Stefanie Chiras is Vice President at Red Hat and responsible for successfully establishing and delivering Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). Her organization sets global open source business standards and works with customers, partners and the community around the world to ensure that Red Hat Enterprise Linux exceeds the demands of the market. HCS Company had a very nice interview with Stefanie about her personal drive, her view on industry trends, Red Hat’s strategy & corporate culture and her personal vision on IT leadership.
How would you describe your role within Red Hat?
“I’m the Vice President and general manager for Red Hat Enterprise Linux Business Unit at Red Hat. What that really means is that I work with my team to pull together all the different spectrums of our Linux business. Whether it be our engagement with customers, or our engagement with engineering. We set the roadmap trying to balance those two things. So, we work in the technology space to balance what we need to do for our product and our commitments to our customers. But also what we need to do to feed into the rest of the Red Hat portfolio. The great thing is that we’re right in the middle of both: it is both a product and a technology, which is which is pretty cool!”
What drives you personally?
“As far as my personal drive: I’m an engineer by training. So, I think, like most of us, it’s really about having impact and being able to take technology and put it into use. That’s why I became an engineer in the first place. It’s all about problem solving.
The thing I love about this role, is that I get to keep my foot in the engineering and technology space, which what thrills me! To experience what’s coming down the pipeline for technology. But also to get to see it put into practical action and deliver impact. Being at the juncture of that, in my current role, leading the business unit is probably the most exciting role I’ve ever had!”
How do you see IT leadership?
“Well, I think that for all IT leaders it is about the balance between managing change and driving change. If I talk to customers, they all have IT that runs their mission-critical business. They also see new technologies coming down and need to be prepared for change. In my own business, there’s that balance as well. For IT leaders, it’s really about making a few strategic, fundamental decisions that allow them to deliver what they have today. But also, to be able to consume change. IT leaders have to be ready for the change that’s coming in. The change we don’t know yet.
New technology is being delivered every day, certainly in the open source world. At Red Hat we really believe that change, while we may not know what it is, is going to be built on open source. Embracing open source, with a very stable foundation of Linux is a strategic decision which makes sure that you’re ready to consume change as it comes and have the ability to choose the balance that is right for you. The balance of what you need to do today and the balance of the rate and pace of change that you want to take as a business.
We have a lot of customers who rely very heavily on RHEL for their mission critical workloads. That’s partly why we need to deliver a long lifecycle. That’s why RHEL has a 10-year lifecycle, because that becomes stable and provides dependability. And I have a commitment to deliver that for customers. In addition, I need to be feeding into what’s going to happen in OpenShift and what CoreOS will deliver to OpenShift. So it’s a constant balance. And I think that’s what I see in our customers as well. How do they continue to deliver everything they need to deliver today because they have commitments to their customers as well? And then how do they prepare themselves to embrace kind of all the new technology and capabilities that that that is yet to come?
We’re very focused on making sure that it’s not an either or. We want you to be able to consume the innovation today and you’ll have your right to choose whatever technology you want to preserve going forward. That’s the beauty of open source.”
How do we all keep up with the fast pace of change of open source?
“Well, that is part of the most exciting thing. For all intents and purposes, open source is the future of IT. It is where the innovation is being done. Open source, led by Linux has really changed the way that software development is being done. It’s proven that this collaborative way of doing development delivers innovation much, much faster.
So, from a Red Hat perspective, we embrace that change by participating actively in upstream communities. Our engineers participate because that is where all of this innovation is being done. It gives us headlights into what’s being done and what’s of interest to folks and we see where the trends are going.
That being said, for an Enterprise, that’s daunting, right? Because when you run an enterprise, you need predictability, you need stability, you need security. You need to be able to build your business with knowing what is to come. And that’s where we have built our business. We participate in the upstream. We set a set of commitments that we make to customers around what that lifecycle will be, what the security will be. We look to be that that sort of middle ground that brings stability to the innovation of open source and allow it to be consumed within the Enterprise.
One of the things I really love is when the innovation flows the other way. We have customers who have needs and asks and as we listen to them. We work that into the innovation that goes back into upstream. Our role is interplay, bidirectional between how we take innovation and make it consumable for the Enterprise, but also how we make sure the needs of the Enterprise are being heard. The best part is when you talk to a customer and you understand what they really need. It always starts with listening. After that it becomes much more collaborative. That’s the piece I like about it. Collaborating with customers and bridge their needs into upstream and our products.”
You worked for IBM before joining Red Hat so you know both companies very well. What can you tell us about both companies?
“Yeah…I do have a long background with IBM. I have worked 17 years with IBM before I left and joined Red Hat. And then, 100 days later, I learned about the acquisition, so it’s been a journey for sure.
We at Red Hat stand by our core beliefs around choice and being ecosystem neutral. Providing that baseline, that has clearly been one of the things that IBM recognized as our value before the acquisition. This is our strategy. Our independence allows us to continue to build that ecosystem in a way that meets what Red Hat does. However, IBM has massive scale that allows us to move into areas, countries and spaces that we hadn’t been in. It’s been bringing scale to our technology, which is fantastic. We have a lot in common.
