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We encourage our teams to fall in love with the problem, not the solution: Pratik Wadher, Senior VP, Intuit

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In a dynamic and ever-evolving world of technology and innovation, Pratik Wadher, Senior Vice President of Product Development at Intuit, shares a wealth of insights and experiences that shed light on the remarkable journey of Intuit in embracing open-source technologies and cloud-native solutions. In this interaction, Pratik Wadher takes us on a fascinating voyage through the intricate world of product development, offering a compelling narrative of how Intuit has harnessed open source and cloud-native technologies to redefine its approach and achieve unprecedented success.

Some edited excerpts:

Can you share some insights into how Intuit has embraced open-source technologies in its product development, and what benefits it has brought to the company?

At Intuit, we have fully embraced open-source technologies in our product development. One of our core technology selection principles is to start with open source as our first option. We understand the importance of being an active member of the open-source community and contributing to its growth.

We heavily rely on and contribute to cloud-native open-source software such as Argo, Kubernetes, Istio, Prometheus, OPA, Falcon, and OpenTelemetry at scale. These technologies have been foundational in creating our common cloud-native platform, enabling us to achieve better scalability and reliability for our financial products and services.

By leveraging open-source technologies, we have accelerated our development processes, reduced costs, and improved the quality of our products and services. Additionally, being an active member of the open-source community has allowed us to collaborate with other companies and individuals to drive innovation and create new solutions that benefit everyone. Overall, embracing open-source technologies has been a critical factor in our success as a company.

Development velocity is crucial in today’s fast-paced tech industry. What strategies and practices has Intuit implemented to ensure a high development velocity while maintaining product quality?

We recognize the importance of development velocity in delivering customer value quickly. At Intuit, we have implemented several strategies and practices to ensure high development velocity while maintaining product quality. One of the critical steps we took was moving to the Public Cloud in 2011. In 2018, we decided to build a common cloud-native platform leveraging Kubernetes, and today, all Intuit products and services are built, run, and managed on this platform. These decisions resulted in a 6X increase in our development velocity by simplifying and standardizing all build/deploy/run processes with embedded best practices. Our modern SaaS development platform also enables us to automatically measure all our operational metrics and generate real-time insights. This has allowed us to consistently measure our development velocity across the company.

Could you elaborate on the significance of cloud-native technology in Intuit’s product development and how it has enabled better scalability and reliability for your financial products and services?

Cloud-native technology has played a significant role in Intuit’s product development, allowing us to achieve enhanced scalability and reliability for our financial products and services. Currently, we operate more than 3,500 services on 300 Kubernetes clusters across Intuit’s flagship products, including Intuit TurboTax, QuickBooks, Credit Karma, and MailChimp. Leveraging standard cloud-native open-source software such as Argo, Kubernetes, Istio, Prometheus, OPA, Falcon, and OpenTelemetry at scale has made it possible for us to achieve this level of scalability. For instance, during Tax Peak, we process 42 billion transactions with 100% availability.

Intuit serves a diverse customer base of 100 million consumers and small businesses globally. How does the company approach designing products and services that cater to such a wide range of users?

Intuit’s customer base, consisting of 100 million consumers and small businesses globally, is highly diverse. Designing products and services that cater to such a wide range of users presents a significant challenge. We champion two foundational processes: Customer Driven Innovation (CDI) and Design for Delight (D4D), which enable us to innovate at scale. CDI helps us determine “what” to work on by gathering insights from our customers and identifying their pain points. D4D is “how” we innovate, creating delightful customer experiences. This approach has allowed us to design products and services that meet the diverse needs of our customers, providing them with a seamless experience across our product lines, especially as customers utilize multiple offerings from Intuit.

What are some of the key challenges you’ve encountered while overseeing the development of Intuit’s cloud-native modern SaaS platform, and how have you addressed them?

We encountered and overcame various technical, organizational, and adoption challenges during the development and maturation of Intuit’s cloud-native modern SaaS development platform. As part of the public cloud migration in 2011, development teams lifted and shifted their services and retained complete control over the public cloud infrastructure and resources. However, in 2018, as we began building the common cloud-native modern SaaS platform, development teams were initially reluctant to relinquish full AWS account access and adopt a multi-tenant shared platform for their services. To address this challenge, we focused on helping the first few teams understand the benefits of containers and Kubernetes. Development teams quickly realized how the modern SaaS platform streamlined their development process, incorporating built-in security and compliance mechanisms and out-of-the-box best practices, thus reducing the operational burden.

