Episode 52: Melissa Di Donato, CEO of SUSE

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Intro


Michael Schwartz: Hello and welcome to Open Source Underdogs. I am your host, Mike Schwartz, and this is episode 52 with Melissa Di Donato, CEO of SUSE. SUSE really needs no introduction except to say that as one of the oldest open-source companies in the industry, it maybe has more traction than most people give it credit for, particularly in Europe.

As you’d expect for the CEO of SUSE, Melissa has had a stellar career as a developer and business leader, had many large and small firms, including Oracle, PWC, IBM, Salesforce, and SAP. I was particularly looking forward to this interview because SUSE has such a long and interesting history, and it’s reinventing itself right now to play an important role in the next phase of the open-source revolution. Some of you may have read about the recent announcement to acquire Rancher. This was a brilliant tier in my opinion and shows that they really understand the market and how SUSE can add value.

Before we get started, I have a quick request – we all want to help open-source founders and startups. I make the podcast, but I need your help to get the word out, so tell your friends, post on LinkedIn, tweet out a link, post on Hacker News, or follow me and share one of my posts on LinkedIn. whatever you think makes sense, go for it. With that said, I know you’re not here to listen to me, let’s get on with the real star of the episode, Melissa DiDonato, CEO of SUSE.

Melissa, it’s great to have you on the podcast today.

Melissa: Mike, thank you so much for having me.

Career Path To Leading SUSE?

Mike: Maybe before we get into the official questions, I’m sure many of our listeners are curious about your career path to becoming CEO of the world’s largest independent open-source company. What were some of the pivotal experiences that prepared you for this role?

Melissa: I feel like every role I’ve ever had has led me to become the CEO of SUSE. It’s really funny, it wasn’t any and particular spot or position or role that I had that led to being the CEO of SUSE. Last 20 years, I worked predominantly in my entire life with ERP and CRM, predominantly ERP companies, like IBM, Salesforce, SAP, just to name a few.


So, one might even questioned further, “Well, okay, so if you spent your whole life proprietary software, in companies, very big enterprises, like IBM and SAP, how did you find your way to SUSE?” And the past really helped me build the foundation for the future.

So, I have a unique experience and perspective for SUSE. I came in as a user. So, I started my career as an R3 developer, an SAP R/3 developer. So, I started as a coder, and I started creating SAP applications to sit on top of the first Linux systems. And the very first partnership we had 25 years ago was SAP and SUSE.

So, how did I get into technology in the first instance was on the recommendation of a mentor. A mentor I had at the time said, “Have you thought about getting into SAP? It’s really beginning to catch on.” And from that moment forward, I never left, so I’ve got more than 25-year history, in technology, starting out as a developer, with all BOP and Bases code to create applications to sit on top of SUSE.

Every move I’ve made throughout my career has been typically based on the recommendation insights or thought leadership of the people around me, particularly my mentors. So, my mentors have played a really, really big role in my past of which to create the future. And of course, like I say, coming into SUSE was a really unique journey. Having spent my entire career in proprietary software, now making my way into, from a user of open-source and SUSE specifically, into becoming the CEO of this great company. So, it’s been an interesting journey.

Initial Priorities

Mike: So, leading a 25-plus-year-old technology company is a daunting task for any business leader. But joining as a new team member, or maybe you could say an outsider, has both pluses and minuses. Why did you take this on, and coming from the outside, what were your first priorities for the business and culture, and how do you do take the reins to align the company with these new priorities?

Melissa: It’s a really good question. So, how does someone like me find their way in, and once I get in, how do I create some new momentum? When I did the analysis from the outside, when I was speaking to EQT about the role of being CEO of SUSE, I spent my time to do some research. I interviewed some members of the community, the open-source community, I interviewed some customers, some employees, I’ve interviewed customers that had left SUSE in favor of another technology. And never saying of course why I was asking them the questions I was asking, but I poked around quite a bit. And when I realized is that SUSE is at the cusp of historic shift, I really felt the movement of open-source now becoming a very critical part of any thriving enterprises, core business strategy.

