Matt Hicks, the new CEO of Red Hat, does not have the background of the typical CEO.
He studied computer hardware engineering in college.
He started his career as an IT consultant at IBM.
And instead of jumping into management at Red Hat, Hicks joined the open source software business in 2006 as a developer on the IT team.
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However, his hands-on experience is one of his key strengths as the company’s new leader, Hicks says.
“The markets are changing very quickly,” he tells ZDNet. “And just having that intuition — of where hardware is going, having spent time in the field with what corporate IT stores struggle with and are good at, and then have many years in Red Hat engineering — I know that that intuition is what I’ll be leaning on… Around that, there’s a really good team at Red Hat, and I can lean on their expertise on how to deliver the best, but I like to have that core intuition.”
Hicks believes his core knowledge helps him direct the company’s strategic betting.
While his experience is an asset, Hicks says it’s not a given that a good developer will be a good leader. You also need to know how to convey your ideas convincingly.
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“You can’t just be the best coder in the room,” he says.
“Especially in STEM and engineering, the softer skills of learning to present, learning how to influence a group and showing up really well in a leadership presentation or at a conference – they really start to define people’s careers.”
Hicks says focus on influence is an important part of his role now that he didn’t enjoy earlier in his career.
“I think a lot of people don’t like that,” he says.
“And yet you can be the best engineer in the world and work hard, but if you’re not heard, if you can’t exert influence, it’s harder to make those opportunities happen.”
Hicks embraced the art of persuasion to advance his career. And as an open source developer, he learned to embrace enterprise products to further Red Hat’s mission.
He joined Red Hat just a few years after Paul Cormier – then Red Hat’s VP of Engineering and later Hicks’ predecessor as CEO – moved the company from early distribution, Red Hat Linux, to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). . It was a move that not everyone liked.
“There was a significant amount of fear,” Hicks says, as developers questioned whether this was the right business model for open source. “People are passionate about making sustainable models. So I think at the time [the question] was, is Red Hat going to get rid of that, or will it continue to make open source better?”
Hicks understood both sides of that debate.
“I really started my entire technology journey with Linux itself,” he says. “I was on the consumer side — you know, I bought the boxes of Linux from Best Buy. But my first professional job at the time was in consultation with IBM. And as far as I knew about Linux, there’s a difference when you are a consultant at a company and you implement Linux alongside [IBM’s Unix-based operating system] AIX.
“I had my consumer opinion — I loved this open source thing,” he says. “But I also had a practitioner’s opinion: I’m going to big corporations, and I’m just going to be here for a consultancy and this has to be credible. And RHEL has really done that well.”
Hicks says he was drawn to Red Hat because of the inherent tension between community and commerce.
“There’s the appeal on both sides, how do you enable a community where the software is accessible to everyone on the planet, your partners and your competitors on it?” he says, facing the question, “How do you leverage that innovation to have a truly successful commercial model that customers appreciate?”
In all his years at Red Hat, Hicks thinks not much has changed around the challenge of balancing those two forces.
Of course, much more has changed, both in software development and at Red Hat. Hicks wants to make sure the company is always ready to evolve. So in a message to Red Hat staff, he wrote, “When we hire people, look for culture that fits the culture, not culture.”
He believes that the idea of looking for a culture that suits prospective employees has a very static feel to it.
“It’s not that you don’t add anything, you don’t look at potential,” he says. “If you always stick with what you know, the culture you have today, fit with your current limitations, I think you’re going to lose a lot of that potential, both the potential for today and for later as that talent evolves and tomorrow changes.” .”
Red Hat was acquired by IBM in 2019 for $34 billion, but the company continues to operate as a standalone division. Meanwhile, RHEL is still the leading enterprise Linux platform. As Steven Vaughan-Nichols noted for ZDNet, it is used by more than 90% of Fortune 500 organizations and will reach $13 trillion in global business revenue by 2022.
“Virtually every industry you look at is starting to define their innovation with software right now, and we’re in the software business,” said Hick, highlighting the opportunity for Red Hat.
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The company is focused on supporting the “open hybrid cloud”, enabling IT teams to work across public clouds, data centers and the edge.
“We are at the intersection of the potential of open source, the potential of open hybrid cloud and software innovation, and that excites me every day,” says Hicks.
As he settles into his new role as CEO, the biggest challenge for Hicks will be choosing the right industries and partners to pursue at the fringe. Red Hat is already working on the edge, across industries. It partners with General Motors on Ultifi, GM’s end-to-end software platform, and it partners with ABB, one of the world’s leading production automation companies. It is also partnering with Verizon on hybrid mobile edge computing.
Still, the chance is high. Red Hat expects to see about $250 billion in spending on the fringe by 2025.
“There will be tremendous growth in applications written to meet those demands,” Hicks says. “And so our short-term goals are to pick the industries and build impactful partnerships in those industries — because it’s newer and it’s evolving.”