The cloud computing wave is unstoppable. Smart IT workers are embracing the opportunities and riding that wave to new career highs, but you’ll need to embrace the new cloud mindset. What does the cloud jobs landscape look like heading into 2013?
Last year, I was attending a cloud computing conference and took the opportunity to have drinks with an analyst from one of the larger firms. At one point, the conversation turned to the changing career landscape being driven by cloud computing.
“You really don’t want to be a pure-play storage admin right now,” the analyst said. “That’s a shrinking career if there ever was one. Sure, people will still be responsible for storage, but it will increasingly be part of a larger cloud environment and you’ll have to understand the other parts, too. People are going to have to start learning about other disciplines quickly.”
Excitement or Fear?
Over the past few years, I’ve talked with a lot of IT people on the front lines of the cloud computing revolution. I’ve had conversations with managers and individual contributors who are struggling to define a cloud strategy and then execute to it. There are two reactions I see on people’s faces around the conference room table during these discussions: excitement or fear.
For some, cloud computing represents new, fertile territory, a chance to become one of the first “experts” in the field. For others, cloud computing is a threat to their power, position, or stability. Cloud will upend the safe, static world they have constructed and force them out of their comfort zone. One IT manager told me quite directly, “Don’t you dare tell my management that cloud computing is ‘cheaper.’ Whenever they hear that word, they want me to fire somebody, and I’ve already cut to the bone.”
But this isn’t our first IT rodeo. Change isn’t new to IT; IT thrives on it. We’ve gone through similar transitions multiple times before:
- The mainframe to mini to PC transition
- The client-server transition
- The Internet transition
In each of these transitions, the old order was left behind as a growth spurt in new technologies made IT more relevant to the rest of the business. We’re going to see the same with cloud computing.
The Cloud Skills Shortage
And the opportunities have never been greater. Rich Hein, writing for CIO Magazine, reports:
The IT market is expected to grow roughly 1.1 percent–to 2.7 percent through 2020 and cloud-related skills represent virtually all the growth opportunities in IT employment worldwide. According to the IDC study, the demand for cloud computing will grow at six times the rate of IT skills overall.
While normally talent gaps are caused by rapidly expanding markets or are limited to a geographic sector, the cloud market is different. In fact, according to the study, finding people with the right mix of cloud skills will be the number 1 IT challenge for companies in the coming years.
That’s a nice incentive for people who are emotionally struggling to embrace cloud computing. A skills shortage, even if relatively short-lived, will drive up salaries for those who are willing to grow their skill sets. While pointless change for its own sake can cause stress and agitation, there’s nothing like a raise to smooth things over.
Upgrade Your Skill Set
“Okay, I’m on board,” I hear you say. “But what skill set is going to be required for these new, lucrative cloud jobs?” The good news is you’re probably already half-way there with your current skill set. In the age of cloud, you’re going to need to:
- Leverage the skills you already have, but in a cloud environment. If you’re trained on server administration, then you’ll need to pick up the nuances of what it means to administrate servers running in the cloud. If you’re responsible for security, then look at what it means to secure applications running in the cloud. And if you’re that storage administrator, learn what it means to deliver a private cloud storage solution and leverage cloud backup services.
- Rebrand yourself. During the Internet bubble, there was a joke in Silicon Valley that all the new business plans were of the form “XYZ on the Internet,” where XYZ was something old and tired. All it took was the addition of “…on the Internet” for the old to be made new and sexy again. And there’s some truth to that. If your résumé currently says “Storage Administrator,” you might want to update it to say “Cloud Computing Storage Administrator.” You’d be surprised what a difference a couple of words will make.
- Upgrade your business skills. The IT transitions mentioned above (mainframe-to-mini, client-server, and Internet) were focused on new technologies. The cloud computing transition adds a wildcard in that often you’re going to be getting rid of technology. Rather than building and running infrastructure, which was the traditional IT role, in some cases you’ll be offloading to external providers. And that means you’ll have to understand procurement, contracts, and external vendor management. Chances are that there are people in your organization that do those functions today, but they don’t have the technical chops that you do. Cloud computing will require people with both.
- Adopt a cloud-centered mindset. This is the hard one. In the past, IT people were used to building and running infrastructure — servers, storage, and software. Business units asked for certain capabilities, and the IT department responded by building whatever was asked for to the best of their ability. Now, it’s all about offering your users a broad set of services that they can access themselves. This means you’ll have to be proactive with “product” planning and development, sticking to schedules and making sure you’re selling internally. In conversations with senior enterprise IT managers, there’s a lot of skepticism about whether today’s cadre of IT professionals will be able to “get it.” At a conference, last year, one enterprise architect said that he thought only 20 to 30 percent of his staff could make the jump to cloud; the rest were too deeply rooted to the old paradigm.
The New Normal
The good news is that we’re very early in this transition, so nobody has yet figured out what the new normal looks like. Everybody is making it up as they go. In another article for CIO Magazine, Rich Hein says:
The challenge many companies face, Foote says, is that we have yet to define the skills necessary for leveraging all the cloud has to offer, and as a result there’s a lot of confusion over what a cloud role really is.
Foote Partners reports that it is rethinking its definition of what the cloud is now compared to the last four years. Foote says the analyst firm is starting from scratch using its network of more than 2,500 companies to figure out what roles and responsibilities specifically tie into cloud and if/how they break down into different tiers. “We need to retool our own view of the cloud now that is has become more mainstream and there are so many players in the market,” says Foote.
“Cloud is blowing out into a very inclusive definition,” says Foote. Now things that have never been included in what would be considered a cloud role or job are being added to the growing list of cloud jobs.
According to Foote, its original assessment of cloud jobs years ago included roles such as engineers, analysts, architects, along with some developer and administrator jobs. Recently, as part of its internal research of major job boards, it came up with about 150 different cloud job titles while searching for cloud computing. For example Foote says, “There isn’t a standard list of cloud jobs. You can say Linux or Unix is a cloud skill, but it’s also not a cloud skill. You have people using Linux, XML and Python that have nothing to do with cloud computing. Now you have these cloud versions of all of these broadly defined skills,” says Foote.
The takeaway here is that the “rules” are very much in flux and everybody can bring something to the cloud jobs party. But to make the most of it, you’ll have to embrace the change and bolster the other portions of your résumé that are weak. Those who move early will gain the most before the skills gap is fully addressed. More importantly, they’ll help define the “new normal” that will exist in the coming years. And it’s always better to write the rules than to follow rules written by others.