When I looked at SUSE, it seemed like the power that enabled these mission-critical business operations, to surge, to grow, to deliver. So, I thought, “Okay, this is very, very interesting company. We will be well positioned to emerge as a clear leader, as this shift as well as because of the innovation and the products that we have to offer. The ability to — I guess power the digital transformation for our customers – and this was of course pre-coronavirus, but I saw the digital transformation root coming onto a main part of play for our customers.

The ability to deliver this digital transformation at our customers pace, but to make sure that we stood as an agile, enterprise-grade, open-source innovation across the enterprise Edge, Core, Cloud – that seemed to me to be something I really wanted to be part of.

And when I began to dig into the fans of SUSE, the community, it was extensive. And I think it was even more so recently with our recent news of our acquisition, people went wild over the fact that, you know, they watched SUSE, and supported SUSE, and we’re going to do anything for the innovation and the growth of our future.

So, then I looked at this company, 28-year SUSE has been around a world-class, engineering-led business, producing rock-solid IT infrastructure, with a huge amount of success. And I thought, “Well, what do I need to do as, you said, what were my priorities when I joined?” So, when I decided to join, then, what should I need to do?” I think when I joined last summer, it’s been — I just passed my one-year anniversary, Mike, so I’m more than 365 days old, and I looked at what areas do I want to impact immediately and first, and what are the areas I wanted to empower and enhance.

So, first for impact. I realized, when I sort of was talking about SUSE more and more, that our brand awareness did not correspond with our success. When I mentioned SUSE, I got a lot of, “Who???”, and I said, “Oh, the green chameleon.” And they said, “Oh, yes, of course.” But there was no connection. I felt it was really important to start amplifying the brand, to show just how successful we are, and how big, and how innovative, and how much of a thought leader we are in the industry.

So, to address this, we rebranded SUSE. We then had a platform to tell our story in a much, much better way. Our new brand, our new tagline, our new story is the power of many, and I think it’s important probably, Mike, for many of your listeners, because the power of many celebrates our open-source heritage, and showcases the power of community-led innovation.

And this rebrand has been a big part of who we are in the last six months. It took us some time to actually launch, but I believe wholeheartedly that the power of many really describes who we were, who we are, and who we will continue to be.

The second thing I wanted to focus on was growth and expansion. SUSE had, and has now ever more so ambitious growth targets. When I came on board, I announced that we would double our revenue in three years, partially by organic, partially by inorganic. And a large part of my first year would be on that, really ensuring that our organic strategy was enterprise-grade in way of sales and go-to-market, and that we had an inorganic growth strategy to execute on.

Within my first year, as you know, we announced our intent to acquire Rancher or Labs, which is the market leading, Enterprise Kubernetes management vendor. So, I think we’ve managed to take a couple of those boxes and we’ve had some incredible results. We ended our Q2 with more than 30% year-over-year growth. So, incredible big ambitions, but great success around growth and innovation and expansion. And then, I think lastly, I wanted to enhance SUSE’s focus much more so on our customers and our partners.

In my first 100 days, I don’t know if you read about this, but it got out quite a bit that in my first 100 days, I set out the target to meet 100 customers. During that time, I got to 97, I didn’t quite get to a 100, almost there, failed by three. But those meetings were absolutely pivotal and crucial in developing our near and mid-term strategy. We began to shift our entire go-to-market focus on customer success and creating for the very first time customers for life team, ensuring that we cared for our customers, we nurtured our customers, and literally created a customer relationship for life.

And I think the last bit is that I knew – we had talked about this, Mike, before – I knew that I wanted to enhance what SUSE’s culture already stood for. We have a very, very strong and unique culture that’s based on ethos originated in open source. We wanted to add to that culture, we wanted to contribute to the culture by mentoring, by having employee groups around diversity and inclusion, so we launched our very first mentoring group for employees. We’ve also launched women in technology, and we also launched, prior to SUSE, amongst many others, like GoGreen and loads of other programs, because we wanted to make sure that we embraced and enhanced and grew and depended upon this incredibly strong culture here at SUSE.

Message Sent By Rancher Acquisition Announcement?

Mike: In order to prepare for this interview, I listened to a talk from Nils Brauckmann, your predecessor, from SUSECON 2019, and he mentioned that SUSE was looking to acquire orchestration and management tools that sit above Kubernetes. And hindsight’s 2020. So, now I hear that, as we’re looking to buy Rancher, but now that the acquisition’s been announced, and can you help us understand the message that SUSE is sending to both the internal team and the world about your goals and aspirations?

