DevOps.com caught up with Tim Butel, VP of Products at XebiaLabs. Tim discussed some of the latest trends in DevOps & continuous delivery (CD) with us. He also gave us a great update on what XebiaLabs has been up to recently and why organizations including Gartner and others consider XebiaLabs a leader in the category.
Tim also gave us some great insight into how he has progressed in his own career. How can someone listening to this try to set out on a similar career path? Tim’s journey may prove helpful to you.
As usual, below is the streaming audio of our conversation and below that is the transcript of our conversation, Enjoy!
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone, Alan Shimel, DevOps.com here, for another DevOps Chat. Today’s DevOps Chat’s guest is Tim Buntel, VP of products at XebiaLabs. Tim, welcome.
Tim Buntel: Thanks so much, Alan. It’s a pleasure to be joining you today.
Shimel: Yep. Well, no, it’s our pleasure to have you here. So, Tim, I know you’re fairly new, though not really new new to Xebia, but how long have you been on board there now?
Buntel: Yeah, so it’s coming up on about six months now, so long enough to have had a couple releases and seen where we’re going as an organization and start to chip in, but can’t take too much credit for all the success of the company yet.
Shimel: No. Okay, fair enough. And then, Tim, VP of Product. So you’re—give our listeners what exactly does that entail in terms of your responsibilities.
Buntel: Yeah certainly. So, you know, my team brings together product management, user experience, and all of the folks who are basically bridging the needs of the market to the rest of the organization. So we’re looking strategically at where we want to invest in new features in the products, we’re bringing requirements back to the engineering team, we’re designing the solutions for the features, and then we help bring that back out to the market. So interacting with the analysts and press, interacting, you know, in the support capacity to sales and that sort of thing. So really being that conduit between the market and the customer’s needs and all of the activities that are happening in the organization.
Shimel: Great. And Tim, you know, we might have some people out there who are a little younger, starting out in their careers, and they hear, wow, this guy is VP of Product at a company like Xebia. Can you give you listeners, give us a little bit of background, so what sort of qualifications, what experience did you bring to this position that kind of, you know, makes you able to succeed at it?
Buntel: Hmm. Yeah, I mean, product is a great role for folks who really want to help be the advocate for their customers. So in my case, my whole career has been in Dev tools and building businesses that create product that other software engineering companies, you know, sell and use. So I ran the developer tools business at Atlassian, I’ve worked for Microsoft and Adobe, I’ve done a couple of startups that are in the Dev tools space myself.
But the most important thing was originally I came from a development background myself. So as a developer, I was able to understand the challenges that development organizations faced. So often when I talk to professionals who are in this space, you know, maybe you are a DevOps engineer or you’re a software professional and you like solving problems, and you have a keen sort of interest in the people, right? So talking to people, understanding what their problems are, and then being able to creatively come up with solutions to those problems, that you can turn into a product so that you’re not only solving one person’s problem, but you can turn it into a product that solves that problem at scale for a market. Those are really the qualities that are most important for the job. So understanding the space and the domain—understanding, you know, in my case, what it means to build software—and then wanting to work with other creative people to find solutions to those problems, that can translate into a road map of features in your product portfolio.
Shimel: Excellent, excellent answer, and I hope our listeners or anyone who might be interested in that topic takes that to heart, Tim. I think there was some great advice and lesson there. So let’s turn a little bit, Tim, though, and talk about Xebia, right, and to kind of lay the groundwork, to you, what is XebiaLabs really all about? What is the secret sauce of XebiaLabs, if you will?
Buntel: [Laughs] Yeah. I mean, I think for me, the most important thing about us is that we’re really focused 100 percent on continuous delivery. We’re an independent company and that’s all we do. So every day we wake up and we figure how can we help other software organizations, generally they’re enterprise IT teams, how can we help them deliver better software faster, with less risk, right? So we combine many years of experience in that area. We were looking at deployment automation, as much as seven years ago now, I guess, so really before the term DevOps was even broadly adopted, we were solving these problems for large enterprises. And to this day, we continue to do that. So we are able to solve really large-scale enterprise problems because it’s 100 percent of our focus.
