have you seen?

It’s easy to look back and say “yes, that’s all logical and was meant to happen”. But distributed and decentralised computing existed before public cloud, however, 20 to 25 years ago the industry was not anticipating it would become that important, and definitely not that it would be absolutely key to combine such services with others in hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

Regarding open source itself, it was also not a given that 25 years ago it would end up where we are today. All innovation happens at the heart of open source – all large and small companies use, if not contribute, directly to open source.

What are the most preventable mistakes you are seeing in cloud right now?

One error would be to only exclusively use specific services and technologies that are not portable or interoperable with others. As much as companies can lock an IT stack on-premise, they can equally lock an IT stack in public cloud; that’s not a great idea for the future evolution of needs, capabilities, services and heterogeneous use cases and partners needed to run and improve a business.

Another avoidable mistake is thinking that you can manage all the infrastructure and application management aspects yourself. It’s certainly true that some companies can do that, but it doesn’t mean they should if it’s not their core business.

What are the biggest things to look out for in cloud in 2020?

We should anticipate improved hybrid cloud capabilities; artificial intelligence and machine learning models tuned for specific industries or use cases; more and more businesses starting to experiment with quantum computing; better integration of DevOps and cloud native applications with cloud infrastructure.

The company recently appointed the first female CEO. What does diversity in tech mean to you?

Openness and diversity in the tech industry mean a lot to me and are fundamental to SUSE’s values. First and foremost, as human beings, we should create and maintain a safe and equal opportunity environment for everyone, within any space, irrespective of gender, orientation, religion and country of origin. Yet in the tech space, despite great initiatives and people working on improving the situation, lack of diversity still poses a challenge.

It is absolutely critical that the technologies we build are contributed to by diverse minds, opinions, experiences and backgrounds – it makes for better software and solutions. At SUSE, we encourage diversity from schoolroom to boardroom and are working towards achieving a truly diverse workforce and closing the skills gap. The company is promoting a culture inspired by our openness, where we collaborate without boundaries and learn from each other, and give back to our communities.

How can people encourage a more diverse workforce in tech?

This can be done by developing mutual understanding in the workforce, working on conscious and unconscious bias, as well as educating and listening to each other with respect. Companies need to have inclusion at the forefront of their strategies, from hiring and onboarding to promotion and visibility to give equal opportunities.

What is the organisation doing to make equal opportunities for women?

We have various employee programs that support this, our Women in Tech Employee Network is made up of SUSE colleagues who are passionate about inclusion. Whilst focussed on empowering women in technology, this program is open for all SUSE employees. We also run salary gap reviews and adjustments, talent reviews, and women in leadership mentoring schemes.

We are also actively recruiting more women into tech roles to create a diverse workforce, as well as inspiring young women and men to focus on STEM subjects at education, to take those skills and qualifications into roles at entry-level, so we can nurture and develop our next generation of talent.

What obstacles have you had to overcome to become the President of Engineering and Innovation?

Whenever there’s a problem that requires solving, I’ve devoted time to understanding and helping my peers, customers, and partners to better address their needs and priorities and come up with a solution. Throughout my career I’ve stayed passionate about what I do, working hard to perfect my craft, staying curious and open to new things, people, learnings, and latest innovations at all times. This mentality has helped me to overcome all obstacles that are thrown at me. It’s important to keep smiling and pushing the boundaries.

Of course, a bit of luck doesn’t hurt; and having the right people, at the right time, in the right context.

How have you become the largest independent open source software company in the world?

By both staying true to our open source history and culture; investing in new talent, technologies, customers, partners, and communities along the way. SUSE has built on its core offering to meet customer needs, market and technology changes, and adapting to them.

If we look at one of the major challenges customers are facing right now, it’s a lack of choice. Vendors are consolidating, and the move to public cloud is reducing future options. Customers don’t want to be locked into one vendor, technology, or direction, but have fewer and fewer paths to preserving that optionality. SUSE’s customers are open to change, and we are well-positioned to offer that ability to adapt.

We don’t just commercialise open source, we contribute to it. SUSE doesn’t just collaborate with a community; we engage with it and lead it. The two most important constituents of open source are customers and communities. It’s important to realise that SUSE doesn’t support our products, we support our customers.

What is your view on the transformative power of open source?

Society as a whole would not be where it is today without open source (from smartphones to medical devices, planes, energy). The importance of open source will only keep growing in the future because of both its impact and inclusivity, allowing everybody to join and participate at will.

As a European company, how are you taking on the global market?

SUSE originated from Europe, but we’ve grown into a global company for a few decades already, to become the world’s largest independent open source software company. We are ambitious, expanding with the backing of a growth investor and striving for organic growth, as well as expansion through mergers and acquisitions.

There are definitely global market considerations with some of our international customers and partners. Open source projects are not restricted by geography, but it’s also crucial to understand the local markets’ specifics when building and innovating solutions with local partners and customers, and this is what makes it interesting as well.

How do you think Brexit will affect the European tech industry?

At SUSE, we have offices, customers, and partners across Europe, the Americas, and Asia, therefore, from an open source standpoint, it should not have any major effect (for instance, Chinese and American open source contributors are still collaborating together globally). The geopolitical context doesn’t directly affect open source communities). From an industry standpoint though it may depend on some of the UK, EU, and US deals that come out of this, and it is still far too early to say.

What are your predictions for the future of the open source industry?

A growing number of companies and people will join one or more open source projects, and not only from IT and tech companies, but from other industries as well. Innovation will continue to come from open source and expand, improve, morph from there too.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people actively contributing to some of the major open source projects today. It will increase exponentially and not only with regards to software developers but with testers, documentation and writers, graphic designers, community managers too.