Melissa: What Rancher did in the announcement with us is that we showed the world that we are relevant, that we want to create, modern, innovative technologies to deliver against and solve the problems against our customers’ business problems. And it really reinvigorated the spirit.

I mean, the people that came out of the woodwork and applauded about this acquisition was pretty incredible. I mean, it was a real following and a real uptake in SUSE and the interest in us and made us very, very relevant. I think what it’s done is it puts us on the map to solve real business problems that are customers, are depending upon us to help them solve.

And that’s what I learned in the first few months was that I had customers coming to me, constantly saying, “I need more from SUSE. I want more. I want more innovation, I want more modernization, I want you to help me modernize my legacy applications. I want you to modernize my infrastructure. I want you to start thinking about how you can help me accelerate my business, and how do I get on this digital transformation journey.

And together SUSE and Rancher do just that. We help our customers simplify first, and then what we help them do is to simplify and optimize their apps, their data, their environment, their infrastructure. And we’re really trying to make IT, non-stop IT reality for them, and they’re depending on that from us. The second that they kept asking us for is what our intended acquisition does. Does it help leverage the Cloud and bring their IT infrastructure, customers’ IT infrastructure into a modern computing world?

And a lot of our customers have come to us and said, “Well, how do I start? How do I modernize, where do I go?” And with Rancher together, that’s our ambition to help them modernize their legacy applications, utilizing containers, getting to the Cloud, and then being able to leverage edge technologies for the future.

Our customers want to achieve all the benefits from the Cloud, but they want to remain in control, and they want to remain open. And with Rancher and SUSE together, we can do that. We offer – well, soon – we’ll offer a platform to manage our customers’ different environments, as if they were one. And that’s really important for our customer base. Because having been in business for 28 years, you could probably imagine that a vast majority of our customers are what we call traditionalists, the kind of customers that have built a very stable, complex environment on-prem that are beginning now to depend on their partners and vendors to help them modernize. And that could be the Cloud, whether it’s hybrid or multi-cloud or whatever it may be, bit of on-prem, bit of Cloud, and we can help them do that.

And that’s our ambition with Rancher, to be able to together offer the digital transformation journey and be able to reap the benefits of the Cloud, while remaining in control. And what that does is, it helps our customers accelerate their business. And that’s what we’re all after. We’re after success in the end game for our customers.

We can help our customers, with Rancher together, accelerate our customers digital journey, our digital transformation, and help them scale, so they can get their products and services to the market faster. That’s the ambition of the two together.

Value Prop

Mike: So, when I read articles about SUSE, I almost always see Red Hat mentioned. What’s the plan to differentiate SUSE from Red Hat and other Linux distributions, like Ubuntu, or maybe I could say, what’s the value proposition for SUSE?

Melissa: You know, I get that question a lot, and I get – because SUSE is known, our success has been hugely around being a Linux distributor. As I mentioned earlier, and you’ve said a couple of times, Mike, that we are the largest independent open-source company in the world – that’s a differentiator in and of itself. I think that our customers want and need to transform their business via digital innovation. They can’t do it in the most expected but yet most unexpected way is now mainstream.

They understand that a flexible IT infrastructure, that is ready to support their transformation, their digital transformation, rapidly but yet securely, is going to be very key in a world that is, as we all know more now than ever, in constant change. I mean, year and a half ago, when I was looking around the world seeing an SAP, I never thought a year-and-a-half later I’d be the CEO of an open-source company that has navigated extraordinarily well through a pandemic.

The world is in constant change. And I think that constant change has driven, it’s exacerbated the need for our customers to not be locked into just one vendor, or one technology, or one direction, or one solution set, because that just limits their pass. It reduces the ability for them to have choice, and doesn’t allow them to preserve flexibility, and not as a big differentiator. When you’re talking about our competitors, our competitor, the one that you mentioned first is, they want to own the entire stack – that’s not our thesis.

In fact, we’ve supported our competitive technologies before, and with Rancher we will continue to do that. We will continue to be open and agnostic in a way of offering a broad set of portfolio, product portfolio that takes and combines industry-leading solutions across Core, Edge and Cloud, but not locking anyone in. And that is a really big differentiator for us, a really big differentiator for us.

