Boots on the Ground, Head in the Cloud

I’ve been talking to you for the last couple of weeks, mostly about the cloud. Let’s face it: it’s been a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo about infrastructure-as-a-service, five-nines of availability, and unplanned downtime. The cloud can’t possibly be yet another IT field consisting of nothing but buzzwords and acronyms, can it? The cloud is supposed to make things simpler, right? Absolutely, but before we get to that, it’s appropriate to talk about one huge aspect of the cloud that’s not likely to be simple:the people.

There may be some thoughts rolling around in your head like:

“After I go to the cloud, I won’t need people, right? The cloud will have all the answers for me!”

Once again, I feel like the advertisers have done all of us a bit of disservice in the way the cloud has been framed as some sort of hands-off and magical IT solution. The reality is that yes, you will still need people. The types of skills you, as the employer, choose to seek out, foster, and value in your IT organization will continue to develop over time, especially if your organization is increasingly cloud-dependent. Yes, you’ll still need boots on the ground in your IT organization. The type of boots, however, will shift a bit from a traditional on-premise IT organization.

Some positions in the IT organization will stay very familiar to their current role. For example, the cloud service providers out there will never understand your business and its IT needs better than your own people. IT strategy, decision-making, and overall approach should certainly continue to be owned by your organization. This type of role has historically been held by a CIO and a cast of supporting managers such as infrastructure managers, application managers, or technology officers. The huge advantage of the cloud is that it should allow IT to drive more value to the business, and this management layer is where there  is opportunity to ensure IT is understanding and proactively shifting to respond to business needs. It is highly possible that you’ll want to bolster this management layer in a cloud model in order to reap all the benefits the cloud has to offer.

As I previously discussed, the cloud can place increasing emphasis on your existing IT service management approach. If your existing processes, procedures, and methodology are all well-developed, robust, and scalable, then you’re ready for the cloud. If, like most organizations, your service management methodology is less refined, then transitioning to cloud-based service providers will exacerbate the need for more skillfully orchestrated systems management. In an ideal world, you would ramp-up your service management skills across the organization (either via direct hiring or training existing staff) ahead of a transition to the cloud to make it as smooth as possible. Being more realistic, I know that service management is oftentimes an afterthought. It shouldn’t be, but it is, and as such these skills can be reactively added after transitioning to the cloud, but this is less ideal than ramping up beforehand.

The deep-technology skillsets are where there is likely to be the most disruption in your on-premise workforce. Some technology skills, such as building robust and reliable data networks, will see an increase in demand in a cloud environment, a topic which I’ll cover in a following post. Other technology areas, such as the system and server operations team, will see a focus on minimizing the amount of low-impact, repeatable work they need to deliver. In a perfect world, this would allow those teams to focus on initiatives that are more strategic/important to the business, but I certainly understand that some people may see this shift as a threat to their jobs.

As I see it, the people that may be looking at a shake-up of their job priorities due to the cloud have a handful of options:

  • If you’re really passionate about the hands-on, in-the-trenches, systems/server technologies, then you may struggle at a company that is shifting to a cloud-based enterprise. You know who is looking for skilled workers with a passion for being hands-on and delivering services? Cloud providers. Consider a transition to a new employer if you want to stay heavily technology focused. Be mindful: all the cloud providers are going to require is a baseline level of IT service management skill, so make sure your resume has an emphasis on how you’ve been managing change and IT operations in the environment you’re coming from.
  • If you like your current employer and are not looking to work for a cloud provider, consider the gap in skills that your new cloud-based organization will have. Where there used to be servers in racks with fans and blinking lights, there is now a vendor that’s doing it all for you. Transitioning to the cloud can generally involve several providers, and there’s usually a need for someone in the organization to know how the cloud providers actually work. This can range from knowing the ins-and-outs of each cloud providers management consoles, to the underlying integration with any systems that are still on-premise (aka hybrid cloud or federation), to simply knowing how to wrestle the cloud provider(s) if and when there’s an urgent need or they’re not hitting their SLAs. In short, transition your technology wrangling skills to be vendor wrangling skills.
  • As previously mentioned, the cloud will place further emphasis on the organizations existing systems management methodology. Instead of being just the technology champion, you have the option to step up and become one of the champions of the overall IT service management environment, now that it’s incorporating providers beyond your four walls.

If you’re feeling that your job may be at risk due to cloud-based technologies, you have options. Technology, and IT specifically, has never been static. There has always been the expectation that you’re keeping up your skillset, either via education and certifications, real-world experience with new technology, lab/practice environment where you can hone your skills, or any combination of the three. Incorporating some cloud-awareness into your career progression should be a natural extension of the flexibility required for IT professionals. As long as you continue to embrace the change that has always been a constant in IT, there’s certainly no need to see the cloud as a threat to your career. Instead, embrace it and let it be a springboard for you.

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222 W. Adams
Chicago, IL 60606
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