Shimel: Excellent. And so that being said, Tim, now that we know sort of what Xebia is about, I guess fair to say what attracted you to this position? You have a long resume of success with some very, very successful companies, obviously. What was it about Xebia that said, man, this is where I want to be?
Buntel: Yeah. Well, it’s really the culmination of a lot of the pieces that I’ve been working on in my whole career. So if you look at a software engineering organization today, many of the products that I’ve worked on constitute elements of that technology landscape that they have, right? So everything from issue tracking systems and collaboration tools at the beginning, through source code control and build tools and deployment tools, all the way to the end, to monitoring and user feedback, right? This is a great assortment of individual products, but it also results in a fairly chaotic landscape. So if you’re an organization trying to apply all of that at scale, keeping track and orchestrating all of that together has consistently been a challenge, right?
So for me, this opportunity to step in and say, okay, the next really important challenge in doing continuous delivery at scale is to orchestrate all of those pieces, and that’s what we’re really focused on at XebiaLabs right now. So XL Release, for example, is release orchestration automation tool that does just that. So we can help organizations automate and manage that process for even the most complex pipelines, and for me, that was a great next step, right? So I had worked on some of these individual pieces that were solving very specific parts of a development team’s challenge, and now I’m able to step back and offer a solution that helps sit above all of that and really make all of those pieces fit together. It’s like a conductor in a symphony, you know, being able to get the most out of each individual musician. That’s kind of what we’re doing for all of these other great parts of the continuous delivery pipeline.
Shimel: Excellent, excellent, excellent. So, Tim, why don’t we—we’ll continue on the Xebia topic here for a while. What’s new? What’s new, what’s exciting coming out of Xebia these days?
Buntel: Yeah, there’s some great work that we’re doing. You know, we continue to get great recognition from the analysts and press, we’re getting some great coverage from Gardner and Forrester recently, which is really exciting for us. And what we continue to hear both from them and from our customers themselves is that because we’re focused entirely on the continuous delivery piece, we’re able to offer some insight into our users in a way that, you know, individual point solutions aren’t necessarily able to do that. So a large emphasis for us is on this kind of reporting and insight, being able to analyze the performance of your continuous delivery process and kind of your DevOps organization. That could be through reporting, it could be through analytics, helping organizations find out where bottlenecks might be in their process. So it’s not just managing things, but it’s helping guide you toward ways to improve the efficiency of your program, and even to help folks measure the ROI of that.
So lots of organizations are trying to adopt DevOps and continuous delivery, and in many cases, it’s difficult for them to know what’s the ROI of that. So a big emphasis on our tools lately is on that aspect. So helping you get insight into your continuous delivery process, and we’re doing that in a way that’s extensible and supports integrations with pretty much any technology that you’re likely to find in the enterprise DevOps stack.
So that’s one piece, the insight and analysis part. The other piece that I think is a real strength of ours, that’s very exciting for me, is the breadth of participants in the process that are successful with our products. So a lot of solutions that are out there helping organizations with continuous delivery are really focused on the most technical people in the process, right? So they’re very script-focused, they tend to be very technical, and really, in the enterprise, the people who are participating in continuous delivery or DevOps initiatives more broadly, they’re coming from a lot of different backgrounds. You might have, you know, less-technical business owners, you might have risk or compliance professionals, and a host of managers and other stakeholders besides the real technical teams.
And one approach that’s been really centered to our product development recently is to make sure that the products are approachable, they have a great user experience, they are easy to use, they’re easy to understand, regardless of the degree of technical expertise in the user, while at the same time still satisfying all the needs that the most technical parts of the team have. So you can fully automate and fully script all of our solutions. We’ve got full API access and CLI capabilities as well. But the spirit of DevOps as a social process as much as a technical process can only be successful when the products are appropriate for folks with a range of different experiences. So that’s another really key focus for us now.