And I think that, also knowing that our customers – having a differentiating IT infrastructure cannot be invented behind closed doors. And they need the best possible infrastructure, services support by – as I mentioned earlier – the power of many. And that’s where open source comes in. And we’re much more than it is a distributor. We’re much more an orchestrator of the power of many to deliver the most innovative solutions that open source can offer in the world.

And being the largest now independent open-source provider, we’re going to bring all of these technologies, all of this innovation, and all this true openness to bear, to be able to provide the most flexible solutions for our customers. And that is what really differentiates us from the marketplace.

How To Create An Enterprise Grade Sales Program?

Mike: I was looking at your resume on LinkedIn, and I noticed that you were Chief Revenue Officer at SAP/ ERP cloud. And I think many open-source companies underestimate the challenge of building a great sales organization – how’s the sales organization involved since you change? And do you have any advice for startups on how to think about building the sales team and sales processes?

Melissa: Yes, Mike. We’ve done a lot, specifically in the sales motion here at SUSE. So, in addition to being the CEO of SUSE, I also serve on the board. I’m the executive in residence at a venture fund called Notion Capital. And at Notion, although their startups have always asked the executives and residents like myself, to specialize in go-to-market, how do we scale, how do we create a sales organization, for not just scale and depth but high growth, and what kind of tidbits and ways we go to market to be really hyper focus on value, but also on customer success.

I do this quite a bit, and I like to think that I’m not just well-educated, but I do a lot of research on this topic of sales – how do we create a sales motion that can change dependent on where the motion originates. For example, is it an existing install customer? Is it partner-led? Is it indirect? Is it direct? Does the customer know anything about SUSE? Have they ever heard of SUSE before? Is it a net new brand, or someone we’ve sold to in the past but then lost?

Each one of these questions lead to a motion that will change also depending upon the solution and the complexity of the challenge and the problem we’re looking to solve. Every sales engagement, every communication with our customers always needs to start first with what problem and what challenge are we looking to solve for our customer.

So, sales motion changed a lot since I started. We invited, first step, our sales organization to be bold, to think differently, to think big, to go after the largest and most complex digital transformation challenges that our customers were looking to solve, and to inspire our customers to solve those challenges with SUSE.

This is why we’re much more value-focused, we’re much more interested on why our customers need to do something, why they want to do something and the why is really important here, because we can only provide our best guidance when we understand the why. In some cases, for example, this means we won’t pursue an opportunity. If I don’t have the solutions and the offerings to be able to solve the problem for the customer, then we’re not the best fit. And sometimes we don’t.

But it also means that we need to spend a significant amount of time doing discovery work. So, understanding why our customers are where they are, what they want to achieve and what are the consequences of doing so.

And it’s much more hyper-focused on the consultative side of understanding our customers that it is driving just a drop in sales solution. Today, we’re very point of view driven – I guess I could say point of view driven – meaning that we’ve developed through research customer experience, customer visits, understanding of what works and what does not. So, it’s really developed a nice point of view that allows us to proactively challenge our customers on their journey. And then be able to be a trusted advisor in which to add value to that journey.

We involve our account executives throughout every sales engagement, every sales motion, every sales call, obviously it’s important for SUSE, that each of our execs in the field can bring back our customers and partners viewpoints. So, even when we have an indirect sale, we include an account executive. And to collect the data, to understand the data, to understand the viewpoints of our customers, so we can learn and build a database of experience to build on that for the future. And I think, not just for me, but I think for the world, we had hundreds of people in field sales in January.

We have hundreds of people in digital sales right now – we’ve all moved to a much more digitally enabled sales cycle than we’ve ever have in the past, ever. I mean, in 25 years, I’ve never seen anything become so digital so fast as sales has. And I think that’s kind of going dark.

When I look at a partner perspective, so a big part of our business, I think you know Mike’s channels, when I look at that sales motion and that go-to-market, it’s a little — you know, we’re also changing how we work, how do we work with the traditional hardware vendor. Or how do we work now with the new cloud service providers or the MSPs or a partner who wants to use SUSE as an embedded solution.

