Pivotal People–Michael Coté on Joining Pivotal and Building Better Software

January 28, 2015 Adam Bloom

featured-mcoteThere is no question, Michael Coté is an expert on cloud computing and enterprise software. He recently joined Pivotal, in part, because of Cloud Foundry’s impact on building better software, open source ecosystems, and talented colleagues.

Besides working at a number of start-ups as a programmer and at BMC, where he worked on the re-write of PATROL, Michael is a prolific podcaster, blogger, and presenter. He has given talks like “Cloud State of the Union, 2015: What’s up with cloud, 5 years later,” “What Does ‘Enterprise Grade’ Mean, Really,” and a number of talks on devops like “When is this DevOps Unicorn Going to Sprout Wings and Fly?” while an analyst at RedMonk and 451 Research. He was named the 3rd most regarded analyst in the U.S. and 5th globally by the Institute of Industry Analyst Relations. He was also Director of Software and Cloud Strategy at Dell.

As a member of the Technical Marketing team for Cloud Foundry, Michael is going to spend time understanding how companies are using Cloud Foundry and help the inexperienced deliver Cloud Foundry with an impact on development processes to produce better software. He is a firm believer in open source ecosystems and took some time out in his first few weeks on the job to do a Q&A with us.

Tell us about how you grew up and got into software?
I grew up and still live in Austin. I started programming in high school back in the days of cgi-bin and have been entertaining myself and paying the bills with IT work since then. My story is pretty predictable. I DM’ed a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, ran a few BBSes, configured .ini files late into Friday night, and then meandered my way into programming and tech. Thankfully, I met plenty of non-nerds (and married one!) along the way so that I get out of the house regularly and know enough of the analog world to nod and smile when I’m at parties.

Could you tell us about your work background?
For the first ten years of my professional life, I was a programmer at all sorts of places, starting out at an online banking startup in high school. My last stint in coding was at BMC where I worked on the re-write of their primary monitoring platform, PATROL (now called “Performance Manager”). I worked at all sorts of startups as well—from car dealer lead management to a distributed computing grid thingy. After having blogged and podcasted as a hobby, I was discovered by the two founders of the analyst firm RedMonk. Back in 2005, they really liked my DrunkAndRetired.com podcast and the obscure, yet detailed notes I’d write-up on things like Lotus Notes and Spring. After working at RedMonk for about six years analyzing the tech industry and consulting with enterprises and vendors on the topic, I moved to the corporate strategy and M&A team at Dell. There, I first helped create the software group, then helped run cloud strategy company wide (including doing strategy for Dell’s public cloud business), and finally went back to software where I ran portfolio strategy for a short time (we’d bought Quest, Enstratius, and many other companies so there was a lot of portfolio to sort through). Right before Pivotal, I returned to the analyst world as the Research Director at 451 Research running two practices there that covered cloud, systems and platforms, development, and DevOps.

What attracted you to Pivotal?
Having spent much of my professional life focused on development, I’m always looking to figure out a better mousetrap for developers and help them create better applications. All the “software is eating the world,” “third platform,” and “digital enterprise” (I like the term “programmable business”) stuff means “developers” to me—businesses using teams of developers to write custom applications that run businesses better. There’s a lot of terrible software out there that we use every day and more software that needs to exist. I selfishly want developers creating more and more software because I think it’ll make my life easier.

For example, the other day I had to go into the DMV to renew my drivers license (I know! Horrors!). There was a virtual queueing system that let me “stand in line” even before I showed up and check my position in line on my phone—it was awesome! That’s software in action. It’s easy to forget that before bill pay, you had to write checks and put them envelops then use something called “the postal service” to make sure your lights stayed on. Now there is software for that. Just the other day, instead of standing in line to get coffee, one of my co-workers ordered coffee on her phone, and we beat all those line-suckers to the sweet coffee. Think about all the parts of your life that could improve with software.

Anyhow, that’s one of the things that excites me about Pivotal—we’re working right in the middle of that. Our portfolio is a giant toy box of software for developers and enterprises clever enough to figure out how to incorporate developers into their core business processes. I want to see us continue to push and evolve Cloud Foundry as the best way to create and run all that new software that’s eating things up.

From the outside, you can also tell that Pivotal is chock full of interesting, smart people who are working hard at that core problem I’m interested in—how can software make our lives better? Now that I’ve been here a few weeks, that outsider view is more than confirmed. Also, I know a few stellar folks we’ve been trying to get on-board, and, as they join us, we’ll have a fleet full of deeply experienced, clever folks who can apply software to real-world problems that help businesses perform better. All of that, at the end of the day, gets back to helping people like me spend less time in the DMV line and get my fancy coffee faster.

What will you be working on at Pivotal?
I work on the technical marketing team for Pivotal Cloud Foundry. I see my role as helping explain what we do and helping people understand all the great things they can do with our toy box. There’s also work we have to do make sure everyone (inside and outside) understands all the great products we have and how we’re imagining they could be used.

The other role I’ve assigned to myself is to continue one of the functions I had when I was on the analyst side of the table—finding and then telling the stories of how people are using new technologies. I like the CoreLogic story from the recent Cloud Foundry Summit, using Cloud Foundry to normalize their vast application portfolio is great tale—again, of making people’s lives easier. As I’ve been getting to know our customers more, I’m starting to swim in these stories and there’s so much to learn and share there.

How does open source fit into Pivotal’s story for you?
There’s a few things:

1. Open source is one of the main “production systems” now-a-days for coding. Even long ago, when I programmed, many of the best libraries and frameworks came from the open source world (like Spring!). You just get the interest and participation needed that leads to a steady stream of innovation. Companies don’t have to use open source as a means of production for great innovation—as Amazon, Google, and Apple demonstrate (they *use* open source and even contribute, but don’t open source much of their core products)—but, open source as a means of software production can have massive benefits.

2. Because it’s open source, I see Cloud Foundry as having established itself as the most viable industry standard for PaaS and, thus, cloud application development. This means you can grow a larger ecosystem—vendors and users—that all use the same technology and conventions because they are of the same “culture.” This is a well demonstrated effect, from Apache, Eclipse, Apache Hadoop®, and Linux to all the non-foundation based projects out there.

3. I’m also interested in industry-wide standards for the the flexibility and explosion of features that come along. A bigger tent means you get more interesting features added, as we see in Cloud Foundry—you have more members in your ecosystem working on improving the overall bundle or just caring enough to imagine and point out new functionality and uses.

Overall, I have great admiration for the work that open source ecosystems like Apache, Eclipse, and OpenStack have done when it comes to sharing and growing their code bases and communities. Those communities and others have clearly made our lives better through software, and I’m hoping we can do that with an open Cloud Foundry.

What do you like to do in your personal time when you aren’t living and breathing Pivotal products?
My wife and I have two young kids. So, I spend my time with them. One day, I hope to have hobbies, but, until then, I just like to keep up with what’s happening in the IT world and talk about it. In that vein I do a lot of podcasting SoftwareDefinedTalk.com, over at thenewstack.io, and blogging over at cote.io. As with most of us, I keep the world updated on the exact type of coldcut my cat is eating on its sandwich over in Twitter where I’m @cote.

Editor’s Note: Apache, Apache Hadoop, Hadoop, and the yellow elephant logo are either registered trademarks or trademarks of the Apache Software Foundation in the United States and/or other countries.

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