What to Consider When Seeking a Career in Cloud

by Mike Lewis
career in cloud

Your Cloud Career Roadmap

I began writing this post with the intent to avoid a generic do and do not list because those are just old school and Cloud anything is not old school. The prior sentence is a good place to start thinking about aligning or realigning your career in Cloud anything.  If you are a strictly by the rules, give me the 9-page to do list, I just need to be an efficient IT person, cloud may not be for you. Cloud anything, or more correctly any service that is purely based in a cloud computing environment, is different. Yes, there are sets of rules to follow, particularly if you must maintain HIPAA, PCI, or other compliance, however the rules cannot be the focus if you are to be successful in most Cloud careers.

Imaginative is the primary word that emerges as a differentiator between Cloud IT roles and old school IT roles. By imaginative I am not suggesting throw caution away and lets just do anything that sounds good. To align your career in Cloud IT you should be comfortable investigating the how, why, and what of new computing, storage, networking, and services options. Bringing your imagination and investigation skills to IT means for example, you are not looking for new ways to do old things such as File-> Save As. Rather you question why do people need to save a file at all because that sounds like a background function so that the file is saved every time the content changes. See the difference? Old school IT roles view File -> Save As as an essential end user function and while they may be open to the idea that where a user saves the file could be on some server in a data center owned by a vendor, they do not understand eliminating the need to save. Displacing that need, removing the burden from the end user, and more importantly not making the end user choose where to save a file, that is Cloud IT imagination.

Rethinking Old School IT

Another extension of Cloud IT imagination is the willingness to delete everything you have built over the last three, five, nine years and start over. Old school IT thinking allows improvement, refinement, or replacement in moderation, but does not understand or comprehend the benefit of a greenfield project do over. Just as old buildings become too expensive to maintain and no longer fit organization needs, old IT needs to be demolished when new organizational needs support the effort. Moreover, people succeeding in Cloud IT understand that new services and ways of achieving organization outcomes have emerged since the last time the IT need was met so there are potentially faster, better, or less burdensome ways to achieve the organization outcome. Imaginative and open Cloud IT thinkers understand anything five or more years old might benefit from a do over and are willing to explore the ROI.

Beyond removing end user burdens and starting from scratch if needed, Cloud IT roles require imagination to accept and benefit from open connections. To be clear, this does not mean insecure connections, rather this means understanding and accepting that other people can deliver needs and outcomes for your organizing faster and better than you, and those providers are willing to connect with you so that your organization can work with the best tool, platform, data source, etc.

In a Cloud IT role, you identify the best source, etc. then connect your organizing to it. Old school IT readers will rightfully say they have been doing that for years, and they have, but only when the requirement was too big or too specific for them to deliver. Cloud IT roles require your willingness to connect for any and every organization need, even if that means all you do is find, validate, and connect new sources or rely on other services rather than building anything yourself.

Talk It Out

One other way imagination separates Cloud IT roles from old school IT is the willingness, want, and desire to talk to your internal and external customers in order to understand their vision, goals, and drivers beyond a simple requirements list. Old school IT readers will say that is what a business analyst does, and that is true. However, Cloud IT roles include business analyst skills so that the number of translations between external customer, internal customer, business analyst, project manager, and finally the IT person are reduced. That is not to suggest business analysts and project managers are not part of great Cloud IT organizations. More correctly, those roles absolutely exist as product owner and Agile leads or Scrum Masters. In addition, Cloud IT roles move the IT person’s knowledge and understanding requirements from the IT-only box into the customer’s operating environment which means that filling a Cloud IT role also includes first level business understanding and project management skills.

Reading above you may have noticed the Cloud IT roles do not mention a great deal of IT knowledge. That is because Cloud IT requires a different view of the world which requires different skills. Yes, you must know IT, period. However just knowing IT is not sufficient to prosper in a Cloud IT role. With the mental framing and old school separations above, here are a few ideas to kickstart your Cloud IT career alignment or realignment:

Which Skills Apply to Any Cloud IT Role?

Start off by enhancing your cybersecurity knowledge, practice, and troubleshooting skills because the data you put into any cloud will be subject to relentless hacking. This collection of skills is listed first because it is the most important. If you cannot write on a piece of paper precisely how the Cloud service vendor you may be considering will protect every bit, byte, or record of your data, then you do not know enough to recommend using that Cloud vendor and someone who does will eventually call you on your recommendation. Hopefully, they will call you before you lose your data to a security breach.