Those have been a very, very big part of our success. Each of these partner types are critical to our go-to-market and really truly a testimony to our ability to create an ecosystem that significant but very robust. How we go to market with them has changed. We look for ways now instead to co-innovate, to co-market and to co-invest. So, the three “co’s.” And we do that because we feel that one plus one plus one is 50. We feel that if we can co-innovate, co-market, co-invest with our partners, we will get to the best amount of success for our customers.

And just like any even customer engagement, we put a significant amount of effort into understanding our partners as well, collecting the data, what problems they’re seeing, what solutions they are trying to solve and sell and add value and be relevant. And I think that’s probably — that’s a lot of advice I’ve now given to a lot of our startups in the community that want to create an enterprise-grade sales team, go-to-market function.

You know, at the end of the day, if we are just focused and honing in on the most important thing is customer success and helping them solve their business problems, everything else will follow.

Market Segmentation

Mike: SUSE is in a very horizontal, global market. From a tactical sales and marketing perspective, do you segment the market or how do you think about breaking that horizontal market apart?

Melissa: We didn’t segment much before I came, but since I’ve come, we’ve now really got into great detail about segmenting our customers and prospects by industry and by size. So, we’ve had delineation between what’s Tier 1 enterprise, upper mid-market, lower mid-market, and SMB. And it’s really important, you know, being able to communicate with our customers, it’s really important to understanding and predicting what their issues are going to be, because obviously that varies by size.

Mike: And does that drive the way that you interact with these customers? Like, I know it’s hard to serve the SMB market, you need a more automated way of interacting, and what’s the impact of that being on sort of the customer relationship?

Melissa: Oh, my god, I love to say that, you know, today was the same as it was six months ago, but you’re right, I mean servicing an SMB in an old world was predominantly digital. The way in which we service, I was mostly online, you know, in fact, a lot of SMBs are not necessarily in an office all the time, and they’re out and they’re remote in different locations, so the ability to get to them physically was even harder.

But now, the world’s changed, now everyone’s a digital sales engine. So, even our Tier 1 Enterprise customers, the last six months we’ve been servicing them through a lot of online video calls and through the telephone and other means, but, yeah, the way we service them is very different. In the old world, Tier 1 was high touch and SMB was low. And now, everything is high touched, but only a digital high touch.

Pricing

Mike: Pricing is really hard for open-source companies. I think it’s hard for all companies actually, do you participate in pricing strategy as CEO? And do you have any advice on how to build a process to find the right price, especially as the business environment is changing?

Melissa: So, one might think sometimes that getting involved in pricing is too detailed for a CEO, but I’ve been called worse where I get into the details of the business and I think, yes I do get engaged, and yes, I do ask a lot of questions. I want to be able to have the best value for my customers at the best price, and that doesn’t mean cheap. What it means is that I want to be able to sell for value, and that’s going to be based on the value of my customers see on price. It kind of goes hand in glove.

And pricing is an important topic, particularly right now when you look around IT industry, when you look at open source. I’d first say, how do we evolve pricing as the business environment changes, how do we set the right price. So, I think the first thing is that we have to price the value always, as I mentioned. The second thing is, we want to understand and be very clear about the problems that we’re looking to solve. So, what are the business challenges? Some customers are willing to pay for things like support, and that could be a main revenue stream for some open-source businesses.

And for others, they want to get everything for free, they don’t feel like they should have to pay. Or that it is not warranted. The value of paying for supporters is not worthy, it’s not warranted. And the case like SUSE, where so many of our customers are running mission-critical applications, the support, and the QA that we provide, and the assurance policy that we provide of the software we deliver is critical. It’s mission critical. And we look at that kind of problem, and what an outage can cause, and how complex it could be. There’s value there. So, the complexity of your product solves a problem, and how severe, and how big that problem is on behalf of your customers. And the market will be very, very key to a pricing strategy.

And that’s all of course based on, we said earlier, which is research. Research is key – understanding third parties, having customer advisory boards, testing our pricing with different customers’ and partners’ segments – that works. And, in fact, you know, we’ve got a big business in Latin America, where it’s being very, very impacted by currency changes. The currency in the pricing strategy you have for certain countries, and coupled again with emerging markets, could be different. So, you know, the research and understanding the customers’ business problems, what you’re looking to solve, what’s going on in the industry, the economy, and the market is all going to formulate the basis for a very strong pricing strategy and approach.