Shimel: Yep. What about the bigger—Tim, what about the bigger DevOps market, and how Xebia is sort of playing in that. We’re starting to see, you know, DevOps Express, for instance, was announced two weeks ago at Jenkins. But, you know, I think that’s a symptom of a bigger—I don’t want to say disease, that’s the wrong word, but a symptom of a bigger thing, which is sort of interoperability, right? No one DevOps tool is gonna do all your DevOps for you, right? So what – you know, what do you think about that kind of trend, if you will?
Buntel: Sure, certainly. You know, in fact, I can point to something that XebiaLabs has been running for the last couple of years now, probably, that really illustrates that beautifully. That’s our periodic table of DevOps. I don’t know if your listeners are familiar with it, but you can find it on our site, and it’s a, you know, a play on the periodic table of the elements, that’s cataloguing all of the different technologies that are typically present in, you know, a DevOps or continuous delivery stack. Everything from ticketing systems through STMs and builds and provisioning tools and all that.
And it’s community-sourced, so folks vote on the technologies that they use and the things that are most important to them. And we have a new tool now that’s part of that, that allows you to define the pieces of technology that are part of your enterprise IT environment, and it’ll help display kind of what your DevOps environment might look like, based on the combination of all of those technologies. But my point there was that, yeah, exactly as you said, it’s such a cluttered landscape and it’s growing at such an explosive pace, right? There seems to be a new open-source technology that’s looking at a different piece of the puzzle that comes up almost weekly, right?
So the challenge that we see for professionals that are in this space, especially in the enterprise, where you might be managing the development initiatives across different geographic locations and teams who are trying to be empowered to select their own technology is how do you centralize that and manage that while still balancing the control that you need as an enterprise, with the autonomy that you want to give your individual development teams to pick and choose the technologies that are best for them. our approach for it in our product is to really focus on integrations. So we have, you know, both of our products really emphasize integrations first, so that we can build integrations as they come to all of these emerging technologies, as well as the established and even older technologies. Everything from mainframe to the most recent sort of container or container management systems, we’re able to integrate with because we’ve built our products in this loosely coupled integration-based way. So that’s certainly something to look for if you’re considering how to construct your own continuous delivery or DevOps, you know, sort of landscape. Make sure that the products put integration at the center of how they’re able to hook together.
Shimel: Got it. So, Tim, believe it or not, we—I told you we’d do this for 12 minutes, and we’re at 15.[Laughter]
Shimel: It happens. Just one last question, and if you have an answer for it, fine, if not, it’s okay, but I usually always like to ask my guests if you had to recommend a book to our audience to read, a must read, what book would you recommend? It can’t be “The Phoenix Project,” by the way. We’ve already got that one, but go ahead.
Buntel: [Laughs] Yeah. Well, yeah, well, you know, on my desk right now I’ve got sort of the following on “The Phoenix Project,” right? We have the new “DevOps Handbook,” from Gene Kim and Jez Humble, and we’re getting a lot of interest from our customers in that book, and, you know, we talk to Gene a lot and he has some really great insight. So I’m pretty excited—I’m about halfway through that, and there’s some really terrific case studies and great, practical, you know, kind of illustrations of how this actually works in real world technology and organizations out there. So that’s a great one for me, the latest.
Shimel: Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting, a very different sort of focus than the first one. But anyway—
Buntel: I love that—I love that there’s a good focus on metrics in this one as well. That’s something that I’m personally really interested in, is, you know, this ROI of DevOps initiatives, and I think he’s got some great case studies in there that help measure that.
Shimel: Well, Gene is a metric nut.
Buntel: That’s right.
Shimel: So anyway, Tim, we’re at the end of time, really, we’ve got to wrap. Tim Buntel, VP product XebiaLabs. Thank you so much for being this episode’s guest on DevOps Chat. Hope to see you soon, and we’ll catch up again, all right?
Buntel: Thank you so much, Alan, and look forward to talking to you again sometime soon.
Shimel: Okay. This is Alan Shimel for DevOps.com. See you on the next DevOps Chat.