The early adopters, often referred to as “Jedis,” subsequently became the platform’s most ardent advocates. This value-driven approach was instrumental in overcoming the initial resistance and ultimately facilitated the successful implementation of our modern SaaS development platform.

In the context of open source, how does Intuit balance the advantages of collaboration with the need to protect intellectual property and proprietary features in its products?

Intuit primarily open sources platform projects, particularly in the cloud-native, and web and mobile development spaces. Intuit does not create open-source products in the financial technology domain related to its core businesses.

Could you share some examples of successful innovations or projects that have emerged from Intuit’s focus on open source and cloud-native technologies?

Intuit’s focus on open source and cloud-native technologies has led to several successful innovations and projects. One of our most successful open-source projects is the Argo Project. Argo is a CNCF graduated project, much like Kubernetes and Prometheus, and ranks among the top five most popular CNCF projects. Argo provides a suite of Kubernetes-native tools for managing deployments and workflows on Kubernetes, enabling us to streamline and standardize Intuit’s development processes, significantly improving development productivity. In addition to Argo, Intuit has also initiated and supported various open-source foundations and projects, including GraphQL, Player, Karate, Admiral, and most recently, Numaflow, among others. These projects have allowed us to harness the latest technologies and industry best practices, resulting in superior products and services for our customers.

How does Intuit foster a culture of innovation and continuous learning within its development teams to stay at the forefront of the financial technology industry?

At Intuit, we encourage our teams to “fall in love with the problem, not the solution.” We foster a culture of innovation and continuous learning with a laser focus on solving customer problems. This approach gives our development organizations ownership of the problem and the autonomy to collaborate and create the most innovative and comprehensive solutions to address these customer issues. We place a strong emphasis on customer-backed processes to ensure that our development teams create genuine innovations that enhance the lives of our customers, rather than pursuing technology for its own sake.

This approach has allowed us to stay at the forefront of the financial technology industry and provide our customers with the best possible products and services. We also promote continuous learning through various training programs, hackathons, and other initiatives to ensure that our teams are always up-to-date with the latest technologies and best practices. For example, our week-long Global Engineering Days, held twice a year, enables our teams to focus on solving customer problems or exploring new technologies that they might not have the opportunity to do within their regular work schedules.

What advice do you have for tech professionals aspiring to excel in leadership roles within product development and technology-driven companies like Intuit?

I have two key pieces of advice for tech professionals aspiring to become great leaders. First, technical skills are vital, particularly the ability to think independently and critically. This is essential to avoid groupthink and expedite the discovery and implementation of innovative solutions to customer problems. Second, empathy for both customers and colleagues is equally important, especially for leaders. Empathy forms the foundation for understanding each other’s challenges and for building world-class teams at Intuit.

Combining technical skills with empathy can create a culture of innovation and collaboration that drives success in product development and technology-driven companies. Additionally, I encourage aspiring leaders to maintain a commitment to continuous learning, staying up-to-date with the latest technologies and industry best practices. This approach will enable you to make informed decisions and lead your teams to success.

As someone who has experience both in the United States and India, how do you see the tech and innovation landscape evolving in India, and what opportunities do you see for collaboration between the two countries?

As someone with experience in both the United States and India, I’ve observed the rapid evolution of the tech and innovation landscape in India. The country boasts a vast pool of talented engineers and a burgeoning startup ecosystem, fostering innovation across various sectors. Furthermore, the Indian government’s emphasis on digital transformation and initiatives like Digital India and Startup India are further propelling the growth of the tech industry in the country.

In terms of collaboration between the US and India, numerous opportunities exist for partnership and knowledge-sharing. Many US-based companies, including Intuit, have established development centers in India to harness its talent pool and leverage its cost-effective resources. These centers have evolved into primary sites, leading not only individual projects but entire technology domains. Intuit India, with over 1,700 professionals, serves as a significant Intuit microcosm and is our second-largest engineering hub. Thanks to the proximity of teams, technologists across our sites are dedicated to fostering a culture of experimentation and innovation, with data and our robust AI platform at the core. Innovation is thriving here, delivering end-to-end product development, technology advancements, and engineering innovations for customers worldwide. Our globally diverse and talented technologists work with speed and scale to deliver on our AI-driven expert platform strategy.

We are expanding our India Development Center, introducing senior product management, design, and technical leadership roles to facilitate quicker local decision-making and execution.

Overall, collaboration between teams in the US and India will continue to expand and drive innovation. By leveraging each other’s strengths and expertise, we can create new opportunities and solutions to better serve our customers.

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