Interview – Joe Baguley, VMware EMEA CTO

A while ago, I had the brilliant idea to interview people and peer from the IT industry, from different area’s, such as end users/customers, resellers, and vendors. So to kick this off, I started by asking around those who I know in the community.

First up is Joe Baguley of VMware, to many he needs no introduction, after countless keynote speeches at various conferences, and a stalwart in the IT community.

Below I stumbled on a picture of Joe pre-beard, chickens and cats from 2009.

So a lot of people will know you from events, and the keynote speeches you give (Chickens and cats), but outside of that, can you give us an insight into the other things you work in?

Customers and strategy.  I essentially manage and maintain communication between our field folks and R&D. Whether that is meeting with CIOs and their teams at our customers myself, or working with the CTO Ambassadors here at VMware who help me scale that role, mostly I spend my time keeping on top of what is and isn’t working, what our customers and the market are doing and planning to do and making sure we are all doing the right things.  I spend time with our R&D leaders and our Sales & Technical leaders to keep things together.  Both sides look to me for opinion and thoughts on what is going on, and the best way to approach things.

If we look at the big vendors in IT, Dell are merging with EMC, HP split into two distinct companies and offloaded their professional services arm, IBM offloaded their hardware to Lenovo.  What things should we expect on the horizon for big changes with the big companies?

It is a time of consolidation and commoditization as values moves up the stack and things become productized and then industrialised.  As you know I am a big fan of my friend Simon Wardley here, and his thinking is something I respect greatly.  Everything you mention is a symptom or result of market evolution and can be fairly well predicted if you know the landscape well enough.

The challenge comes when some organisations are too big and institutionalized to know what it is they do any more and what they should be doing.  When you ask 5 different people at a company what the company does and get 5 different answers it can be a sign.  You have to be clear about where what you do adds value to customers, and some orgs are having trouble with that right now – those are the ones that will get split up even further and then consumed.

How does VMware stop itself from suffering the disease of being a “big” company, or becoming “institutionalized”?

We have an unstoppable culture of innovation and the support of such.  The OCTO is key in promoting and driving this, and does so through various events including hackathons and our annual R&D “Science Fair” – RADIO.  At VMware we have a culture of upsetting the status quo, and luckily in a growing company in unbelievably fast-changing times the words “We’ve always done it this way” are seldom if ever heard and in fact, frowned upon.  I like to think our focus on diversity in our people, culture, our empowerment, and our approach to problems ensures we remain fresh.

IT has certainly made the world a better place, but theirs also many dark sides, I personally think series like Dark Mirror (Channel 4, Netflix) gives a fantastic insight into how human interaction can go wrong. What do you think has the ability to go terribly wrong, and scares you the most?

I think some people are more scared of AI than they need to be, and in the fields of medicine and autonomous driving it can be an immense force for good, however in the wrong hands and with the wrong limitations it could be bad.  What scares me about all things technology is unchecked automation, where conflicts between automated systems have not been properly thought out – financial markets have learnt this to their cost.

On a wider basis, energy generation/consumption and climate change concern me most.  Hence my obsession with renewables, electric vehicles and my recent work on VMware’s Force For Good report. Hence the fact that I lead our sustainability efforts here in EMEA as a company. – Force For Good link – https://www.vmware.com/radius/vmware-global-impact-report-2015/

A lot of people would love to be in your shoes, but I know seeing you at 8am in the morning and 10pm at night during events, that the days are long and hard at times, can you comment about that side of your work/life?

It most definitely is not a 9-5 job, regularly it can be a 4AM on Monday until 4AM on Saturday job – being at London Heathow Terminal 5 at 05:30 is sadly a regular occurrence for me.  VMworld is probably the most extreme time for me.  You can get very tired and irritable and remaining professional at all times, even at 10 pm after dinner when you are still ‘in the public eye’ takes effort, but is a requirement of the role I suppose.  I also amuse myself collecting rubbish views from bad hotel room windows of flat roofs, brick walls, A/C units and dead wildlife that I post to my FB feed with the title “Hotel Room View ™” – Maybe when I retire I’ll put them all into a book that no-one will want.

It can be very lonely, as I travel a lot (4-6 flights per week on average and about 3 nights away from home) but you can get sad about that or make the most of it.  I turned alone time into thinking time and reading time, and I fortunately have the luxury of lots of it – I’ve got used to my own thoughts.  Strangely I have noticed recently that I have stopped listening to music as I find it distracting and on long plane journeys and car journeys tend to not have any music or radio on, which some may find strange in today’s society!  However, I realised that my times at conferences and with customers or R&D can be very long, very intense and very draining, so this time is becoming essential to recharge – in many ways I am introverted, though it may not appear so, and this cartoon describes it well:

As a result of all this travel and alone time, I value my time with my family even more, so I make the most of it when I do.

