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7 Skills You Need for Career Success in the Cloud

The rise of cloud computing is profoundly changing the skill sets needed for success in modern technology environments. As more and more companies undergo strategic digital transformations designed to leverage the power of the cloud, they need IT, staffers and leaders, with the expertise to extract the best business results out of their investments in the public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud approaches.

Critically, a successful cloud career—not to mention cloud leadership—requires more than just a great technical background. Even more, than on-premise IT approaches the cloud calls for the right mix of business skills. So the seven cloud career and leadership skills outlined here cover everything from the key technology-oriented cloud competencies to the business and leadership skill sets even more essential in the cloud.

1. Technologies and platforms

Seasoned IT pros can definitely leverage their prior tech experience in a cloud career, but they’ll also need to add some new skills. For instance, you’ll be hard-pressed to get anywhere in the cloud without expertise in at least one of the public cloud behemoths: Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure.

With that in mind, is it better to focus on one vendor or build multi-platform experience? The latter approach will make you more versatile on the job market, although picking one to start with isn’t a bad idea.

Containerization expertise is increasingly another must-have, especially for developers building and running applications in the cloud. Docker and Kubernetes lead the pack in the containerization field right now but there are plenty of alternatives worth keeping an eye on.

Automation software is another technology category gaining steam in cloud-first environments, especially those that have adopted DevOps. This includes tools like Puppet, Chef, Ansible, and many others, and as their usage grows in cloud shops, so does employer demand for people who know their way around these platforms.

2. Integration and multi-cloud environments

“Cloud” means different things to different people. Too often it’s used as an umbrella term for anything and everything delivered online, from Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications to Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platforms and more. But this terminology confusion reflects a real trend: organizations increasingly have to manage a dynamic mix of cloud services and vendors as well as cloud types (public, private, and hybrid). Part of the task of the cloud pro, then, is to help efficiently manage multi-cloud environments.

Integration of data across applications—including data acquired from different vendors and platforms or residing in different data centres—is a big deal in the cloud. It gets even more complicated when your cloud systems need to talk to your legacy systems. Smart cloud architects and other cloud-first professionals include integration as a first step. Scrambling to address integration after the fact is like building a house and adding the wiring and plumbing after you’ve already put in the flooring and walls.

3. Training and certifications

Industry and vendor certifications have long been an essential part of IT resumes. And now cloud computing has hopped on the certification bandwagon. Major vendors like Amazon and Microsoft run various training and credentialing programs, including AWS CertificationAzure Certification, and Google Cloud Certified.

On the third-party side, industry association CompTIA offers the Cloud+ certification. For more information, check out lists of the top cloud certifications from FirebrandTom’s IT Pro, and CIO, among others.

Aspiring cloud professionals should remember that certifications alone won’t ensure your career success. In fact, Mark Broderick, IT applications director at Eliassen Group, notes that when it comes to helping your organization develop the right cloud strategy, “traditional training and the accumulation of certifications are not always the best predictors for a successful outcome.”

That’s not to say certifications aren’t useful. But with the pace of change in cloud computing, it makes sense to treat certifications as a complementary piece of your cloud career foundation.

4. Organizational strategies and processes

The always-on, ever-changing nature of cloud environments and modern software in general means many “traditional” methods of doing things in IT simply don’t work that well in cloud-first shops. Siloed teams that don’t communicate and collaborate? Not going to hack it. 18-month waterfall release cycles for new applications? Ditto.

To keep up, cloud-first pros need to modernize their organizational strategies and processes. The DevOps approach is Exhibit A—DevOps increasingly goes hand in hand with the cloud, and DevOps experience is increasingly in demand at cloud-first organizations. In fact, DevOps skills are becoming crucial even to longstanding IT job titles and roles such as systems administrator, according to Dice.com. It’s not that DevOps eliminates the sysadmin role, but Dice says, “It’s a role that’s simply evolving due to servers migrating to the cloud and a transition from task-based roles to strategic contributors.”

Regardless of job title, a search for DevOps turns up more than 4,200 positions on Dice, and more than 18,500 on Indeed.com. And those numbers keep rising.

Similarly, cloud pros in the job market will likely benefit from a knowledge of a variety of modern programming methodologies, from Agile and Lean experience to knowledge of related frameworks like Kanban and Scrum.

5. Management and negotiation

In addition to the technical skills outlined above, cloud computing demands a new level of attention to a range of related business skills, from people management to communication to negotiation. The new requirements can be grouped into two buckets:

  • Internal (working with other departments)
  • External (working with vendors)

On the internal side, the massive growth of cloud computing, mobile applications, and shadow IT means that the classic lockdown approach to IT—and the us-versus-them mentality it sometimes inspired—is no longer appropriate. The new world order is all about leading rather than policing, educating and encouraging users to make smart choices.