Fundamental or foundational IT concepts such as compute, network, storage, backup, failover, redundancy, resilience, and other mechanics of actual computing are important. Remember all systems fail, even cloud systems. There are no exceptions, and you need the skills to plan for and then solve Cloud system failures. Developing those skills requires you to understand what the cloud should be doing. Moreover, if you are going to connect your organization to a Cloud service, you need to understand and articulate how that service will provide the outcome your organization needs. That level of understanding begins with data bit delivery physics and mechanics. That knowledge is also critical to ensure you do not fall for sales brochures, speeds and feeds, or empty promises.

Learning Agile methodologies to develop your understanding of how Cloud IT people work which is not start to finish but rather more like start, start, start, connect with other IT, connect with vendor, connect with customer, redo, redo, test, test again, submit to organization owner for user acceptance, finish, lessons learned, document, end. Cloud IT is not top-down IT. It is not start here to go there, like old school IT. Rather, Cloud IT begins with the end in mind, asks what is the outcome the organization wants or needs, then works backwards to find the shortest, least expensive, fastest, or other customer-defined path to deliver that outcome.

Cloud IT careers can be great and fulfilling and all of the things you might want from a Cloud IT role without mastering these next skill sets on the Cloud Career Roadmap. The Cloud IT world needs great behind-the-scenes architects, coders, testers, etc. However, the skills that separate behind the scenes Cloud IT from the most successful Cloud IT careers include business analysis, communications, and visualization sills to support outcomes definition and other needs requirement gathering as well as customer presentation. This is where great Cloud IT leaders separate themselves from Cloud IT engineers.

Menu vs. Recipe Concept

The image used to explain this to others is that of a restaurant menu versus the recipe. As a customer you see the menu i.e. the final outcome, you do not see the recipe or the ingredients delivery, or the farmer that grew the food. The most successful Cloud IT leaders refine their analysis and communication skills so they can convert the IT engineering recipe into a menu outcome for the customer, then present it in ways the customer understands and to support making informed choices.

One additional skill to add to the Cloud Career Roadmap is project management because the Agile start, start, start, nature of Cloud IT requires effective tracking in order to ensure the final outcomes meets the organization needs. Effective project management skills, tools, and disciplines provide the logical assembly point for the story of the fragmented and sometimes seemingly disparate work efforts. In the kitchen you find bread baking, pasta boiling, sauces simmering, as well as dishes being washed, floors mopped, and inventory ordering. Good project management skills ensure the customer receives baked bread, cooked pasta, and the specific sauce they ordered, without knowing about all of the sequence or other work required to deliver the outcome. Your ability to manage or at least understand all of the pieces/ingredients required to deliver a Cloud IT service will enhance your Cloud IT career by allowing you to deliver what the customer wants when they want it and without piling on unnecessary details.

Which Cloud?

With this collection of skills representing a Cloud Career Roadmap flowing from top to bottom, one further question you might ask is which clouds to learn as you begin your Cloud IT career journey? The short answer is all or any. Yes, AWS (Amazon Web Services) is a hot career ticket today. Yes, Microsoft Azure is successfully moving the billions of Microsoft computers in the world into a cloud service. Yes, Goggle Cloud is highly meaningful, particularly in academics. Yes, there are other cloud services that you could specialize in while still applying the Cloud Career Roadmap. With this wide-open list of Cloud vendor possibilities, you can literally just pick one. However, when you pick your first one, learn it well. Work to master your overall Cloud IT skills through the view of the one platform you choose. Then when you have mastered it, you will be able to apply the concepts to any cloud service. No Cloud IT service is dramatically different when you look at the physics and mechanics. Where they differ is how they deliver customer needs. As a Cloud IT professional, once you master outcome delivery in one cloud, you only have to learn the how of any other cloud. This is why AWS IT professionals get hired for Azure jobs and vice versa. Moreover, each of the five focus areas in the Cloud Career Roadmap apply equally to every cloud service provider. These skills, trainings, certifications, and demonstrated knowledge apply universally. That is what makes the roadmap and the skills valuable.

Training Resources:
Cloud Courses
AWS Courses
Google Cloud Courses
Microsoft Azure Administrator Course



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