Every company is now a software company, as Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, famously said.  That includes Ford Motor Company, which is now six years into its transition to running on cloud native software. In this Q&A, Ford employees Beckie Riss and Satish Puranam share their perspectives about Ford’s technology, helping their people adapt and how having an advanced technology strategy helps them recruit new talent.

First, can you introduce yourselves and your teams?

BECKIE RISS (Principal Architect, Developer Relations, Tools & Enablement): My team is part of Enterprise Architecture, and builds internal platforms, tools, and processes to support cloud-native software development across Ford.  

SATISH PURANAM (Technical Leader, Cloud): My team is a part of Ford’s IT Operations, where we specialize in public and private cloud technologies, which includes a lot of Research & Development, product evaluation, services inception, and are always on call to solve any major service disruption across our portfolio.

Why should software experts consider Ford?

RISS: We have committed to a comprehensive, company-wide digital transformation, have our best product lineup ever (including #2 in EV sales to Tesla) and are making it even more enjoyable to own a Ford vehicle with software-led always-on technologies, services and experiences. For example, we learn customer preferences from connected vehicle data and then can add new features or make other improvements by shipping software over-the-air to those products. Just consider F-150 and Mustang Mach-E customers who recently received Ford Power-Up software updates with our BlueCruise hands-free, eyes-on-the-road highway driving technology. One day, they were driving their vehicles normally but the next day they could go hands-free. To support all of this, we are making it easier for software experts to focus on the best parts of the jobs while removing many of the obstacles that before prevented them from being more creative and productive.

How did Ford get started on this technical transformation?

RISS: In 2016, Marcy Klevorn, Ford Smart Mobility CIO, kicked off an initiative to begin Ford Motor Company’s cloud native application development journey to harness the full power of modern cloud computing technologies and infrastructure. As part of this initiative, the Cloud & DevOps Growth and Maturation (CDGM) team was formed under the Enterprise Architecture Leadership to accelerate the development of cloud native applications and upskill many Software Engineers. Ford’s journey to modernize application hosting environment, to support software development, was driven by a desire to reduce lead time to market and keep our cost and complexity in check for the development community and infrastructure site reliability engineers.

PURANAM: We have shifted our digital strategy over that time as new technologies have become more mainstream and believe that will continue as there is no end in sight for the innovations that may become reality in the future. Our main challenges are around end-user enablement and reducing the huge barrier to entry to these modern technology stacks.

What does success look like for you?

PURANAM: Our software engineers can quickly deliver business capabilities with a high level of satisfaction and effectiveness.

RISS: The team goal is to allow freedom of choice to Software Engineers to pick and choose technology and toolsets that innovate and provide an “opinionated stack”.

What tools and technologies are you adopting?

PURANAM: Our focus areas include public cloud, and open technologies like Kubernetes, Knative, Istio, Tekton, ArgoCD, Kubevirt, Prometheus, SigStore, and Terraform. Also, data platforms like Airflow, Kubeflow, Seldon to name a few.

RISS: The team is currently working on a software platform using Backstage to consolidate and make the various portals, services, guides, tools, and infrastructure onboarding utilities seamless for Software Engineers.

Part of your work is “cultural transformation”. What parts of Ford’s development culture need to evolve as part of adopting new technology?

PURANAM: We recognized early on we needed to redefine the roles we valued, educate our workforce to fill those roles, and organize differently to be nimbler. First, IT leadership team defined the key culture values: “be curious”, “do the right thing”, and “create tomorrow”. 

RISS: Our people started to recognize they needed to own their own professional development. Our CIO created PowerUp Time, which is four hours per week where employees could spend time upskilling or working on an innovative project to transform the tools and platforms we used. We also recognized it made sense to have a central team to work out the kinks of putting dev tools together and make those platforms available for software engineers, rather than having people repeat integration work.

What have been the most difficult changes around Cloud Native and Open Source for your staff?

RISS: Self-service.  The cloud native platform puts you, the developer, behind the wheel. That realization has been a mixed bag; some people are excited to be in control, while others are terrified. Hence, we need to build platforms/services that provide an easy on-ramp with adequate guard-rails built-in. Advocacy became hugely important.  So much of our work is getting started guides, videos, FAQs, and 1-on-1s.

PURANAM: Lack of an easy on-ramp and rapid pace of change, so developers need to be always on their toes. Reducing cognitive load for our developers is hard.

Did KubeByExample.com help with adopting these changes?

PURANAM: We created a reference application based on the KubeByExample tutorials that helps our people learn Kubernetes and Tekton.  Everything that the site talks about is something that our developers need to learn.

Speaking of Tekton, how did your team come to adopt it?  Were they already familiar with Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)?

RISS: When we started our journey in 2016, the organization started to adopt using CI/CD pipelines, mainly using Jenkins. The culture change of moving to CI/CD was slow and relied on where we wanted to invest on modernizing our legacy, but quick as we developed greenfield applications. Tekton didn’t come on our horizon until we got a supporting partner. So, the teams went from adopting CI/CD to adopting Tekton in the last 18 months.

PURANAM: Tekton is Kubernetes-native, and we wanted that to leverage our growing expertise. We were looking for reusable components with loose coupling — to create individual tasks and let developers re-use those tasks.  Tekton has let us abstract a lot of concepts away, so that teams don’t need to be experts in CI/CD to use it.  We had Terraform to do provisioning, and Tekton gave us a parallel way to drive other infrastructure changes.

RISS: We have been working on adopting best practices recommended by DORA, which advocates Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC), CI/CD to drive frequent and small releases that go through proper functional and security testing. We believe this approach and practices are essential to succeed.

What about adopting Knative and serverless platforms?

PURANAM: Knative is an abstraction layer to remove the complexities of Kubernetes. Do developers need to have expertise in 1000s of Kubernetes objects?  Or do they have some code and don’t need to care about infrastructure?  It’s all about how we reduce the cognitive load on developers.

RISS: It lets our team abstract away all the complexities around building and deploying containers for the Angular, Java Spring Boot, and Node.js Technology stacks.

Any final thoughts about Ford and the future of Cloud Native?

RISS: I have seen so many technological advancements over my career it is hard to anticipate the future.   I can say with confidence that we will adopt new technologies as they emerge and leverage them to the benefit of software development for the company.  

To hear more about cloud native topics, join the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and the cloud native community at KubeCon + CloudNativeCon North America 2022 in Detroit (and virtual) from October 24-28.