And one point I do want to call out is that pricing is also very much about being confident of who your company is and what your company does. Pricing gives value. The value it derives, and sticking to the beliefs and the nature of the value that you deliver is going to be linked to your pricing, because at the end of the day, customers will pay, like they do for SUSE, like they do for Rancher. They’re going to pay for a solution, for a technology that reduces costs, optimize performance, and improves their time-to-market to be able to service their customers better. Reducing risk is something that all customers are willing to pay for, and that insurance policy is very, very valuable.

How To Prioritize R&D?

Mike: A diverse group of engineers must have a ton of good ideas – how do you prioritize your R&D investments, and how do you balance investments in open-source projects versus investments in software that you monetize directly?

Melissa: So, this is another good one. And being a newbie, I’m only 365 days in into open source, or 370 days, and now I guess to open source, I’m coming from proprietary, and I think, “Oh, my goodness me! How do you balance, how do you prioritize the investments in open source, what the community wants, what your customer wants, how do you invest, where do you invest, and how do you prioritize that from an R&D perspective?”

And we get so many incredible ideas from engineers and from various teams across SUSE. We really live and breathe this culture of collaboration, not just outside the community, but in an extended community inside of our company. We also get loads of ideas from our — what’s now become over 28 years a very rich and vibrant partner ecosystem. We get loads of ideas from our customers via the customer executive councils.

And of course, we depend heavily on all of our communities, in the open-source community. So, we have several mechanisms in place to encourage, to fuel, to really get new ideas going, regardless of where they come from. Because we have many sources. But then, how do we prioritize and get these ideas? The ideas that have potential.

First, for us, go into a Convocation center, where the prototypes are developed and tested. So, we gather, collect and pull together all of these incredible ideas across all of our main areas, ecosystem, customers, partners, communities, developers, engineers, and we put them into a prototyping system and then test it.

In terms of R&D , because you asked for about R&D as well, Mike, we prioritize our investments in innovation, specifically in innovation that matters. We focus first on where we can create and enable, a concrete value for our customers that they couldn’t get before. So, thanks to new technologies or bridging existing technologies and new ways. So, that’s really important from a priority perspective.

This can also be said as well for innovation related to the operational or support improvements that we deliver, documentation and trainings and services, just give you a few. As we think about investments, we’re really fortunate in that we do not have to balance open-source investments with what we monetize. By nature, all of our software is open source, everything is based on open source. So, the balance for us occurs where and how and when and what we contribute to the open-source community.

For instance, how we select and engage in a specific project or technology is really where our balance comes in. And in SUSE, we focus on contributing to the projects that we feel will solve real-life IT needs and real-life IT problems for our Enterprise customers. Because we always got our customers’ needs and insight in the end.

Diversity

Mike: The list of female CEOs of open-source software companies, and that you can really say of tech companies in general is pretty short. What can we do as an industry to enable more gender diversity? And can open-source companies play a more prominent role?

Melissa: There’s no better industry in the world than to be diverse and inclusive than open source. There’s no better industry. This is the most inclusive, most collaborative, most open industry or – being IT – a sub-segment of IT being open source. I think what’s happening, the overall socio-economic environment is going to have wide-ranging impacts in the way we work and live, and not just gender diversity, but true openness, true collaboration, truly be inclusive.

I’ve always tried to do my part to affect change and drive impact in the world around me, but I mean, I’m bringing this into perspective in every role I do, and here at SUSE, as a CEO, I get a little bit of a bigger, maybe broader, maybe louder platform, but it’s certainly no different. I’ve gone on a career-long mission to ensure that technology is – which obviously has been traditionally male-dominated – becomes as inclusive and diverse as we possibly can. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, I was only one of the very, very small handful of female software developers at my first job.

Women – can you believe it, we’re even encouraged not to wear trousers, pants suits, we had to look like a woman back then – I’m not that old, by the way – so, if you look at my picture hopefully I look young, but I’m not even that old. But with that said, you know, I echoe your point that companies need to have diversity and inclusion at every level of their organization.