If you could go back and change anything about the projects you’ve worked on in the past, what would it be and what would you change?

Have a good scribe.  Earlier in my consulting career found a couple of people who loved writing documentation, and held onto them tightly.  I have hated writing essays from a very early age and I suppose this is what drove me to choose topics like Maths, Physics, Computer Science and Electronics at A-Level – no essays!  However I have found as a leader that having a keen and competent scribe in a project is essential and allows you to get on and focus on other things so as a team you can get things done…

For anyone looking to the future in IT, where should they be placing their chips in terms of what to learn and focus on?

I was asked recently to advise a friend’s child on their A-Level choices as they wanted to work in tech.  I ended up helping them to select Maths, Physics and Psychology.  Psychology was instead of Computer Science.  Essentially everything we do in IT is made for and sold to humans in some way, and understanding how they think and act is very important, and as tech gets out of datacenters, commoditized and physically ever closer to every single human being, the leading technologists will be those that can understand humans better.  Also, consider the fact that as we build increasing DNN AIs that teach themselves, we will probably need a new field of AI Psychologists to understand and diagnose them!

What’s the biggest/most costliest mistake you’ve made in business?

I honestly have no idea – I have thought long and hard about this one.  Not that I never made any mistakes, but they have mostly been small learning steps rather than major catastrophes.

I think early on in my career I was mentored and learned a lot about empathy and the importance this has in all walks of life.

Common I’m sure you can think of something, see your answer for the hiring people (further down), “have a fair amount of been there and made some mistakes”

I’ve honestly tried, and not stopped thinking about it, but can’t think of one big one, really.  This question was the hardest!

So what do you do to switch off from work? Any hobbies?

In a job that can be very intense, and in the context of my answer regarding thinking time above, I realized recently that my hobbies are focused around things that are not necessarily ‘relaxing’ and require a lot of focus and intensity on the job in hand – they don’t allow you time to think about other stuff, so this gives me a break from thinking about that other stuff, if that makes sense?

So over time I have been a rally co-driver and have a full International Licence for that, I was an Officer in the TA/ACF for many years in my 20s and early 30s, and for the last 10 years I have been heavily involved in fireworks.  I am a licensed pyro-technician and part of the team that are the current reigning British Fireworks Champion of Champions after winning in Plymouth – I have worked on many big displays all over the place, including at the Big Brother house.

(You can just make out Joe popping up third from the left at the back as part of Star Fireworks)

My eldest daughter and I go rock-climbing together and I also do a lot of clay pigeon shooting when I can, mainly because it gives me a chance to spend quality time with my father.

The HR application at VMware seems to get a lot of stick from you, will you be buying the team behind it some Christmas presents this year to make your peace?

They know I love them really. No really I do, honest guys… 😉

What are you looking for when you are hiring someone, or taking them into your team?

Passion, experience, empathy and breadth:

A true LOVE of technology and gadgets, a fair amount of having been there and made some mistakes, empathy for customer problems which can usually only come from such experience, and an understanding an appreciation of the areas of technology around ‘your’ area.

OK so let’s wrap up with some festive questions…

Whats the perfect Christmas present for someone working in IT?

No gadgets – they’ll probably already have it or it would not be the one they would have bought anyway!  I would prefer experiences or things that can be consumed…

What was your favourite Christmas present?

Definitely this Lego set I got when I was a child – 8 or 9 I think…

I got to see it again when I had a private tour of the Lego factory and their archives in Billund, Denmark a couple of years ago – Lego are our customer and this was one of the better perks of my job.  I must admit that I welled up when I saw it again.  Chad Sakac was with me and I think we both had quite an emotional journey that day back into our childhoods.

Yep, super jealous on that one Joe! There is a definite link between those who work in IT and the love of Lego.

What are you looking forward to in the new year in your job and personal life?

2017 is when my eldest will sit her GCSEs and then go on very soon after to start driving, so it will be an eventful year I am sure.

In VMware were are entering a very exciting time, our announcements with Amazon and IBM recently mean that next year I will be busier than ever!

And with that, we wrap up the interview, I thank Joe for his time out of his schedule, and sharing some insights to his personal life as well as his day to day work.

Dean: a small bit of background. We first met at a VMware vForum, where Joe took the time to speak to me, a bottom shelf IT Admin at the time and answer my questions, this was despite the fact a sales person was trying to pull him away to talk to a large client who was also at the event, making the sales person wait until he had finished talking to me. For that he earnt my respect as a peer and leader in IT.

Fingers crossed his daughter passes her exams with flying colours, and exciting times ahead for those of who work directly with VMware’s products, and the upcoming integration with cloud service providers.
Regards

 

Dean

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