More than a trend: Learn cloud skills or get left behind

Cloud is more than just a trend, and learning cloud computing skills is essential in order to stay relevant in today's IT market.

Continued from part 1: "The need for cloud computing skills altering service provider IT jobs."

In terms of real-world skills needed in a cloud environment, service provider IT professionals should consider brushing up on Ruby, .NET, Java, along with Chef, Puppet and Python. The Cloud Security Alliance is a good source for training and certification courses. And it helps to study the path of market-share leaders in the field, including Salesforce and Amazon, according to Pat O'Day, chief technology officer (CTO) at Bluelock, an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider in Indianapolis, Ind.

Brian Aker, a fellow at Hewlett-Packard's cloud division, recommends that IT folks develop open source projects, giving prospective employers a chance to see what they can do.

"We can see the code they write. Things like that almost replace the resume," Aker said. "This material is pretty accessible to someone with a laptop trying to figure it out. If you're willing to spend some time learning the material, it can make a big difference."

O'Day noted that IT has traditionally been treated primarily as an expense -- a department that was kept somewhat isolated from the business. But today, the cloud is actually bringing IT more into the business fold, involving tech workers in conversations about big-picture business strategies and goals.

At virtually every IT event I go to, there's this undercurrent of, 'How do I change my skills to better adapt to this new cloud era?'

Tom Koulopoulos, President/Co-founder of Delphi Group.

"IT was expected to have a standard budget, and of course, don't let anything break," O'Day said. "There was this [mentality] of, 'Don't call us unless there's a problem.' Now, with all the change going on, people are trying to use cloud strategically. So people in cloud are involved in an engaging dialogue about the business needs and what the business is trying to accomplish."

For that reason, IT people who want to be involved in cloud need to develop some "softer skills," O'Day said, including the ability to lead and communicate.

"Previously, engineers wrote code, shifted it and heard about customer problems later. They had a fairly distant level of interaction with customers," agreed Aker. "But that's different in cloud."

Although IT teams are likely to experience some consolidation as a result of cloud, IT professionals should keep in mind that specialty niches are not likely to disappear completely, and certain local applications are likely to stay local.

"At virtually every IT event I go to, there's this undercurrent of, 'How do I change my skills to better adapt to this new cloud era?'" said Tom Koulopoulos, author of Cloud Surfing as well as president and cofounder of Delphi Group, a technology research and consulting firm in Andover, Mass.

"The first thing I say is to calm down. It's not like a light switch is being turned on and suddenly everyone [in IT] will be in the cloud. When I talk to businesses, they say they have both a local component and a cloud component."

Much of the same know-how that was necessary for localized systems is also required in cloud -- although the cloud may magnify the need for certain skills. First and foremost, Koulopoulos said, IT staff members need to understand security. "There have always been security risks at the local level, but in the cloud, when there's a mechanical failure or a loss of access, it becomes so visible and so immediately apparent that something has gone wrong," he said. "Security is the single area IT folks need to be more conversant, confident and comfortable with when it comes to cloud."

Some IT professionals are likely to put up some resistance to changes inherent in the cloud, largely because these staff members have traditionally focused on locking systems down and keeping data hidden in a safe, local spot.

"Now they're being told to open it up. Everything is so open and global in cloud, and we have our data and information all over the place, yet the security risks are greater than ever," said Margaret Dawson, vice president of product management and marketing at Symform, a cloud storage and backup provider in Seattle.  "So you've got some tension there. You still have IT people trying to wrap their arms around this idea. Because at the end of the day, if there's a data breach, they still get blamed. But now they also get blamed if the business can't operate. It's a difficult job to balance those two paradigms in our world right now."

IT professionals should take stock of where they are in their careers when deciding how much time and energy to invest in the cloud learning curve. Those who are retiring in the next five to 10 years still need to pay attention, but may not need to be as concerned about updating their cloud skills as those in the middle of their careers. Some IT workers are fighting the move to cloud in much the same way certain apps that weren't built for the cloud are having a hard time making the transition.

"So much of what happens is that IT folks work on keeping alive dying applications, things that will never end up in the cloud," Koulopoulos said. "[In reality] those apps are not going to survive. Cloud is more than a trend; it's a tsunami that you can't stop. For folks who have been in IT for some time, when you have this discussion, it sounds tiring. 'I'm 45. Do I really have to do this now?' And the answer is, 'Yeah, you do.'"

About the author: Dina Gerdeman is a Boston-based freelance writer and editor covering business news and features.

This was first published in October 2012

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