This often requires a champion, someone who knows their stuff and can foster not just acceptance but real enthusiasm. DevOps and the related discipline of site reliability engineering (SRE), for example, often require buy-in from a corporate “rock star” to lure sceptical team members on board.

On the external side, you need to update your playbook to meet the realities of a cloud-first environment. Know the vendor landscape and stay on top of it. Among other things, it’s critical to understand cloud security concerns and how to manage them—including new paradigms for securing applications and data online.

Cloud career success also depends on a solid understanding of the financial implications of cloud computing. The total cost of ownership (TCO) and return on investment (ROI) analyses are vastly different when subscribing to a cloud service rather than purchasing on-premise hardware and software. For example, calculating the cost of a cloud migration involves a challenging mix of technical and business considerations, as New Relic’s Rob Peterson lays in out his post on How to Calculate the Cost of a Cloud Migration.

One baseline necessity: understand there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to cloud TCO/ROI, and tailor your projections to your specific business. Successful cloud pros will see the big picture and enhance their value to employers by ensuring realistic, transparent understanding of costs and other financial matters in the cloud.

To translate that understanding into favourable deals, cloud vendor management will increasingly reward advanced negotiation skills. Negotiation doesn’t always come easily to IT staffers, but it’s worth building those skills into your cloud career toolkit.

6. Metrics and analytics

The ability to measure, analyze, and develop insights based on a vast amount of data—in real-time—about how your cloud environments perform is mission-critical for successful cloud pros. Let’s look at three areas of metrics and data you’ll need to understand in order to deliver value to your company:

  • Usage & costs: This echoes the financial skills mentioned above. If you’re not measuring actual usage and costs of cloud resources, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary complexity and waste. Moreover, it’s hard to measure real ROI without a clear picture of usage and costs.
  • Application performance: From basics like availability to more granular software analytics, monitoring application performance is a crucial skill that comes into play before, during, and after a migration to the cloud. But it’s important to understand how monitoring performance in the cloud differs from working in on-premise and hybrid cloud environments.
  • Business-specific analytics: Cloud computing promises to help unlock the kinds of customizable, business-specific information that’s of special value for particular stakeholders. Cloud pros who can deliver custom analytics tailored to the needs of a variety of audiences in their organizations will reap the rewards. The ability to use tools like New Relic to capture the right data and quickly turn that data into meaningful insights that can help drive better, faster business decisions may be the key factor that distinguishes the cloud experts from the dabblers.

7. Leadership

Building a career in the cloud is a great way to prepare for the future, but it’s only the first step. Sometimes, capitalizing on the cloud requires strategic leadership on the part of IT—from the C-Suite to every level of the organization. That’s particularly true for businesses that are finally moving away from more traditional approaches to IT. Unlike cloud-first companies—where it can be all cloud, all the time—traditional organizations sometimes have a tough time developing and implementing their cloud computing strategies.

That raises a critical question for IT folks looking to leverage the cloud to drive their careers: How can you become one of the leaders shepherding your organization’s move to the cloud? More specifically, how can people in IT ops, dev, and other tech roles become cloud leaders inside companies embarking on the complex, sometimes contentious process of migrating significant workloads to the cloud?

Key steps toward cloud leadership in your organization include everything from driving the build vs. buy decision; determining whether a public, hybrid, or private cloud architecture is right for your company; and moving toward Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) options whenever possible.

As noted above, it also means dealing with financial issues more than was common in traditional IT organizations. Remember, beyond the standard total cost of ownership (TCO) / return on investment (ROI) analyses, it’s critical to consider the opportunity cost. What can be saved or gained if your team no longer has to manage the headaches of the corporate email system, or your application performance management operations? Freeing developers and other roles to work on more innovative applications and business problems has real value that must be factored into the equation.

IT pros can fill a critical leadership role by becoming a go-to resource for organizational strategy and decision-making when it comes to the wide variety of cloud platforms and technologies.

Here’s a tip: when you have to deal with a more procurement-style role, it makes sense to build relationships with the procurement department. They’re professionals with years of experience doing things. Online research can also help, and system integrators, consultants, value-added resellers, and industry analysts can be invaluable partners. Still, it’s important to develop your own set of questions and criteria to guide your evaluation process, based on your specific business and industry.

Finally, successful cloud leaders need to plan for the long term. That requires a smart balance of providing business value against procurement and vendor management. For the uninitiated, cloud computing may suggest a set-it-and-forget-it mentality. Cloud pros know that’s not how it works. Properly capitalizing on cloud computing—for your career and your company—requires constant monitoring and assessment.

That’s an opportunity for a long and successful career as a cloud leader, and the first step is easy. Get over the circle-the-wagons mentality still common in many traditional IT shops and embrace the new leadership opportunities created in the cloud. Cloud computing offers a wide array of opportunities to IT folks who can leverage their existing expertise while also embracing the “new” business and technology skill sets.

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