And every level, it needs to be executive leadership but down to the very corner of the company. It’s not just about enhancing performance and innovation. And of course, making your workplace attracted to top talent, but being diverse and inclusive also ensures and assures employees that they’re valued and that their voices can be heard. Businesses that recruit a more diverse workforce by getting open-source technology into the hands of students as an example is a great way to start building and fostering a talent pipeline.

So, at SUSE, we’ve got an academic program, it’s tripled in size – I’m very proud, very, very proud – I’m tripled in size, year over year, growing to include over 800 academic institutions globally, and there are students in the program over 71 countries. We have main low-resource areas of priority, focusing on places like Africa, where I spent some time, India as well, and I was trying to equip students everywhere, of all genders, with free tools and the necessary training to be successful in tech.
The SUSE academic program is just one example of the vast array of training courses we offer, virtual labs, curriculums, etc. in the latest open-source technologies delivered by SUSE, and that’s no cost at all for the academic community.

So, what we’ve tried to do with training, with certification, with extending the reach, it’s to be role model. I live by the thesis – you can’t be what you can’t see. There’s this thing called birds of a feather, and what we live to do here at SUSE is to stand up, to be visible, to be present. Just show the world what true innovation, coupled with diversity and inclusion can mean, not just for open source, but for the world at large.

And I think the beauty of open-source is what it does is, it breaks down barriers and breaks down gender, extends across every bit of geography gender, political affiliation, life experience – we are the borderless industry in every way. In that same spirit, SUSE will always celebrate openness and diversity. We embrace all principles of diversity and not just gender, but diversity of thought, diversity of experience, diversity of leadership of options and innovation.

And if we want to live this mantra of growing, of being, of open, of openness, of diversity and inclusion, every single way, inside and outside of SUSE, and we hope that we can get back to our open-source community, to encourage more women coming into the industry into open source and to be much more inclusive.

Advice For Open Source Founders?

Mike: So, the last question. And thank you for being so generous with your time.  We’re running a tad over, but I promised this is the last question. I guess, putting on your entrepreneur hat more than your SUSE CEO hat, do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who are launching a business around an open-source software product?

Melissa: I know we’ve gone over. I get quite enthusiastic, Mike. I’m sorry, I’m going to make this one quick. So, entrepreneurs, you ask for advice around entrepreneurs that want to launch a business around open source. So, first and foremost, as I started out, the very first question that you asked me, and I’m going to end on the same note, and that’s, first and foremost fundamental – your trust. Nearly every career move I’ve made, and has been either on the advice of a mentor or in concert was discussing with my mentor, and I’ve had various mentors, I haven’t had the same one for the last 25 years, but mentorship and sponsorship are not just crucial for starting and growing a business, but they also play a hugely prominent role in tackling the lack of diversity in tech. We just talked about, by providing support and advocacy and highlighting different career paths and growth opportunities for everyone across the industry. It’s really important to find the right sponsorship, the right mentors early on. I recommend finding a couple of mentors, diverse backgrounds, diverse industries.

If you’re in tech, finding someone for finance is a really interesting perspective because really, really well-rounded views. Secondly, I’d make sure that you build meaningful relationships. I’ve realized this is a very, very, very small industry. The tech industry is about relationships just as much as it is about skills, if not more. And depending upon those relationships throughout the lifetime of your journey is going to be really important. I think last, build a strong trusted network that’s open, collaborative, inclusive, and then, be the person that you can trust yourself. That would be my last bit of advice.

Closing

Mike: Melissa, thank you so much for sharing all this wisdom and experience with us today.

Melissa: Thank you so much for having me, and thank you again for showing so much interest in SUSE, and constantly being an advocate for us in open source. We’re very grateful to you, Mike. Thank you so much.

Mike: Well, there’s so much to unpack there. You might have to listen to this again and take notes. Thanks to the SUSE team for all the help scheduling and getting this episode to the finish line. Audio editing by Ines Cetenji. Transcription and episode website by Marina Andjelkovic. Cool graphics by Kemal Bhattacharjee. Music from Brooke For Free, Chris Zabriskie and Lee Rosevere.

Next week, we have our first podcast from India. Don’t miss Rajoshi Ghosh, co-founder of Hasura. It’s a really fascinating company that has created a GraphQL interface for your existing data. Until next time, stay safe and thanks for listening.

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