If you look at IBM’s history, as the world has changed, they’ve always been a company that continuously has been able to reinvent themselves and stay relevant, for over 100 years. Perhaps the rate and pace has been different now, but IBM is a is a big ship to turn and they’ve been able to do that multiple times. As the market has changed, Red Hat has been able to leverage learning and culture from open source in order to be able to consume change at a faster rate. There’s a lot of similarities in the ability to change and adapt and work within an ecosystem and deliver new innovation.”
What customer needs do you see at the moment?
“For all IT leaders it is about the balance between managing change and driving change. This journey, especially with containerisation and orchestration of containers, comes right back down to what’s the rate and pace that is right for any individual customer. How do they choose what, when and how to move to containers? How do they take that balance?
Having a customer proactively own that journey and the right to decide is something we take very seriously at Red Hat. It is also all about how they build up their skills into being able to containerize applications. Our focus is to provide consistency across that journey so they can make it as they need to.
You can even see it in our products. We put automation and containerisation tooling in Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The intent there was to make sure that folks could start to get their feet wet with building containers and deploying containers in preparation for the journey they want to take. We’ve also upped training capabilities for Red Hat certified engineers where automation has become an increasingly important skill.
So we think very carefully about that journey and quite honestly, not forcing that journey on customers, but making sure they can take it at the rate and pace that suits them well.”
Containerisation can bring a lot of benefits. But only if the industry standardizes, right?
“Yeah, I think this is probably one of the most interesting dynamics. Quite honestly, we’ve seen this play itself time and time again in the IT industry.
As open source has become more pervasive, the strength of open source by setting standards of interoperability between projects, between layers in the IT stack, has allowed innovation to build upon and layer upon one another.
I would say that our vision of open hybrid cloud, not being stuck with one vendor, or one set of technologies, that vision is being adopted more broadly in the market as folks start to test out. If initially a customer thought, I’m only going to use one public cloud. Now, as other technologies are coming up, as other public or regional clouds come up, they want choice. And I think we’re starting to see a change in the markets and customers definition of what they want their hybrid world to look like. Customers that fit our model, are those who want to grow their business. They have stuff that runs today and they are preparing themselves for the change that’s to come.
Just like Linux has become the pervasive operating system, Kubernetes has now become de facto standard for container orchestration. The thing to watch for in both the industry and for customers is: are they going down a path with a company on a Kubernetes platform that is becoming very fractioned? Because that is going to limit the ecosystem they have.”
And then, there is the Red Hat culture where diversity and inclusion plays an important role. What is your opinion on this topic?
“So clearly, this is this is near and dear to my heart. Red Hat takes diversity and inclusion very seriously. And this actually fits really well with the open source model in general. Open source means everyone’s opinion on the table, everyone being allowed to contribute and valuing different opinions. And I think that has helped Red Hat flourish as a bit of a diverse company.
There is a focused effort to make sure that there’s inclusion and openness to all the opinions on the table. And it’s a recognition that diverse opinions matter. I think it’s absolutely something that we thrive on working with customers on and sharing. Quite honestly, it’s we take very seriously a statement that says it’s not just about what we deliver, it’s about how we deliver it. And both are built on open source.
For example, after a really great discussion with the head of the IT department about technologies, the final thing was … Can you come back and have a discussion about organizational structure? How do I get these teams to talk together? How do I get this team to appreciate what this team is trying to do and vice versa? And it’s exactly that dialogue. There is a real passion for it.”
Where does that passion come from?
“This passion and authenticity of people goes up through the company all the way to the top ranks. Paul Cormier, our CEO now, is probably one of the most authentic leaders I’ve ever worked with. It just has become a culture from the bottom to the top. It’s the transparency nature that open source is built upon. There’s nothing to hide. These are the bits. This is the code. This is what we do. And this is how we can help. And there are times when we have to say this is how we can’t help. It’s that kind of fundamental belief in transparency.
I remember when I joined Red Hat, I believe that throughout my career and probably everyone’s career, right. There are jobs you do, there are careers you take and there are missions you join. And somehow when I joined Red Hat, it really did feel like a mission. A mission for open source and innovation. And that’s just kind of pervasive amongst the Red Hats. A lot of times I’ll talk to customers and the greatest value that they get from Red Hat is the engagement with Red Hatters.”
What is your vision for the near future?
“IT leaders need to prepare for change so that they can consume it as it comes. That sets the stage for many years to come. Our goal is to make sure that we continue to drive a platform and an ecosystem that helps customers consume change. My guidance is to keep the notion of hybrid and choice and flexibility. First and foremost. Across not only the technology, but across how we all interact, how our business is run, how we engage with customers.
Now more than ever, as customers make choices with their partners and with their technology providers, it is about relationship. It’s not about a specific one-off product. It is about a relationship because it is about getting guidance and trust and an understanding that your partner, a provider, understands your needs and is going to listen to you and be side by side with you. Certainly, with the recent changes we’ve seen in the world right around COVID, it’s those relationships what matter at the end of the day to help everyone get through.”