One of the great challenges experienced by larger enterprises is getting the right people to work on their cloud adoption programmes and run or maintain corporate systems on cloud platforms.
There are plenty of people with AWS, Azure or Google Cloud skills and there are even more people highly experienced in enterprise technology who know how to operate in large enterprises, which typically requires a unique blend of technical and political skills.
But people who’re skilled in both of these areas are limited in number and, as would be expected, are in great demand.
In this series of blogs I look at a number of different roles – solution architect, developer and project manager – and talk to people who’ve successfully made the jump from being enterprise specialists and reskilled onto cloud. And in doing so have positioned themselves as ‘highly sought after’ by large organisations.
Solutions architects have always had to have a breadth of knowledge and in cloud that knowledge requirement is even broader. “Taking apps into the cloud needs a different mindset and a wider technical skillset,” says FutureProof Chief Architect and co-Founder Andrew Queen-Smith, who has a 25-year career in IT, 10 of them as a technical architect.
Becoming a solutions architect for Cloud doesn’t happen by accident, he adds. “Cloud moves fast, requiring you to decide on where you want to specialise and build a strategy around that.”
Having said this, experienced folk with a strong track record in large enterprise IT can be well suited to the role in terms of their core skills, experience and aptitudes and there is a rapidly growing need for such talent and experience.
With the right approach and attitude the leap into cloud can be made, says Nik Bartlett. “There are a lot of people out there with valuable experience doing projects that have a lot of synergies with public cloud who are more than capable of learning what they need to.”
With a background working as a solutions architect carrying out data centre migrations for large organisations ranging from IBM and Deutsche Bank to TfL and the NHS, over the last few years Bartlett has developed the skills, experience and knowledge necessary to become a solutions architect in cloud.
The evolution of the enterprise cloud market
“Demand for people with comparable backgrounds will only grow”, Bartlett believes. “Public cloud is evolving. Amazon and Azure are really going after the enterprise market in a big way and both are evolving at quite a rate.
“Many roles that are advertised these days are a bit of wish list. Any organisation would be hard pushed to find anyone with good experience of all those services. Many of them value experience working with large enterprise customers, people who have led teams, know how to find out an organisation’s pain points, where it wants to go and how to help it get there.”
Being open to and holding out for the right roles and making the most of what they offer is important in developing the right mix of knowledge as is devoting time to learning away from the job. For Bartlett this has included watching webinars, doing online training courses to broaden his cloud knowledge, such as AWS associate solution architect certifications provided by A Cloud Guru. “I had used Azure before and I was used to Microsoft products. I wanted to learn something alien that I had never touched before.”
Queen-Smith also believes in the value of cultivating knowledge of and certifications with more than one cloud provider. “Core skills and certifications are not too difficult to get, and I believe you need a base level foundation in all three of the main cloud platforms. Even if you specialise in one main cloud provider it is useful to be aware and mindful of what the other providers offer.”
Some familiarity with all the cloud providers will only become more important in an increasingly multi-platform cloud world. At some point growth won’t just be about migrations to the cloud, but migrations between the main providers.
Training costs are no barrier
One of the great benefits of learning about cloud is how affordable and accessible such training is compared to legacy on-premise training, says Queen-Smith. “The cost is affordable. Self-certification via the likes of Udemy costs around £500 for all three and requires 40-50 hours of study on each.
Accreditations are not enough, however. Architecting for cloud, especially for large organisations, requires a breadth of knowledge and a list of hard and soft skill sets, that most professionals will find they have gaps in.
Perform a gap analysis of your skills and strengths and develop a plan to build on them. Buy a book, do a course so that in a few months you will be able to talk knowledgeably on topics you knew nothing about before.
Networking by attending conferences and additional training courses and seminars is useful. Put yourself in positions where you are slightly outside your comfort zone or go to networking events and get a feel for talking to different people from different parts of the IT world.
A plethora of IT events in the Meetup calendar will offer a chance to broaden your knowledge of a range of topics from software development testing, agile coaching and so on. You will learn a lot and there is a networking element to it as well.
The need for a holistic approach
Gaining familiarity with native tools from niche providers serving different functions such as cost management or security can also gain you an edge by broadening your knowledge and your skillset, says Queen-Smith. “When you are working in and promoting cloud solutions you have to think at a holistic level.”
Softer skills matter too. “As a solutions architect you will need to support cultural change in an organisation so you will need to collaborate and be an advocate for change. Good communication skills matter. As an architect I’ve dealt with the guy who is installing a piece of software in a server in a comms room right up to presenting in France to 40 global IT directors.
“Having the ability to speak with that range of people was so important in my role. In this role there is no doubt you will have to meet and present with senior people and be able to challenge these people as well. You need to be an influencer.”
And the learning doesn’t stop once you have made the move into your coveted role. When you have a technical problem searching online for use cases in white papers can provide many of the answers you are looking for. These notes from the field will show you the experience of the engineers who use it.
“Public cloud is changing fast so being open to continued learning to adjacent areas such as robotics, process automation, AI, analytics or IoT may be vital in future”, says Bartlett.
Yet it will also be impossible to attain expertise in every area, so specialising in order to keep up with the pace of innovation will be necessary. Pick an area you are good at, interested in and that you know well, understand where it is going and how customers will require that service in the future. The days of being an IT generalist are gone.