‘The biggest opportunity right now is the shift towards mobile workforces’

5 Nov 2019

PJ Hough. Image: Peter Houlihan

PJ Hough of Citrix discusses the growing trend of remote working, the issue of diversity in software engineering, and his early love for computers.

PJ Hough is chief product officer for US software company Citrix, where he is responsible for driving innovation and growth across the product portfolio.

Originally from Tipperary but now based in California, he brings a wealth of industry experience to this role, having spent more than 20 years with Microsoft, where he led the Office team. He also holds 12 patents.

‘If you build and design software, there’s always a feeling that you can do something better and you can learn from trying different approaches’

Describe your role and what you do.

Future Human

I’m chief product officer with Citrix. It means that I am responsible for the roadmap for the product portfolio. This includes deciding on what products we build and the strategy for each one, what markets we operate in, how we bring new products to market and how we partner with other companies.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

The nature of the job means that I travel a lot and have a globally distributed team. I try to make myself available to my team where possible and technology means that I can pretty much work from anywhere.

Having access to these tools on my phone and my laptop makes it easy to fit in work when I need to, but at the same time, I need downtime so that I can enjoy life. In essence, my philosophy focuses on trying to fit work into my life.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

There’s a very significant shift happening with regard to the workforce and expectations about technology. A new generation of employees have grown up with smartphones and are used to having the ability to do so many things with them, whether it’s booking a flight or a hotel or sharing information with their friends. Modern mobile applications are now the benchmark, so when new employees come into the work environment, they expect the same level of technology.

This means that Citrix works very hard to provide organisations and companies with the technological tools to match these expectations. This is good for companies and workers alike because it makes people more productive and when people have access to great tools to help them to do their job, it enhances their experience and makes work more enjoyable.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The biggest opportunity that we see right now is the shift towards mobile workforces. This means that technology has to be very user-friendly, allowing people to work remotely while being a productive part of a team or organisation. It’s a global trend and it’s happening across sectors.

For example, many banks are experimenting with the idea of branch employees visiting small businesses or being more mobile to increase efficiency. The branch as a physical entity isn’t as prominent as it once was but, thanks to technology, branch services have actually become much more accessible to customers. This trend creates a lot of opportunities for Citrix because what we build supports people to have flexibility and to work from anywhere as part of a distributed team.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

When I was in secondary school in Borrisokane, I encountered my first computer, the Apple II. At the time, it seemed almost magical to understand what you could do with it, relative to anything else I had seen or heard about before.

If I were to pinpoint where the big jump happened, it was when I won a green card in the lottery, which got me to Microsoft in the US. That put me on the journey to product design and software development. But that first encounter with the Apple II meant I never stopped thinking about the power of computers.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

If you build and design software, there’s always a feeling that you can do something better and you can learn from trying different approaches. There were times when the company tried things and they weren’t perfect, but I still felt that we learnt a lot. These experiences moved Citrix forward. If you sit on the sidelines for too long, not only do you not participate, you also don’t learn. That’s the biggest mistake you can make.

How do you get the best out of your team?

We are a globally distributed team, so we don’t spend that much time together face-to-face. It means that every form of communication matters – especially written communication – because it reaches corners of the organisation that I can’t when I’m travelling.

I also set very clear goals and don’t change them very often. If you set clear, consistent goals for a team, it lets people do amazing work. It’s very disruptive to keep changing goals for a team. It’s also really important to be available to discuss goals and to provide clarity where it’s needed. My team uses many different forms of communication and collaborative tools, so the written word must be clear and crisp.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

Historically there has been a diversity challenge in the tech sector, particularly in engineering. It has improved over time and our statistics as a company indicate this.

One issue that comes up again and again is that there is not a diverse pool of candidates to begin with. Citrix is addressing this situation by recruiting from schools and colleges that have STEM programmes with high diversity levels and by making our interview panels balanced, so that candidates feel at ease.

Citrix builds software solutions for everyone, so it is vital that we have diverse opinions about the products we design and that they represent all of our customers’ needs. I also believe that if you want to have a diverse customer base, make sure that your products are designed by a diverse workforce.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career? If so, how?

I’ve never had one mentor, but I’ve been very lucky because I have a small set of trusted people who I can talk to about my career. Many of these people are my peers and are going through what I am going through, but they have a different perspective and different experiences, so their insights are invaluable.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I alternate between books about sci-fi, new technology and management, but at the moment I’m reading a fascinating book by Tim Harford called 50 Things That Made The Modern Economy.

Harford puts all of these significant changes in the context of what life was like before they happened and then looks at how they transformed the world. For example, the first chapter is about the plough and the impact that it had on society. The iPhone and razor blades are on his list, but so is the passport.

The world is undergoing a lot of change at the moment, so it’s a very thought-provoking read. I believe that the software industry can drive change in society and the book has made me think about what we as a company and as a society are working on today that will significantly change our world.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I’m really lucky because I have a handful of people who help me make decisions about my priorities and how to spend my time. It’s important for me to schedule time to prepare for my upcoming events and activities.

My calendar provides me with structure and holds me accountable about whether I’m spending time on the right things. I use it to look forward but also to look back and evaluate whether I’m spending enough time on the product, on strategy, with the customers or with my team. There are only so many hours in the day and how you spend your time is a true reflection of what you felt was important.

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